No Strong Evidence Romney Is Beating Obama in Digital Media

Despite claims by his campaign, a look at available metrics shows President Obama is actually outdoing Romney.


But what if we tried to assess Obama and Romney's digital media strategy based on the evidence and data we do have access to? Would Moffatt's claims stack up?

To do this, we must first acknowledge the obvious: Obama far outstrips Romney when it comes to social media following. On Facebook, it's 28 million to Romney's 6.2 million. On Twitter, it's 19.2 million to 1 million (the jury's still out on how many of Mitt's followers are fake accounts). On YouTube, it's 217,000 subscribers to Romney's 17,000. You see this level of disparity on nearly every single social media platform out there.

Many, however, would argue that this metric alone is misleading. One reason is because Obama has had four years to build up these accounts (though it's worth noting that Mitt Romney also ran for president four years ago, so presumably he didn't start from scratch last year). One thing to point out, however, is that politics are not graded on a curve; what matters is how effective your strategy is, not who had some kind of unfair advantage. Voters aren't going to care when Romney launched his social media account, the only question that counts is whether it moves the needle.

[Check out our editorial cartoons on President Obama.]

But the social media following also doesn't speak to how far your message is spreading on social media, how many users are engaging with your account, and what effect the messaging has on voters. In the case of Facebook, the social media network employs a sophisticated algorithm called EdgeRank that determines the importance of a page's content (this is why you see your girlfriend's status updates much more often than your high school friend you haven't spoken to in 10 years; Facebook has noticed you engage with the girlfriend's content more often and prioritizes it). Therefore, 1 million fans aren't worth very much if only 10,000 of them are ever seeing anything you post.

One metric that's publicly available on Facebook and gives you some insight into engagement is the "talking about" metric, which roughly measures the number of people commenting, liking, and sharing your content. Currently, Obama has 2.4 million Facebook users talking about his page and Romney has 3.2 million. At first glance it might seem like Romney is winning the engagement war, at least until you realize how shallow the "talking about" metric really is. While it gives one measure of engagement, it doesn't measure the sentiment of that engagement. If one truly had a more engaged audience, you would expect that audience to not just interact with a candidate's Facebook page, but the opponent's page as well.

To help you understand what I mean, I opened up the comment threads of the three most recent posts on Romney's page and began counting the comments that were supportive of Romney and those that were negative against him. In the first post, I counted 12 out of 50 comments expressing negative sentiments toward Romney. In the second, it was 8 out of 50. In the third it was 8 out of 50 again (not all the remaining comments were positive; some were comprised of barely comprehensible sentences). So in this unscientific sample size, around 20 percent of the comments were negative toward Romney, and yet they would all fall under the "talking about" metric.

[Read the U.S. News Debate: Was the Republican National Convention a Success for Mitt Romney?]

And as mentioned before, a much more important metric is the reach of a post. If Romney has a less influential fanbase, then he needs many more shares per post for it to reach the same number of unique users (if Obama's fan base averages 200 friends per fan and Romney's 100, then Romney could need up to twice as many shares per post).

The "talking about" metric also doesn't measure the effect of the messaging itself. The most liked post on Mitt Romney's page in the last few weeks, with over 1 million likes, is simply a graphic asking the audience to help the campaign get 5 million likes. This kind of post might be fine for rallying the base, but it has no conceivable message or talking point, nor does it target a particular constituency, other than the broad category of "Romney supporters." On the other hand, consider the data-rich infographics featured on Obama's Facebook page that are targeted toward specific issues voters. One of them spells out the number of jobs Obama would create for the wind energy industry. Another alleges regressive GOP policies aimed at women. A third outlines how Obama is making college more affordable.