Four years ago, the term "social media" wasn't widely used. On
Election Day in 2008, there were 1.8 million tweets; now that many
tweets are sent every six minutes, said Rachael Horwitz, a Twitter
spokeswoman. In 2008, Facebook was popular mostly among college
students. This year, there are more than 110,000 political Facebook
pages in the U.S. and 11,000 pages for politicians, said Andrew
Noyes, manager of public policy and communication for Facebook.
Most candidates also use blog network Tumblr, photo-sharing site
Instagram and niche web venues such as Pinterest to spread their
"This will be, without a doubt, the most socially connected
election season ever," said Joe Green, president and co-founder of
NationBuilder. The Los Angeles-based company helps campaigns
organize their online presence. "Democracy in its most basic form
is really about mobilization of the masses, and that is what social
media enables at the grassroots level."
President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney are
spending millions of dollars to advertise online, including placed
media on Facebook and Twitter. Last week, Romney's team became the
first political campaign to purchase a "trending topic" on Twitter,
ensuring that his message would pop up prominently in the social
The presidential candidates' campaigns have digital strategists
on their payrolls and also work with firms such as Targeted Victory
(which helps Republicans), and its Democratic counterpart, Blue
When Obama takes the stage in Charlotte Sept. 6, he will
essentially have 19 million potential publicists to spread his
message. That's how many Twitter followers he has, making his
account the sixth most popular in the world -- behind stars such as
Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber.
Led by Obama and his 2008 technology team, Democrats have
dominated social media. Yet Republicans, in many ways, are now "on
equal footing," said Katie Harbath, a Facebook public policy
manager and liaison to Republicans. Romney has more than 1 million
Twitter followers and, like Obama, multiple Facebook pages.
Last week, Romney had more than 2 million people posting about
him on Facebook -- at times more than Obama, Harbath said. She said
Romney leveraged the convention to build his social-media base,
gaining more than 1 million fans during the week. Romney got more
juice on Twitter during his wife's speech than his own, Mr. Sharp
No one has touched Clint Eastwood.
The surprise Republican convention speaker spawned a Twitter
tsunami when he addressed an empty chair as if it were Obama. The
Obama campaign quickly posted a photo of the president in a chair
and the message, "This seat's taken." As of Sept. 4, it had been
retweeted more than 54,000 times -- the most activity of anyone
during the Republican convention and the second most ever from
A spoof Twitter account, @InvisibleObama, featuring a picture of
an empty chair, quickly popped up and now has more than 68,000
Taking extra steps
Politicians are taking extra steps on social media to highlight
their activities during the conventions.
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie started a special "Twitter
handle" -- @ChristieKeynote -- that attracted 7,766 followers and
featured backstage photos of himself. Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin
shared photos from the convention floor in Tampa with the
26,000-plus people who have "liked" her Facebook page.
Vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan peaked during his speech,
with about 6,000 tweets per minute when he spoke about his faith,
and again when he spoke about government spending.
Twitter and Facebook are going one level deeper, measuring how
well the presidential candidates are connecting with their
audiences in addition to how often.
There's a daily "Twitter Political Index," which analyzes the
400 million tweets per day to discern how users feel about Obama
and Romney. The social network has partnered with two polling firms
and analytics company Topsy to validate data.
A score of 24, as Obama had Sept. 3, means that tweets about him
are more positive than 24% of all other Twitter messages. Romney
had a score of 14 the same day. Fifty or above is considered good,
Mr. Sharp said.
More telling, though is movement from day to day, and both
candidates' scores dropped Sept. 3 compared with the previous day.
The trend line of improving or deteriorating sentiment closely
follows the movement of Gallup poll approval ratings .
Through a partnership with CNN, Facebook is tracking sentiment
about the candidates through the volume of Facebook activity about
the election. The site, cnn.com/fbinsights, enables visitors to view trends by
gender, state and age group.
Just as the politicians have adapted to social media, social
media is adapting to politics: Twitter and Facebook both have
employees roving throughout the conventions and have sponsored
parties and events to raise their profile.