Does Romney have a better Facebook strategy than Obama?

Republican candidate Mitt Romney is leading President Barack Obama in Facebook engagement and new Likes, in part because of a strong social ad campaign that takes advantage of the latest opportunities on Facebook.

Obama might have the most Facebook fans of any politician — approaching 28 million — but the average number of interactions per day on his page has not been much higher than on Romney’s page, which passed 5 million Likes this weekend. There are likely several factors at play here. Larger pages routinely have a lower percentage of engaged users compared to pages with fewer Likes. New fans are more likely to see page posts than people who have Liked the page for a while, so Obama might not be reaching much of his audience as Romney currently is.

But beyond these inherent disadvantages, the Democratic campaign doesn’t seem to be taking the right steps to maximize its impact on Facebook. It’s posting less frequently and seems to be running fewer social ads.

Romney’s team, on the other hand, is using all the newest Facebook marketing and advertising features. In addition to posting more than four times per day on average, they’re running Sponsored Results so that Romney and his running mate Paul Ryan show up in the results when users search for “Obama,” “Biden,” “Democrats,” “Republicans” and other political pages. This is something that only became available last week. The Republican campaign is also running page post ads and Sponsored Stories, including in the News Feed. All these ads drive users to Romney and Paul’s Facebook pages, leading to more new Likes and a higher People Talking About This count.

Obama’s campaign seems to have been only running traditional ads in the sidebar. This type of ad, which leads off-Facebook and does not have a Like button or social context, is known among social marketers as the worst performing unit on Facebook. Not only do these ads cost more and have lower average clickthrough rates than others on the social network, when users do notice and interact with them, there is no social amplification of this action. Users’ friends won’t see that they Liked the page or engaged with a post because there are no calls to action from the ad to do these things.

However, with Romney’s social ads, each paid action can result in additional exposure. For example, users might see that their friends claimed an offer or shared a photo. And each new page Like opens up more of an audience to target with Sponsored Stories, which only appear to friends of fans.

In 2008, many pointed to Obama’s use of digital and social platforms as a key factor of his success. But Facebook moves fast, and his team doesn’t seem to be as up to date as the Republicans are this time around. The campaign might be too reliant on organic activity, which as many marketers are discovering, isn’t necessarily enough to succeed on Facebook anymore. Obama’s team might also be weaker than Romney’s on Facebook because it is putting more effort toward other channels like Twitter and YouTube.

Follow the candidates’ Facebook progress using our Election Tracker and PageData tools.