Santorum surges online, winning friends on Facebook, followers on Twitter

There’s much ado of late regarding Rick Santorum and his chances in Michigan against Mitt Romney in his own backyard.  Some observers have even remarked that a “loss” by Romney in the state might end his campaign.

That might all be wishful thinking based on our most recent data coming from two of the largest social media networks.  While both Facebook and Twitter don’t have news anchors and/or a bevy of pundits weighing in on  the facts, figures and conjecture around this race, the data coming from both of these sources is a clear indication of what mainstream America thinks and, more importantly, is a predictor for the road ahead.

It’s mind boggling to me that there are still some people out there who are refuting the validity of this publicly accessible data and the compelling story that it is currently telling. It’s time to wake up to the reality that there is a new marketing and communications toolkit in play in 2012. Let’s take a closer look at movement from last week.

Facebook friends
Mitt Romney – 1,482,694 – up 13,030
Ron Paul – 865,332 – up 10,363
Newt Gingrich – 283,862 – up 3,833
Rick Santorum – 144,128 – up 16,475
President Barack Obama – 25,262,666 – up 107,932

•    Mitt Romney continues to maintain his strong leadership among all GOP candidates within Facebook. His team needs to do a bit more to keep it relevant to the key issues and platforms that are a key component of the Romney message. The Romney Facebook page hasn’t changed in the last three weeks – not the best strategy for this candidate online.

•    Ron Paul is a Steady Eddie online – once again the Paul team uses Facebook posts to highlight the candidate’s views on current issues. The strategy is not all that splashy or engaging; but, the online base is loyal and the message seems to be resonating.

•    Newt Gingrich is doing all he can on Facebook to remain relevant and interesting. The page currently features a photo of President Obama “bowing” to oil barons with a caption that reads “Stop Bowing. Start Drilling.” With gas prices on the rise, Gingrich is asking visitors to sign a petition to ask President Obama to do all he can to lower prices. That is right on target from a relevancy standpoint.  In the absence of a debate lift in the last couple of weeks, Newt’s rate of weekly increase in Friends on Facebook has dropped drastically.

•    It appears that Rick Santorum’s recruiting strategy is paying dividends. Going into Michigan, the candidate has had the largest gain week-over-week of any Republican.  Santorum’s recruiting billboard is still front and center above the fold on his page. It’s tough to argue with his recent growth online. However, Romney, the Facebook front runner, has nearly 10 times more supporters than Santorum at this time.

Twitter followers
Newt Gingrich – 1,439,326 – up 1,080
Ron Paul – 376,176 – up 8,019
Mitt Romney – 342,248 – up 7,635
Rick Santorum – 134,019 – up 11,487
President Barack Obama – 12,613,546 – up 137,540

•    Gingrich still leads the pack, holding on to his lead within the Twitter universe. His rate of growth, though, has slowed precipitously over the last several weeks. Some of the bite in his tweets seems to be missing and/or followers have moved on to another camp.

•    Paul holds on to second place as his base continues to follow its leader passionately online. Here is an example where the staying power of the candidate hasn’t suffered due to lack of debates. Interestingly enough, Ron Paul has been able to grow week in and week out despite “non –winning” debate performances. He is a force to be reckoned with based on these numbers.

•    Romney continues to rise and reports that the Romney camp is “in trouble” are wildly exaggerated. Romney continues to moves up with respectable growth and is within tweeting distance of second place on Twitter. My recommendation is that the candidate needs to tweet a heck of a lot more about the issues that define his candidacy versus the President.

•    Santorum surges in this category, too, as the Santorum camp is no doubt benefiting from heightened awareness and attention since his primary and caucus sweep a week ago. With a variety of polls indicating a tight race in Michigan; the candidate seems to be the beneficiary of renewed interest in his views, policies and tweets. Santorum enjoyed his best week’s growth on Twitter since we started measuring the online landscape.

My dad used to remind me, when I would be excited about a great inning or two of a ball game I was watching, that it is at the end of the game when all of the scoring is tallied that winners and losers are decided. Right now, this game looks like the Yankees playing the local Little League team.
 
President Obama and his team of coaches continue to show their skills and proficiency of using every tool in the kit to grow an incredible lead over the rest of the contestants in the field. The president continues to score at will on both Facebook and Twitter each and every week. Despite a series of economic and social issues that would seem to have served as kryptonite for his re-election, his team has developed once again a strategy that is winning big online.

What’s remarkable to me as someone who observes and advises marketers on building effective marketing strategies both online and off, is the incredible state of denial in the Republican camp around the deficiencies within their online strategy.

There is still far too much attention being focused on the quality and quantity of local television commercials in “primary” markets. Has anyone checked Nielsen data in those markets to see if anyone is really watching those commercials? Why is it that no Republican and/or the Republican Party stepped up and created a network of sites that address the key factual differences between the Republican view of the world and that of the sitting President? Where is the massive and innovative online media buy promoting the Republican message at all of the key online intersections?

This is basic marketing 101. If voters are left to stump speech sound bites and the ramblings of network pundits to decipher the Republican message, they might as well forfeit right now.

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