Election 2012: Who is Steering the Online Conversation?

Apr 18, 2012

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In 2008, Barack Obama turned to the web for everything from campaign fundraising to training volunteers. Now, as the republican field is finally narrowing down and we move closer to the 2012 election, Conductor, Inc. is taking a look at the web-habits of the candidates. The study suggests Mitt Romney -- the republican frontrunner -- has a steep hill to climb to win the battle for voter attention as November nears...at least online.

According to Conductor, President Obama has a huge lead, spending twice as much on Google advertising, has eight times more Facebook likes and five times more Twitter followers than all of the Republican candidates -- Romney, Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, and Ron Paul -- combined. If you leave the president out of the equation, Romney is dominating the online political scene. Romney's official website appeared on the first page of search results for online searches about him almost half of the time. Romney also boasts several times the Facebook "Likes" of the other candidates.

"Romney's strategy has been broad -- he has a strong, steady presence across all the mediums we looked at: search, Facebook, Twitter, Google advertising. Santorum has been late to the game and, in an effort to catch up, threw a lot of dollars at what he hoped would be a short term fix -- Google advertising," says Nathan Safran, director of research at Conductor. "Obama's time in the game shows -- he has a far bigger social following than even all the republicans combined and arguably, most importantly, he controls the messaging in the ever important natural search results -- his website appears on page one nearly 10% more often than Romney -- when talking about millions of searches that can translate to many more eyeballs that see the message Obama wants them to see when searching for him."

Surprisingly, despite dropping out of the race, Rick Santorum provokes more Google searches (51% more searches than Romney and 79% more than Gingrich) and received the largest share of online news coverage in March at 35%. Of course, anyone familiar with Dan Savage's famous campaign to turn "santorum" into a dirty word might be able to guess why there are so many Google searches for the man. Safran says research shows that research "shows how aggressively the visibility of his website grew-far more than the other candidates. Clearly his team was working to aggressively move his website up in the search rankings for queries containing his name."

More immediately, Safran says, "They also were likely looking to counter his 'problem' with a shorter term solution by controlling the messaging in the paid search ads running alongside the natural search results, as Santorum ramped his paid spend up significantly more than the other candidates."

It's hard to say how all this online attention translates to votes, but Safran has some advice for the candidates going forward: "Approach it scientifically with research as to how potential voters are looking for more information about you online. Then, measure, measure, measure -- understand what is and is not working in your online approach-what is and is not resonating with the online community rather than a throw it against the wall and see what works approach."

("Voting/Survey" image courtesy of Shutterstock.)