Assuming that Mitt Romney gets the GOP nomination to take on Barack Obama in November, most will attribute his success in the primaries to having more money, placing more negative television ads, and having a stronger organization behind him than his remaining 3 competitors. The reality of his victory can be seen on social media.
It isn’t that Romney is doing things right. It’s that Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich are doing things more wrong.
Ron Paul is hanging in there gathering delegates and placing well in some states despite having the least coverage by the news media and the least money spent on television. Political pundits attribute his successes to having a passionate base and this is partially true. The statement becomes complete when you understand that his supporters are the most social-media-savvy and are able to broadcast his message to the masses in ways that put the official social media teams for each of the other candidates to shame.
Let’s look at the portions of social media that they’re missing at to help understand why Romney, the most popular unpopular choice, is likely going to win.
Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube
When candidates and the social media “experts” they hire discuss social media, they talk about mobilizing on the big three. While there is distinctly a place for them in the overall campaign, they are not the most important components, at least internally.
It isn’t what you say on Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube that’s important. Candidates are going to position themselves positively here. There’s very little that a candidate can do on any of these that can bring them more votes.
The important thing on these three is influencing what others are saying. An emotionally-driven video plea by an individual can have more of an impact on voters than a campaign ad. A tweet that points out a fallacy in a candidate’s record that gets hundreds of retweets by the right people can be exponentially more powerful than what Gingrich says to his million+ Twitter followers.
The conversation and the message from others is the real juice on these networks and all of the candidates have missed tremendous opportunities to sculpt the sentiment surrounding their name. When Gingrich started pulling ahead days before the South Carolina primary, it was social media that locked it in for him, not television. His debate performances were being buzzed around social media like wildfire throughout the state and the country even though a relatively-small number of undecided voters watched the debates on television. The results: a major upset.
Since then, he has been nearly non-existent (in a positive manner) on social media. It’s not a surprise that he’s been non-existent in the polls as well.
Reddit and Digg
Paul’s team is the only one who has likely even heard of the site. Alexa puts it as the 50th most visited site in the US, but it’s very likely that the real reach of the site is better than that. A single story on the front page of Reddit can receive hundreds of thousands of views in less than 24 hours. These viewers are very passionate about politics. Most are liberal, but conservatives do visit the site and when the message is controlled by the left, it’s going to be negative.
How can a Republican leverage a site like Reddit that highlights the negative of the GOP? By helping to highlight the negatives of the opponent, someone like Rick Santorum could sway votes with all of the potential negative stories about Romney. Instead, he’s getting the bulk of the page views from the site with the majority of the messages being extremely damaging to his case.
Digg is another site that leans more to the left. The same strategy that applies to Reddit could have been applied to Digg. These sites reach a tremendous audience and help beyond the sheer page views sent from them. Google uses these social signals to help determine what stories are highlighted in their news and general search results. When something is “buzzing” on Digg, Reddit, and other social news sites, they get more pickup by other publications.
There is nothing more mobilizing that can be done in a social media “ground game” than hitting up the blogosphere. Despite many who believe that appearances and mentions on mainstream media are the key to success, it’s the ease and ability to blast messages to the voters of a state that makes working with blogs so attractive.
Political campaigns are about empowering supporters to help get more supporters. Blogs are an absolutely-untapped realm that could have changed the course of the primaries had either Santorum or Gingrich been active on them.
When Newt Gingrich spoke to Red State, it was too little, too late. The video of the interview had over 10,000 views and would have been higher had the death of Andrew Breitbart not followed shortly after. Unlike television interviews, a candidate could knock out 10+ of these in a couple of hours, generating views from the various blogs and exposure that they normally wouldn’t get through television. It’s sharable exposure, the type that can get pushed by the blogs and their readers through the rest of social media and social news.
Santorum has been active on Red State, but hasn’t done enough elsewhere.
Doing so creates fans and supporters. Getting the endorsement of a high-level blogger can have as much if not more of an effect than getting the endorsement of another politician because the readers of the blogs trust the blogger more than they trust politicians. More importantly, it’s a hundred times easier to get endorsements by bloggers. They want attention and can get that attention by talking to candidates directly. The candidates then get more attention by being “down to earth” and willing to talk to a lowly blogger while still reaching mainstream media.
A recent report by Meltwater reveals that Mitt Romney had the best social media campaigns to date amongst the candidates with Ron Paul a close second. This could easily (and probably should) be flipped to show Paul with the best and Romney with the second best. It wasn’t anything that Romney did, really. It’s what Santorum and Gingrich didn’t do.
The opportunity is not completely lost but may be after Super Tuesday. If any of them would search for “Dear Republican Candidates” they’ll see that there has been an effort to reach them through social media. Unfortunately, none of them did.