Old habits die hard…even in the Twittersphere.
In an effort to determine if certain tweeting strategies led to an increase of engagement and ultimately a boost in poll results for the four 2012 Republican Presidential front-runners, Michelle Forelle and Sarah Sullivan, master’s students within Steinhardt’s Department of Media, Culture, Communication analyzed 1,016 tweets of Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul, Mitt Romney, and Rick Santorum. Their findings suggest that the candidates’ social media tactics rarely diverge from the traditional practice of bullhorn advertising and mudslinging on the campaign trail.
“Despite the mechanics of Twitter, which allows for easy communication between users using re-tweets and @-mention functions, we saw almost no elements of actual exchange between the GOP candidates and their followers,” Forelle explained. “When Twitter is used correctly, it sparks engagement, discourse, and conversation. We expected to see much more one-to-one interaction between the candidates and their followers given the direct accessibility that tweeting can create. This wasn’t the case.”
According to their data, which are based on public twitter feed data, the two graduate students found that generating attacks on fellow candidates and the incumbent, spreading news of events, endorsements, or boasting a campaign slogan, composed the bulk of each candidate’s tweets.
Further findings of the study include:
· Rick Santorum tweeted the most with 372 tweets. Newt Gingrich (292), Ron Paul (213), and Romney (139).
·Ron Paul appeared to have the best understanding of how Twitter worked. The bulk of his tweets included hashtags that were already established and popular on the site, thus entering his tweets into the greater conversation being had on Twitter.
·Rick Santorum’s tweeting habits initially focused on engagement, but after his surprise win at the Iowa caucus, Twitter became a bullhorn for advertising and self-promotion.
·Although Mitt Romney garnered the most retweets of any candidate, with an average of 283 per tweet, when looked at in proportion to his followers, his retweet ratio was only 6 retweets per 10,000 followers. Compare this to the most retweeted candidate, who was 50% more effective proportionately - Ron Paul, with 9 retweets per 10,000 followers.
· During the period of this study, most candidates would occasionally retweet other sources: Newt Gingrich would often retweet his wife, Callista, and nearly all candidates would recommunicate tweets from news sources that mentioned them. The notable exception to this was Mitt Romney, who across the 77 days of the study only issued one retweet, a picture U.S. Senator Rob Portman took at his Ohio campaign headquarters.
Aside from re-tweets, candidates’ tweets did not engage or address followers. Candidates did not tweet about specific policy positions or legislative solutions that would be of concern to their followers:
Jan 3, 2012 @ronpaul: "’If you want another big-gov politician who supports the status quo..., you should vote for my uncle, @ricksantorum.’ - http://t.co/gqS6X6mO”
Jan. 17, 2012 @mittromney: “The President has run out of ideas. Now he’s running out of excuses. And 2012 will be the year he runs out of time.”
Jan. 20, 2012 @newtgingrich: “Honored to have Chuck Norris’ endorsement. He will make an excellent Secretary of Attack. http://t.co/wjfN1P0K”
Feb 15, 2012 @ricksantorum: “Obama has systematically tried to divide our country for political gain. It's time to choose a leader who will unite us. I'm ready to lead.”
Between the January Iowa caucuses and Super Tuesday in March, the team accumulated numerous data from each candidate’s personal Twitter handle that included: the date the tweet was created, the number and contents of hashtags (#s), @-mentions, the URLs included, the number of times the tweet was retweeted, if the tweet was a retweet, who they were interacting with, and the full text of the tweet. According to Sullivan, this time frame and population sample was just small enough to provide the comprehensive and qualitative results they needed.
“We chose this time frame, while condensed, for a reason,” Sullivan explained It’s a key period of time where you would think candidates’ efforts to engage potential voters would peak. Ideally, we would be able to extend our research during the general election, track both parties in real time, and monitor their engagement with trending topics on Twitter.”
Liel Leibovitz, MCC professor and the students’ research advisor, believes their research is revealing.
“The 2008 elections really set the tone for the use of social media in the political process,” said Leibovitz. “This is one of the first exhaustive studies I’ve seen that takes a close look at how the candidates are using this emerging digital platform. And while they have only scratched the surface of this vast topic, I think that Michelle and Sarah’s research is significant to understanding the application of new media in political campaigns and the long way politicians still have to go before they learn how to effectively use the innovative communications tools now at their disposal.”
About the Department of Media, Culture, and Communication
Media, Culture, and Communication (MCC) is a department within NYU Steinhardt, advancing scholarship in all areas of media, technology and society, with expertise in global media, digital technology, and media history. To discover more about MCC, visit: http://steinhardt.nyu.edu/mcc.
To learn more about NYU Steinhardt, visit: http://steinhardt.nyu.edu.