Facebook, Romney’s Campaign Strategist Sound Off On Panel At GOP Convention

By Jennifer Moire 

It’s all about engagement. That was the message from Katie Harbath, manager of policy for Facebook, in a briefing on social media and the 2012 campaign at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., Monday.

The National Journal-sponsored panel, “The Digital Campaign and the Impact of Social Media in 2012,”  featured heavy hitters in digital politics from Google and Twitter, as well as the digital strategist for Mitt Romney’s campaign, Zac Moffatt.

Moffatt said there’s a big difference between metrics and engagement. In fact, the campaign has coined its own measurement terms that it calls vanity metrics and actionable metrics.

While participants discussed the recent Pew research that examined the social media usage of both presidential contenders, Moffatt says it doesn’t matter how many followers or likes you have if users aren’t engaging. To support his view, he added his own data point.

When the Supreme Court ruling on health care was handed down, the engagement rate on President Barack Obama‘s Facebook page was 1.5 percent, versus 27 percent on Romney‘s page.

That’s how the Romney campaign defines success — how many likes, shares, or comments a Facebook post generates.

Harbath added that the biggest difference between this cycle and 2008 is having a candidate engaged across social platforms, which, in turn, gets a voter to the polls.

The panel also mentioned the potential Facebook has for persuading and influencing more voters by giving instant credibility to a campaign post if it’s shared by a friend in your network. When compared with more traditional campaign tactics, such as door-knocking or phone banking, nothing has the scale and reach of Facebook, Moffatt added.

Harbath said improved cell phone cameras and the emergence of Instagram and infographics are enabling users to share more behind-the-scenes images with their online community. Those types of visuals boost engagement more so than a straight text or status update.  “Continually building up engagement and giving quality posts that people find interesting or are talking about” are key to stronger engagement, said Harbath.

A recent example? When Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) was selected as the vice presidential nominee, his Facebook page exploded.

Moderator Major Garrett of National Journal questioned whether social media really has the power to persuade, or whether it preaches to the choir?  Facebook is all about sharing and engaging with validators, while Twitter is more about broadcasting to your followers, Moffatt said.

While some messages won’t last long, social tools allow a campaign to reignite an issue, seed a conversation around a topic,or let an issue come to the forefront.  All of the channels working together extend a campaign’s reach — and that’s really any campaign’s goal.

Readers: Are you following the RNC via Facebook this year?