Which GOP 2012 Contender Captures the Social Media Crown?

The 2012 presidential election is still 20 months away, but the social media horse race has begun. We know how President Obama is using the tool. But where do his potential GOP contenders stack up?

The 2012 presidential election is still 20 months away, but the social media horse race has begun.  We know how President Obama is using the tool.  But where do his potential GOP contenders stack up?

President Obama took to YouTube and Facebook to announce his reelection.

Tim Pawlenty, who first entered the presidential race via Facebook, immediately released a YouTube retort.

Mitt Romney took to his Twitter account to call out Obama.

And Pawlenty and Romney are just two of the ever-increasing number of Republican politicos said to be eyeing a run for the White House in 2012.  As evidence of how far social media has come in politics, the number of Facebook followers a candidate has is being watched in this election as closely as which important primary states he or she plans to visit.

It’s politics-gone-social, gone wired, gone 21st century.  Here’s a rundown:

TIM PAWLENTY

Twitter: @timpawlenty

Facebook: www.facebook.com/timpawlenty

The former Minnesota Governor has done the most among potential GOP candidates to plant his feet firmly in the 2012 field, announcing a presidential exploratory committee on Facebook and hiring a prominent, and social-media friendly, campaign manager.  Pawlenty’s  70,000 plus Facebook fans and 27,000 Twitter followers show that being the first can help, especially for laying a social media base.  Pawlenty’s YouTube response to Obama’s reelection bid, as described above, got more than 53,000 views.  His Facebook page is mostly videos and links to make donations to his PAC, while his around 460 tweets-to-date are mostly focused on announcing public appearances and gathering support for other Republican candidates and causes.

MITT ROMNEY

Twitter: @MittRomney

Facebook: www.facebook.com/mittromney

The former governor of Massachusetts lost to Sen. John McCain in the 2008 Republican primary, but appears to be the GOP favorite for 2012.  He just announced the formation of a presidential exploratory committee with a low-key Internet video on a new website.  Romney also has what could be called a “slick” social media presence, more corporate than personal or unpredictable.  His Facebook page boasts more than 800,000 fans and includes the usual features like a welcome video, donation link and links to events and speeches.  His 30,000 followers on Twitter also won’t catch many off-the-cuff thoughts from Romney – his feed is mainly links to OpEds he has authored or pictures of the politician out on the road. 

NEWT GINGRICH

Twitter: @newtgingrich

Facebook: www.facebook.com/newtgingrich

The former House Republican leader from Georgia is known for his conservative ideas and straight talk, making him a bona-fide hit in the world of conservative social media.   That straight talk has garnered him more than 118,000 Facebook fans and 1.3 million Twitter followers, a GOP contender record.  Gingrich’s Twitter feed provides the type of musings and insights into his thinking that GOP voters seem to want.  His 2,200 plus tweets speak to hot-button issues like abortion and health care, alongside the more traditional plugs for media appearances and book signings. Gingrich also extends the tool one step further with separate, official Twitter feeds maintained by his wife Callista and his 2012 exploratory committee.  Gingrich’s Facebook page, meanwhile, has a unique feature called “Newt Chatter” that allows followers to post their thoughts, but also features promotional materials for his latest book, updated Web videos and his public appearance schedules.

SARAH PALIN

Twitter: @SarahPalinUSA

Facebook: www.facebook.com/sarahpalin

It’s an understatement to say that the former governor of Alaska and 2008 vice-presidential candidate has made her mark, and cultivated her following, via social media.  From policy statements to sharp rebukes to promos for her TLC reality show, Palin’s more than 2.7 million Facebook followers never know what they’re going to get.  She also uses the site to deliver slick campaign-style videos and, perhaps more than any other candidate, as a way to bypass the media and reach her constituency directly.  She’s also a presence on Twitter with 140-character hard-hitting, straight-talk  in each of her 800 plus tweets to more than 400,000 followers.  Palin has been relatively quiet recently when it comes to the 2012 race, failing to respond via Facebook or Twitter to Obama’s reelection announcement, for example, but there’s no doubt she cannot quickly grab voters’, and the media’s, attention because of the social media base she’s built.

MICHELLE BACHMANN

Twitter: @MichelleBachmann

Facebook: www.facebook.com/RepMicheleBachmann

The Republican Congresswoman from Minnesota, and founder of the House Tea Party Caucus, wasn’t originally considered a 2012 contender, but recent travels to Iowa and record-setting fundraising have put her in the mix.  Bachmann’s passionate persona and her ability to rally the conservative, Tea Party base should do as well for her on the Web as it has in the polls and the donation booth. She used social media tactics like mobile ads and geo-targeting to win her 2010 congressional race, while one-third of her $2.2 million in fundraising last quarter came from online donations alone, her digital strategist told the Minneapolis Star Tribune.  The Congresswoman’s nearly 120,000 Facebook fans and 41,000 Twitter followers also outpace the social media followings of more “established” candidates.  She also stands from other potential 2012 candidates in the way she uses the sites to let her position be known to her followers, largely skipping the promotional plugs to forcefully deliver her opinion and policy statements.

HALEY BARBOUR

Twitter: @HaleyBarbour

Facebook: www.facebook.com/haleybarbour

Once-loud talk of the Mississippi Governor jumping into the race has quieted recently, and it doesn’t look like he can rely on avid social media followers to rally him back into contention.  His around 300 tweets on standards like social issues and the budget debate are more conservative talking points than breaking news, while his Facebook page is primarily focused on his work in Mississippi and listing speeches and public appearances.  His total numbers -17,000 Facebook fans and 12,503 Twitter followers – put him towards the bottom of the GOP pack, a respectable following but probably not enough to push a wavering candidate to the top.

DONALD TRUMP

Twitter: @RealDonaldTrump

Facebook: www.facebook.com/donaldtrump

Does Donald Trump have what it takes to be the President of the United States?  He’s never been a politician, but we know for sure Trump knows how to use social media strategies to build his name and brand.  The real estate mogul has become a nearly overnight, surprisingly credible presidential candidate largely by making his Obama birther conspiracy viral, capturing media attention and voters’ eyes and ears. After he was interviewed on the Today Show last week, his name exploded on Twitter, quickly pushing him to land among the top trending topics on the social network.  His fan base there alone, more than 400,000 followers, puts him among the top of GOP contenders, while his 200,000 fans on Facebook is not too shabby either.  In addition to his own, Trump also has an independent fan page on Twitter with over 100,000 followers. The bigger question for Trump is whether he can control his social media presence to his advantage, or whether the platform will consume him.  His use for social media now is, as predicted, mainly promotional, i.e. using Twitter and Facebook to pitch his many public appearances, business ventures and Web videos, of him promoting his public appearances and business ventures.

Tell us what you think.  Which 2012 candidates are you following through social media?  Which candidate do you think is winning the ‘social media horse race’ so far?