Facebook political update: Debates, spam and a polling slam

The Obama campaign added 1.2 million Facebook fans in one day. Featured

Ian Lurie Oct 11 2012

This post is part of a series on social media, Facebook data and the 2012 Presidential election. It updates Portent’s initial research. You can read the original report here.

This year’s presidential race continues to be a great marketing study: The niche brand with a universe problem versus the hesitant big brand. After the debate last week, both candidates had a huge burst of support on Facebook. Both President Obama and Governor Romney’s Facebook fan growth rate grew by 2x or more.

After that the data gets preeeetttty interesting:

Did the Obama campaign spam Facebook?

Someone check my numbers here, because I’d swear the Facebook data shows the Obama campaign adding 1.2 million fans on Facebook in a single day (10/8/12):

The Obama campaign added 1.2 million Facebook fans in one day.

The Obama campaign added 1.2 million Facebook fans in one day.

I looked everywhere for an explanation, but couldn’t find any.

That naturally got me thinking “Spam.” Either a member of the Obama Campaign did a happy dance on Amazon Mechanical Turk and bought a ridiculous quantity of followers all at once, or an Obama opponent decided to see if she could blast his Facebook profile into being locked down. Dunno.

Looking at shares/fan, though, we didn’t find a huge drop. You’d expect 1.2 million new, worthless followers would pull down the average shares per follower. Not so here:

Barack Obama's shares per fan didn't fall, in spite of adding 1.2 million fans in a single day.

Barack Obama’s shares per fan didn’t fall, in spite of adding 1.2 million fans in a single day.

Sooo, either someone tried to spam and accidentally acquired a slew of fantastic, interested fans, or something huge happened 10/8/12 that I completely missed. Anyone?

The polling gap closes

Mitt Romney saw a huge rise in Facebook fan growth rate, too, but he saw it immediately following the debate:

Mitt Romney saw immediate improvement in his Facebook growth rate after the 10/3 debate.

Mitt Romney saw immediate improvement in his Facebook growth rate after the 10/3 debate.

That corresponds to his sudden rise in the polls.

What’s it all mean? His debate performance cracked the shell on his universe problem. He got in front of a lot more people, and appealed to them. The result was both Facebook growth and a rise in the polls.

Note: I’m not saying one caused the other. Just that they correspond. The interesting part of the data, to me, is how intertwined Facebook and polling data is this year.

What’s next

The Obama campaign saw their huge growth on 10/8. That corresponds to a fall in Governor Romney’s growth rate:

When Barack Obama had his huge surge in audience growth, Mitt Romney's growth rate fell.

When Barack Obama had his huge surge in audience growth, Mitt Romney’s growth rate fell.

We’re still testing this theory, and it’s hard to tell if the one-day, 1.2 million fan surge is an anomaly or not. The model we’re building suggests another Obama surge in the polls is coming, but we’ll see. Some polls show Romney in the lead at this point. Others show Obama in the lead and pulling away again. Others indicate an increased chance that Elvis may enter the race. More on that as the data emerges.

Niche brand versus big brand

In our first report, we pointed out that the Romney campaign has a universe problem, while the Obama campaign faces the listlessness and inertia of any big brand. The first debate reinforced that. For whatever reason, the President looked, well, listless. He was extremely restrained, rarely responding to jabs from Governor Romney. Mitt Romney, on the other hand, came out on the attack, pushing hard to make his views known. That seems to have expanded his universe, as polling numbers quickly tilted in his favor:

That’s the danger of a conservative communications strategy, whether you’re a presidential candidate or a corporation. The Obama campaign has left the door open for Mitt Romney. Governor Romney’s breakout performance at the last debate moved him into a virtual tie with the President.

In social media and traditional media, this race is shaping up to be a contest between a contender with a small audience who needs a larger one, and an incumbent with a huge fan base that he can’t keep inspired: The niche brand that’s trying to break out, and the major brand that needs a wakeup call.

Debates are notorious for short-term bounce and long-term irrelevance. Will it stick? We’ll see. But the lesson for the Obama camp—and marketers— is pretty clear: If you play not to lose, you’ll probably do just that.

Tomorrow, I’ll analyze what the candidates said over the past week and audience response to their messages/styles.

tags : Facebookpresidential raceSocial Media