The 2012 election postmortems continue, and research published in Capitol Hill newspaper Politico indicates that congressional candidates with the social media mettle to engage their Facebook fan bases got much-needed bumps on Election Day.
While candidates experimented with niche platforms like Pinterest and Spotify, Twitter and Facebook were the dominant platforms in election 2012. Facebook was called by one strategist the “800-pound gorilla” of this cycle.
We heard about the importance of engagement from Republicans and Democrats, alike. With the votes counted, Democratic strategists Matthew MacWilliams and Edward Erikson put some data behind the hypothesis. The pair explored the relationship between fan base and fan engagement in 33 of the most competitive races for the U.S. House of Representatives and all 33 U.S. Senate races over a three-month period.
According to their data, eight out of nine Senate races considered to be tossups this year were won by the candidates with the more engaged Facebook fan bases. In North Dakota, Wisconsin, and Nevada, those candidates won when the major party candidates had comparable fan page numbers. Campaigns in Virginia, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Indiana were also won by those candidates with the most engaged Facebook fan bases, even though their bases were smaller than those of their opponents. All but the Nevada race were won by Democrats.
The report examines in detail the Massachusetts Senate race between winner and Democratic challenger Elizabeth Warren and incumbent Scott Brown. According to the study, 32 percent of Warren’s social network – more than 100,000 fans — were liking, commenting, and sharing news about her campaign on Facebook on Election Day, while Brown engaged about 12 percent, or some 45,000 people.
How did she do it? On Election Day, Warren posted on Facebook nine times, sharing everything from images to text, videos, and links. Get-out-the-vote information was popular, as well as photos that were just plain cute or personal — like the image of Brown and her husband voting.
The authors said Warren’s posts were more inspirational and appealed to voters core values and emotions, while Brown’s posts were more transactional and less engaging, despite both sharing similar messages that urged voters to vote.
Senate candidates weren’t the only ones to benefit from Facebook. A total of 20 of the 33 most competitive House races across the country Tuesday were won by candidates with measurable Facebook fan engagement advantages, according to MacWilliams and Erikson. In six out of nine House open seat races, the candidates with engagement advantages won. And in 11 of the 15 competitive House races where incumbents lost Tuesday, the challengers enjoyed engagement advantages over the incumbents.
The piece doesn’t go so far as to say that engagement numbers directly resulted in wins. That would be a stretch, since most strategists say that a mix of traditional campaign tactics — TV/radio advertising, canvassing, and phone banks — with social is still needed. An effective outreach strategy for campaigns needs to include a social component that looks beyond raw fan numbers to how those fans are touched and with what kind of information.
That was evident in the presidential race, where an engagement focus didn’t seem to help Mitt Romney‘s campaign. Romney’s digital strategist, Zac Moffatt, was an advocate for engagement metrics, rather than looking at raw fan numbers. President Barack Obama consistently bested Romney in fan page likes though Romney had a respectable following. Moffatt says his team focused on metrics like “talking about.” At key points in the race, Romney beat President Barack Obama in engagement, although some say that was because the former governor had fewer likes. Romney running mate Paul Ryan had a very strong Facebook base — far stronger than that of Vice President Joe Biden. Clearly, other factors are at play.
But a focus on Facebook engagement is worth the investment. Just ask Jim Matheson, who won his Utah House race, and newcomer Ted Cruz, who became the first Hispanic voted to the U.S. Senate from Texas.