Sweeney: Are Democrats Losing the Social Media War?


In 2008, Democrats had a tremendous social media advantage. In 2012, that lead has been ceded to the Republicans.

The Democrats activated a legion of young voters who used online tools (mostly unfamiliar to a middle-age demographic) in 2008. At that time, Facebook was used almost exclusively on computers at work and home. The conventions were not social and social media usage at home while watching campaign events (including the debates) was nonexistent.

This year, everything changed.

Smart phones and automated social sharing platformshave driven more engaging and real-time use of social media, enabling automatic posts to Facebook and Twitter at physical check-ins, sharing stations, photo spots and other interaction points. Your presence creates the post.

Republicans have also focused on quality engagement instead of the gross number of followers. Followers and “Likes” are measures of a social media visit. However, there is a difference between a follower who “Likes” a page once and may never see content and the user who engages by commenting and adding recurring “Likes” and “Shares.” Engagement continues to expand the social audience and drives online discussions.

The latest polls show that the engagement strategy is working, especially amplifying last week’s convention. Just like in consumer and brand marketing the GOP realized that engagement trumps volume when it comes to influence. (Read More: Bill Clinton Could Go Rogue at Convention: Klein)

Let’s look at the data that outlines how smartphones, automation, and engagement have been such a benefit to Republicans.

Rules of Engagement

President Obama had a four-year head start on Facebook. His 28 million Facebook fans makes Romney’s six million look weak. Yet, merely collecting fans was a mistake many brands have made with Facebook. Smart brands know engaging people is what drives influence. Getting fans sharing, talking and coming back changes behavior– not clicking a one-time “Like” button. When it comes to engagement Romney is 456 times more effective than Obama. Facebook measures engagement by dividing “people talking about this” by total likes. “People talking about this” is the weekly average of posts, comments, likes and shares. See the photos below for comparison:

Mitt Romney's Facebook page.
Mitt Romney | Facebook
Mitt Romney's Facebook page.
President Barack Obama's Facebook page.
Barack Obama | Facebook
President Barack Obama's Facebook page.

Romney’s engagement success extends to Twitter as well. While Obama has a 19 to 1 advantage over Romney in millions of followers, the mentions, retweets and discussions are nearly equal according to Adam Sharp, VP of Government for Twitter.


Eliminate Friction to Find the Friends

Have you ever thought about sharing something on social media then realize you don’t want to stop what you are doing, take a picture, then log on and try to post it to Facebook? That’s friction: too much between you and a share. If there’s friction people are less likely to share.

Automated social sharing technology eliminates that friction. Social posts are made because people are present and engaged. The 2012 Republican National Convention included automated social sharing technology provide by dwinQ that allowed attendees to automatically capture a moment via a photo and instantly post to Facebook with no logging on, no worry of connectivity, no goofy self-portraits, no friction.

dwinQ provided high-quality memorable photos with the RNC logo embossed on the corner. The users captured the moment and the RNC was branded on photos that were shared among millions.

There was something remarkable about the folks who used dwinQ’s automated social platform to share on Facebook during the convention.

The average user had 757.3 friends – that is more than 300% the Facebook average of 230. RNC dwinQ users were responsible for driving 7.5 Likes or Comments per post. That is a highly engaged audience. Millions of shares with the Tampa 2012 logo are now on Facebook. I call it social media product placementand it is incredibly influential. The GOP also created product placement using the “With Mitt” mobile app that puts a Romney saying superimposed on photos taken with your smart phone. (dwinQ will provide DNC data next week as an update).

The big salvo in the social media smart bombing

The data clearly shows the GOP out smarting the Dems online. In fact data analysis expert Oliver Lo, VP Marketing at App Anniecommented:

"During the 2008 Election, the Obama team trail-blazed the use of Internet and social media and brought in notable Internet and technology experts to help plan their campaign strategy. Since then, mobile and mobile apps are driving a new way to engage with voters."

For instance the mobile app released for the RNC debuted in the top 50 apps and has stayed there according to AppAnnie:

If you really dug deep you can see that something changed in the last 60 days. Since June 1st Romney has taken a decisive lead in the presidential race. According to the latest Rasmussen polls, Romney had been tracking at a one point advantage. This came on the heels of two ingenious uses of mobile app technology by the Romney campaign, but it was the last month that really changed things.

Look at the release date of the key Presidential Mobile Apps on the iTunes App Store:

  • With Mitt - released May 30, 2012
  • Mitt's VP - released July 31, 2012
  • Obama for America - released July 31, 2012
  • DNC 2012 - released August 7, 2012
  • Tampa 2012 - released August 17, 2012

The smart bomb is hidden in one of those five apps.

Romney’s campaign knew the letting someone in on a secret, giving them information before it even hit the press, doing it in real time over mobile would make anyone cooler at the water cooler. Romney’s Manhattan project was “Mitt’s VP” released July 31st and responsible for much momentum and a big swing during the convention.

According to the New York Times the effects of the convention were successful. Despite “mediocre television ratings,” Romney gained a four point uptick in a very close race. I along with others in social media marketing experts attribute this to a smarter social media strategy and more effective mobile apps.

The Republicans are winning the online war because of four smart strategies:

  1. Focusing on engagement
  2. Adopting automated social posting that makes it easy to share
  3. Focusing on “Social Media Product Placement” with logos and overlays
  4. Helping build “street cred” for their followers by giving them key information early (the VP pick)

If the Democrats don’t have some interesting social media and mobile apps up their sleeve it may be too late to win back this precious landscape with only 60 days left until the election. On the Republican front, their 59% app advantage will require continued innovation to maintain. The GOP received a big bounce from the Mitt’s VP app, but the Vice Presidential candidate selection is now over. Maintaining social media momentum will require new apps that drive timely and topical engagements, not more users.

Note: dwinQ was hired for both the Republican and Democratic National Conventions. The company has no further affiliation with either party.

Patrick Sweeney is President & CEO of dwinQ, a social media marketing company that provides frictionless real world connections to social media and helps brands like Facebook, Vail Resorts, Harley-Davidson, Lexus, and others monetize the moment. Follow him on twitter @PJSweeney.

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