Team Romney's Digital Chief: Engagement Trumps Raw Numbers in Social Media

Zac Moffatt on Why Campaign Isn't Overly Concerned by Obama's Twitter Lead

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TAMPA, Fla. -- Mitt Romney has fewer Twitter followers than the first lady, to say nothing of the president he's trying to unseat. His Facebook following isn't even a fifth as large as President Obama's. But the digital director of the Romney campaign isn't worried.

(From l.) Zac Moffatt, Katie Harbath, Adam Sharp, Daniel Sieberg
(From l.) Zac Moffatt, Katie Harbath, Adam Sharp, Daniel Sieberg
Speaking a day before the Republican National Convention kicks off in earnest, Zac Moffatt played down the social gap. He drew a distinction between "vanity metrics and actionable metrics," counting raw social media following stats as the former. Mr. Moffatt said he's more concerned with engagement and pointed to the candidate's Facebook page after the Supreme Court ruling on Obama's health-care plan.

Following the ruling, Mr. Moffatt said that though Mr. Romney has far fewer Facebook fans, the rate of engagement was much higher, 27%, than the 1.5% that engaged on President Obama's page.

"If you're going to get elected what would you rather have," he asked an audience at a panel discussion put on by The Atlantic, National Journal and CBS News. "It doesn't matter how many people follow you if they're not engaged."

Mr. Moffatt was in part reacting to a recent Pew study finding that President Obama "holds a distinct advantage over Mitt Romney in the way his campaign is using digital technology to communicate directly with voters." Pew found that the Obama campaign is posting nearly four times as much content and is using twice as many channels.

Also on the panel were: Daniel Sieberg of Google Politics & Elections; Adam Sharp, head of government, news and social innovation at Twitter; and Katie Harbath, manager for policy, Facebook. (At times, the three seemed to be engaged in a competition to prove which social-media platform was more relevant to the political sphere.)

After the convention, Mr. Moffatt said he expected the Romney social following to increase "exponentially." He added that social wasn't as good at helping drum up fundraising as email is .

It looks like Mr. Romney has already gotten a social bounce as the convention neared. Since Ad Age published an infographic comparing the candidates' social prowess a week ago, Mr. Romney has added about 1 million Facebook likes, bringing him to 5.1 million, an increase of about 25%. His growth on Twitter was about 8%, to 920,000. During the same period, President Obama also added about 1 million Facebook likes (about 3% growth) and about 400,000 Twitter followers (about 2% growth). Those much slower growth rates come on much larger bases.

To Mr. Moffatt's point about engagement, more people are talking about Mr. Romney's page currently, about 1.7 million, than President Obama's 1.5 million. But that of course is aided by the fact the news cycle is currently consumed by the Republican convention.

You can see how Facebook and Twitter are tracking the political conversation here and here.

It's worth noting that none of these numbers indicates an intent to vote for either candidate in a half-dozen or so swing states, which is , essentially, the only thing that matters. Nor do they show how close the race is based on the latest polling data, which basically put the candidates in a dead heat.

Mr. Moffatt offered a peek inside the Romney campaign's digital efforts. The digital team now consists of more than 110 people. He said that Mr. Romney has written his own tweets in the past, but now is more likely to send along an email with a photo that his team can tweet.

"We couldn't talk to Mitt 27 times a day about what he wants to say on Twitter. He'll eventually stop responding to us."

Mr. Moffatt said that in Florida and Ohio, both crucial swing states that will help decide the election, about one-third of the electorates are "off the grid," meaning that they're only watching live TV when they're watching sports. This reduces the effectiveness of traditional TV advertising and makes digital efforts all the more important.

Mr. Moffatt said that though this dynamic is understood at the national level, "it hasn't permeated down to the lower races, where they're asking 'How do I buy enough TV to reach everyone.'"

Looking ahead to the convention content, which will kick off tomorrow, Mr. Moffatt said YouTube will replace the role of the convention site, with the Google-owned video site broadcasting speeches and integrating social media.

"The entire convention will live through the YouTube channel," he said.

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