August 15, 2012

How the Presidential Candidates Use the Web and Social Media

YouTube

One of the most striking new features of the race for president four years ago was the emergence of YouTube. This became a venue for Obama to post longer videos than conventional political advertising. The Obama campaign later reported that it had a billion viewings of videos on its YouTube channel by the time the race was over.

Four years later, YouTube is the platform with the fewest posts from the candidates of any of those studied. But every video posted was promoted widely across their various platforms. During the time period studied in June, no video became hugely popular or could be considered to have "gone viral."  In fact, while both campaigns averaged roughly 40,000 views within 48 hours of posting, just a third of each candidate’s videos actually surpassed that viewership. The video that garnered the greatest number of views by far was not exactly campaign-related. It was the first lady’s Father’s Day card to her spouse.   

Finally, the study also delved deeper into the realm of engagement to see which topics generated the most attention from each candidate’s constituents.

While the economy was the biggest topic in terms of content posted, it was not the one that generated the most response. Obama’s economic posts generated an average of 361 shares or retweets per post. Attention was far greater to posts about public servants (892 shares on average per post), veterans (1,005), women’s issues (1,356) and immigration (1,600).

Although Romney touched on fewer non-economic issues, this was also true of attention to his content, with posts on health care and veterans averaging 2,162 and 2,147 shares and retweets, respectively, compared with 1,186 shares and retweets of content on the economy.

While it’s important to not draw any overarching conclusions from these numbers, given that the number of economic-focused posts far outweighed all others for both candidates, they do suggest that content particularly relevant to specific constituencies, e.g. women’s equal pay or immigration policy for Hispanics, may inspire the most social media reaction.      

But the biggest single video across all platforms during the time period studied was that of Michelle Obama, Malia and Sasha wishing the President a Happy Father’s Day. That video was shared through Facebook 2,265 times in the first 48 hours and viewed 211,663 times.

Cite this publication: Pew Research Center’s Journalism Project Staff. “How the Presidential Candidates Use the Web and Social Media.” Pew Research Center, Washington, D.C. (August 15, 2012) http://www.journalism.org/2012/08/15/how-presidential-candidates-use-web-and-social-media/, accessed on July 22, 2014.