Nowhere was the effectiveness of Obama's social media messaging skills more apparent than last Thursday. Shortly after Clint Eastwood made a bizarre, rambling speech to a chair, Obama's campaign tweeted out a photo of the president from behind, his head barely peeking over a chair labeled "The President." The accompanying text with the tweet? "This seat's taken," a not-so-subtle reference to Eastwood's chair. Twitter reported that it was retweeted 51,400 times. Romney's most-retweeted tweet from that week had only received 4,800 retweets. Think about that for a second. The GOP nominee, during a week devoted specifically to rallying and exciting his base, could only muster 1/10th the number of retweets as his opponent. The same image repurposed for Obama's Facebook page garnered 80,000 shares, more than any post Romney has published in the last month. More evidence that Obama's social media following is much more engaged than Romney's came Tuesday night during Michelle Obama's convention speech. Twitter reported that the first lady's "primetime speech peaked at 28,003 Tweets per minute (TPM) at its conclusion—nearly double Republican candidate Mitt Romney's (@MittRomney) 14,289 peak." Even more impressive, the president broke a new Twitter record with his speech on Thursday night, generating 52,756 tweets in the minute following its conclusion. This was highest tweets-per-minute rate for a political event ever recorded. The Republican National Convention generated only 4 million tweets over a period of three days. There were 3 million tweets about the first night of the Democratic National Convention alone, and 9.5 million over the course of the entire convention.
What about digital media strategies outside of social? Is there any evidence that Romney is innovating at a quicker pace than Obama? Well, one of the most interesting arenas being explored right now by campaigns is the role of mobile, especially for fundraising purposes. Around the same time as the convention, Romney's camp announced that it would begin using Square, the mobile payment system created by Twitter cofounder Jack Dorsey, to begin taking donations. "We are excited to be the first Presidential campaign to make serious use of Square devices at a major event like a national convention," Moffatt claimed in a statement.
Whoa there. Before you get too excited about this development, notice Moffatt's careful use of the phrase "major event like a national convention." That's because Obama's campaign began using Square all the way back in January. Moffatt's claim to have been the first to use it a convention is, while factually true, pretty much meaningless given that the GOP convention came first.
Perhaps more importantly, Obama's team was able to navigate the guidelines established by the FEC and began allowing text message donations from his supporters earlier than Romney. Many strategists have predicted this kind of donation will cut out much of the friction in fundraising by allowing supporters to give money during live events when they're most fired up. Otherwise, you have to rely on them to either carry that enthusiasm all the way home where they can donate via computer or line up somewhere at the actual event. Romney's team didn't begin allowing text message donations until after the GOP convention. As one Democratic strategist put it to me, "That was a huge missed opportunity. You had thousands of people fired up all in the same room. It would have been the perfect time to ask them to donate, and they wouldn't have had to get up from their seats."
Maybe there was a reason behind this. Perhaps the FEC threw some unexpected hoops that Romney had to jump through, delaying the launch of such a feature. But as with many of the campaign strategies employed during this election, most of us will remain in the dark on the details until long after votes are cast. I know it makes a great campaign narrative to recount how Republicans fell behind on social media innovation in 2008, only to come to their senses and surpass the first social media president four years later, but right now it pays to be a little skeptical. Otherwise we risk rewriting history to award points for creativity and ingenuity that aren't deserved.