In honor of Mitt Romney winning Tuesday’s Iowa caucus by a mere eight votes over Rick Santorum, I’ve monitored tweets, Facebook posts, and the blogosphere to bring you the eight reasons that social media doesn’t matter in the GOP race…(And yes, you read that right; I’m setting my love for all things social aside to offer a few realistic reasons for how social media buzz doesn’t translate into votes…)
1. Social mentions equal celebrity status, not victory. Ron Paul dominated the social graph, totaling five times more mentions than Romney or Santorum or even the president himself. As of today, two days after the caucus, he is still leading the social mentions over Romney and Santorum, both of whom finished before him on Tuesday.
2. Social media reflects what people are talking about, not who they’re voting for. Remember Herman Cain? Rack your brain — yep, there he is, the Georgia jack-of-all-trades who dropped out of the race after facing serious allegations of sexual harassment. In October, Mr. Cain was leading the Facebook Buzz, generating an average of 80,000 mentions on the social network daily. And now, he’s not even a player at all.
3. (Local) Community matters. Local news still rules. Even in the days of the digital age, local television news is still the number one source of news for the majority of people, according to Pew Research Center’s State of the Media 2011 Report. As bloggers and tweeters and proponents of everything digital, we may want to step back and see that people still value local opinions and information over standard social media blasts.
4. Followers aren’t always supporters. Former U.S. Speaker of the House and current GOP candidate Newt Gingrich has over 1.3 million followers on Twitter but has been repeatedly criticized that many of his followers are bots or from outside the United States. A core of active, engaged followers can be much more reflective of a candidate’s popularity than the number of followers or fans. In addition, many individuals will follow multiple candidates to see their tweets and posts, even if they have an unfavorable opinion of the individual.
5. In campaign season, engagement is sparse. Understandably so, few candidates actually seem to respond to comments and posts on their pages. Instead, individuals tend to spar amongst themselves in the comments section of candidate’s posts. Whereas social media is intended to be, well, social, the influx of feedback and opinions seem to make candidates slow to respond — if they bother to respond at all.
6. Passion offline trumps passion online, at least when it comes to voting. Successful candidates need to take that passion people express online and carry it over offline. President Barack Obama was successful with this tactic when launching MyBarackObama.com (Mitt Romney has a similar site, MyMitt.com). This allowed individuals who were passionate about the current president to translate that support into tangible, viable votes through more traditional canvassing methods.
7. If you’re not the Obama Girl, “going viral” may be the worst thing that happened to your candidacy. Remember that time Rick Perry commented that Social Security was a Ponzi scheme? Or that time Michele Bachmann told America the HPV vaccine could cause mental retardation? Social media fueled the spread of these gaffes, and thousands watched the videos or read about these missteps on their Facebook walls or Twitter feeds. Attention does not always equal positive attention. (Actually, in today’s world, it rarely does.)
8. Thirteen percent. So yes, thirteen is larger than eight, but thirteen percent is the amount of Internet users who use Twitter. That’s it. That’s less than 1/5 of Americans using a social network that everyone loves to talk about (or at least try to talk about…Gov. Perry, it’s twitt-er, not tweet-er).
It goes without saying that candidates need to be on social media. It can be a powerful fundraising tool and even canvassing platform if used correctly. However, retweets don’t equal votes. Facebook comments don’t equal votes. Followers don’t equal votes. Translate that support offline, and then you can see how that “like” equals votes.