Social Super Tuesday — How the 2012 Candidates Stacked Up On Facebook

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Editor’s note: Roger Katz is CEO and co-founder of social media engagement company Friend2Friend. His career includes management and consulting roles at companies such as Photobucket, Agilent, Brocade, Quantum, Bell Labs and Pacific Community Ventures, as well as a number of startups. Follow Friend2Friend on Twitter @f2f_tweets.

Every vote counted on Super Tuesday. The results coming down to the wire, with Mitt Romney narrowly beating Rick Santorum by only 0.8% in the Ohio primary. While some may argue that the issues elevated Mitt above the rest, as a social marketer I can’t help to wonder if social savvy determined the winners and losers.

Are 2012 Politicians Social Leaders?

Both marketers and politicians alike know that inspiring and motivating fans/supporters to share your story is an incredibly powerful influence. Once someone has decided to support a candidate, does the candidate encourage them to share that choice with friends? Do they make it easy? Do they make fans break a sweat? I decided to take a quick look this week — focused for comparison’s sake limited myself to Facebook — and summarized my observations below.

Barack Obama: 25.4M fans

Obama’s 2012 “Are You In?” campaign (recently expired) simply asked fans to share their statement of support with their network, and invite their network to join. It included a leaderboard-style “gamification” mechanic that rewarded fans by telling them how many people were inspired to join the Obama campaign as a result of their wall post.

Obama’s team chose a nice “man of the people” cover photo, fist bumping a blue-collar worker, and a “Pinned” post that when I looked had 75K likes, 21K shares (more than ¼ the likes, which is a very high number) and 25K comments (almost ⅓ of the likes!) since it was posted less than two weeks ago (February 26th).

The Obama team did an exemplary job telling his life story through milestones — from his infamous birth certificate printed on a mug to his first job at Baskin-Robbins, when he met Michelle, and more.

Key Learning: His “I’m In” campaign was simple. It did not request the fan to do much of anything other than what they already do on Facebook — typing, and clicking “Share.” No friction, no fuss. The Obama Facebook experience is comprehensive, professional, and authentically irreverent, with lots of content that is easy to share with fans.

Mitt Romney: 1.4M fans

The cover photo includes a bold photo of Mitt Romney and his wife, surrounded by supporters. His Pinned post includes Super Tuesday photos, with engagement at 106 shares, 2.7K likes, and 1.5K comments when I last checked.

His main Facebook app, “Stand with Mitt,” really puts fans to work and requires a significant time investment to complete the actions. Here, supporters are asked to download a PDF, print it (preferably in color), write on it, take a photo, upload the photo, enter their email address, and send the photo to the Romney team for possible inclusion in a photo gallery on Facebook.

The oddly named “What’s your take?” app is slightly more socially savvy, asking followers to answer the question “Have you ever volunteered for a campaign?” While it’s unlikely anyone would want to share any answer other than “Yes, Loved it,” it is a good effort. Some of the options in the app don’t appear to work, but the comments are interesting. And it’s good to see the campaign managers have let negative comments stand.

Key Learning: The “ask” in the “Stand with Mitt” app has significant barriers to participation. Though the resulting photos are fun, engaging and provide an interesting look into the face of a Romney supporter, the Romney team should have made the whole process considerably easier and simpler. This campaign feels a lot like one that would have been popular in the early 2000s, and featured on a campaign microsite. It just doesn’t feel like an activity tuned for Facebook users. You’d have to be a pretty fervent supporter to go to the trouble of doing this.

Ron Paul: 898K fans

Given that Ron Paul supporters are generally thought to be in the 18-39 age group, it’s surprising that his Facebook presence isn’t more sophisticated. The “Ron Paul Facebook Promoter” offers a confusing and poorly designed campaign that requests a name, email and phone number, and also asks fans to change their profile picture to show their support for the candidate. The campaign selects a photo for you, and provides instructions on how to download that photo, and then tells you how to change your profile to the Ron Paul sanctioned photo. Paul seems to have devoted more of his resources to his websites, which are complete and highly comprehensive. (His “Choose Your State” app on http://www.ronpaul2012.com has 608K shares, 62.5K tweets, and >750K shares by other means.)

Key Learning: While the effect of seeing Ron Paul’s brand on every one of a fan’s Facebook posts would be a good brand coup, most savvy Facebook fans would not only already be aware how to change their Facebook profile photo, but probably would also want to add their own personal “spin” to something as critical as that photo. But while Paul hasn’t fully embraced Facebook, he does appear to have made more effort to embrace social sharing on his website.

Newt Gingrich: 293K fans

Newt Gingrich’s Facebook page is focused less on putting his small number of fans to work, and more on soliciting money for his campaign. His “Donate” page, “Sign Newt’s Energy Petition,” and intriguingly named “Newt Live Cam,” all send fans off Facebook to his http://www.newt.org site. There are various petitions to sign, and in the past week, the Gingrich team added a “States with Newt” app that lets fans visit pages such as “Delaware with Newt” to drive local community action. As this app indicates the number of fans in each state — in the case of Delaware 67, with the largest being Florida, with 2,584 fans — it points more to the lack of following, than a healthy grass roots movement.

Key Learning: Little effort is put into encouraging fans to share their support of Gingrich on Facebook with friends and family. Asking for name, email, and location before spinning the fan off to http://www.newt.org, indicates little understanding of the potential social power of Facebook. Gingrich would have been more authentic to himself by engaging fans in sharing his views on Facebook, rather than using the space to primarily ask for donations. Facebook users value authenticity, and conversational debate, and tend to avoid places where they don’t see those traits.

Rick Santorum: 160K fans

Rick Santorum’s Facebook page is full of things to do, though most are not on Facebook. The first link provided takes you to a “Fundly” page — conveniently pre-populated with your Facebook credentials. Other links take you to ricksantorum.com. The Santorum team has, however, provided a tempting “like-gate” where fans are rewarded with a free e-book of something called “Santorisms” — essential quotes and images of Rick Santorum in a PDF file.

Key Learning: The Santorum team did provide exclusive content behind a like-gate — a decent social marketing convention — but wasted the opportunity. They should have taken that PDF e-book content and made each and every quote and photo shareable by fans. That would have made a perfect, viral social content-sharing campaign and would play to the reasons that fans love their candidate, and gives them something to share that tells their friends why they love that candidate.

This November the Winning Candidate Will Keep it Simple, Yet Engaging

Successful social campaigns are actually quite simple. Make fans/supporters work, but don’t make them work too hard. The most engaging campaigns have an interaction that’s clean, simple, fun, and rewarding — with as little friction between click and share as possible.

Respect the social context and don’t send the fans to your website. Keep the fan where they want to be — on the social network where they encountered the campaign — and give them something to share. Content speaks volumes, and political candidates do have a lot of, ahem, content to share.

Social media represents a huge potential to engage followers both locally and nationally. Social media lets fans volunteer without even leaving their seats. Politicians must learn how to put advocates to work on their campaigns and make it easy and fun. Chances are the candidate that masters engagement and grassroots community-building will find themselves in the White House after November’s election.