In 2008, Barack Obama wrote the book on using the Internet and social media to solicit donations and other support for his presidential campaign. Fast-forward to 2012, and barackobama.com is leaving mittromney.com in the virtual dust, according to the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism’s quadrennial comparison of presidential candidates’ web sites.
The study is based on a detailed review of the two campaigns' web sites and postings on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube during a two-week period, as well as public responses to the content. It found that the Obama campaign published 614 posts across platforms compared to Romney's 168. On Twitter, the Romney campaign averaged one tweet per day, while @barackObama and @Obama2012 averaged 17 and 12 tweets per day, respectively. In addition, the president's campaign web site posted about twice as many blog posts and more than twice as many online videos, the study found.
Obama's campaign also surpasses Romney in terms of Twitter followers and Facebook likes by a margin of 13:1. The study suggests the margin could be wider due to the fact that after Romney's number of followers suddenly spiked by 141,000 in two days, it was discovered that they were mechanically generated.
Romney does have the edge when it comes to base enthusiasm, the study notes, with 87 percent of Republicans following election news closely, compared to 79 percent of Democrats, according to a Gallup poll published this week. And while the party is on a bit of a high over his choice of Rep. Paul Ryan as a running mate, Team Romney may want to reach out and tweet a whole lot more somebodies.
Among the report's other findings:
— Both candidates' digital campaigns have focused on the economy more than any other issue; 24% of all Romney posts and 19% of Obama posts were about the economy. However, the campaigns differed in the angle they stressed. The Romney campaign devoted nearly twice the attention to jobs in its posts —14% of posts compared to 8% of posts from the Obama campaign. Obama's economic messages were almost equally divided between jobs and broader economic issues, such as the importance of the middle class.
— The economy may have dominated both candidates' digital messaging, but other issues — such as immigration and health care — were far more likely to spur re-sharing by their digital audience. Obama's posts about the economy generated an average of 361 shares or retweets. His posts about immigration, by comparison, generated more than four times that, and women's and veteran's issues generated more than three times the reaction. This was also true of Romney's messaging. His posts on health care and veterans averaged almost twice the response per post of his economic messages.
— Neither candidate offered much sharing or retweeting of its followers' messages. If the Internet offers the promise of making campaigns more of a two-way conversation with citizens, the candidates are not participating. For example, just 16% of Obama's tweets over the two-week period studied were retweets. The Romney campaign had just one retweet during this period — something from Romney's son Josh.
— Obama's digital strategy targets specific voter groups to a greater degree than Romney's. Visitors to Obama's website are offered opportunities to join 18 different constituency groups, among them African-Americans, women, LGBT, Latinos, veterans/military families or young Americans. If a visitor clicks to join a group, they then receive content targeted to that constituency. The Romney campaign offered no such groups at the time of this study. It has since added feature pages for nine groups, although users can still only join the general "Team Romney" rather than the particular voter group.
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