Is John McCain Really Part of the GOP "Social Media Genius" Club?

mccainA recent academic study measuring the “social media IQ” of US politicians paints a picture of John McCain as a social media maven and the GOP in general as far smarter than their Democratic counterparts. But it perhaps relies too much on measures of the quantity of tweets rather than the quality of their content – arguably a better prediction of virality and exposure on social media. While GOP senators do appear to have the edge over the Democrats online, it is likely for reasons other than simply more content.

A joint venture between New York University and George Washington University, the Digital IQ Index: U.S. Senate examines 100 senators and their social media usage. Within their measurements, Facebook, Twitter and Youtube are each given 25% proportional weight, and general blogosphere mentions and site traffic together make up the remaining 25% of the analysis.

So who comes out on top? The certifiable “social media genius” amongst all 100 senators is John McCain with a Digital IQ of 156. Next after McCain (R) are Jim DeMint (R), Scott Brown (R), Al Franken (D) and John Cornyn (R). The fact that 80% of the top five Senate social media mavens is no outlier either – overall, Republicans are much more social media savvy than Democrats, with an average Digital IQ of 103 next to the Dems’ 98.

However, these numbers need a little explanation before they can be taken at face value. As Newsweek astutely points out, McCain is the only one of the bunch who has the benefit of a recent Presidential bid. This might explain how his 625,000 Facebook fans far surpasses Jim Brown’s second place numbers of 232,987, and his colossal 1.7 million Twitter followers next to runner-up Jim DeMint’s 42,273.

The study as a whole does show that Republican candidates have an overall larger presence online than Democrats. They have more followers, fans and videos. And the study offers insight into the nature of these social media mavens: the ten most conservative Republicans outpace their own party and the Democrats in social media presence. However, sheer bulk does not indicate social media success – the “social” in social media hints at that. It’s not about how many tweets you send out but how many people re-tweet, visit the links and engage with your message. And, while this “velocity” is accounted for in a small segment of the study, it is dwarfed by quantity analysis.

Despite the shortcoming in this research, it might make Dems stand up and take notice. Their social media presence doesn’t have the reach that the Republicans have, and this could be costing them votes. Social media is a potential perfect compliment for politics, as it allows people to quickly and easily access politicians’ platforms, issues and speeches. It has been used to “get the vote out” through easy voter registration, and even as a virtual town hall in the recent UK elections. With all of these benefits, social media is going to prove to be a powerful tool in the upcoming 2010 mid-terms, and even more so in the 2012 Presidential election. Stay tuned.