2012 GOP Campaign Tweets are Politics as Usual, Not Effective Social Media Strategy, NYU Steinhardt Study Shows


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 campaign politics.

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 500

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