He was criticized for bringing on the government shutdown, but Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, only benefited on the Internet for his stand.
Cruz has been crowned the winner of the first-ever "Senate Sweeps" competition, held by the D.C.-based political analytics startup TrendPo. The contest, which kicked off Oct. 2, the second day of the government shutdown, pitted 64 of the most social media-savvy senators against one another in a weekly NCAA bracket-style challenge, ending Nov. 12. Whispers obtained an early copy of the white paper, which will be available for download Thursday.
Because Cruz was in the news for his faux filibuster, he had an edge early on in his regional bracket. His first competitor among the southern senators was Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Cruz won handily. The first week of competition looked at social media gains overall, and Cruz walloped Alexander with 30,850 Facebook likes to Alexander's 212. On Twitter, Cruz gained 8,412 new followers to Alexander's 242, and Cruz bested Alexander on YouTube, 3,297 likes to two. Sens. Rand Paul, R-Ky., and Mike Lee, R-Utah, along with Sens. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., bested their bracket challengers as well, due to being vocal on the government shutdown.
Week two, which whittled the 64 senators down to 32, looked closely at Facebook activity, and again Cruz reigned supreme. That week, as the government was still shut down, Cruz's Facebook posts were liked 21,268 times, allowing him to trounce his bracket challenger Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., who had only 878. But down the line, Cruz might have some across-the-aisle competition. "Senator Bernie Sanders saw the most Facebook Talked Abouts on a single day of any Senator after he said that President Obama should invoke the 14th Amendment on the debt ceiling," TrendPo's analysis revealed.
During the week of Oct. 16, TrendPo looked to Twitter, for the competition's "Sweet 16." Cruz faced Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., and won, while we saw Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., get bested by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., in her bracket. Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, edged out Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.
Cruz's style of tweeting several times a day has served him well, according to TrendPo's data. "Cruz tweeted an average of five times per day, resulting in an average of 575 retweets per tweet and almost 1,500 new followers each day," TrendPo observed. "He retweets his colleagues' posts often to show support for their initiatives -- demonstrating that you can drive engagement to your social media accounts by initiating engagement with others' content."
One of Cruz's most affective tweets from that week, garnering more than 4,000 retweets, simply showed a picture of the tea party Texan along with a quote from him about defunding Obamacare. "It's no secret that Cruz has a penchant for self-promotion, and his tweets are no exception -- he even quotes himself!" TrendPo stated.
With only eight senators left, the YouTube challenge pitted Cruz against his tea party comrade Paul. Cruz won, in part because his team was more creative in its use of the medium. "While Paul's YouTube videos were primarily television appearances, Cruz created original content in an easily sharable 60-second YouTube video," TrendPo's analysis explained.
Finally, in the final four, we were left with Cruz, Lee, Sanders and Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., two tea party Republicans against two liberal Democrats.
Cruz dominated for several reasons. Against Sanders, Cruz's message had broader appeal. "Both lawmakers pushed out a steady stream of content across all social media networks--the devil was in the details," TrendPo explained. "Sanders promoted a campaign to protect Medicare and Social Security--a message that resonates with a very specific age demographic; Cruz reiterated a few key messages about broader issues like Obamacare and the federal budget."
Additionally, when Cruz and Lee went head to head for the winning slot, Cruz's social media team gave supporters very specific instructions on how to engage. Cruz asked for retweets on Twitter if followers supported a statement he made. And on Facebook, he asked them to answer a certain question in the comments.
Sean Rushton, Cruz's communications director, attributed his boss' "Senate Sweeps" success to getting geared up early on in political life. "Sen. Cruz has been a strong believer in social media from the start," Rushton said via email. "The third staffer he hired on his campaign was the New Media Director and social media was a huge part of how he got his winning message out."
TrendPo's final analysis, however, questioned how much news cycle dominance had to do with social media success. "Would Cruz have won if not for the government shutdown? It's hard to say, but perhaps what's more important is that Cruz's social media strategy did not lose momentum after the government re-opened," TrendPo observed, adding that no other senator could match the amount of online buzz that Cruz generates daily. "The data speaks for itself: Ted Cruz is the Best Social Media Senator around," TrendPo said.