Who Is Winning The Presidential Election On Facebook? Obama or Romney?

by Ryan Cohn on Oct 22, 2012
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It’s less than a month until Election Day and I’m a citizen of the great state of Florida. That means I’m inundated by political messaging nearly every minute of every day.

I also work for the top public affairs communication firm in the state, which means that I can’t get away from politics, whether at home OR at work.

So, as a professional in the social media industry, I find myself constantly analyzing each candidate’s messaging on Facebook.

Whether through advertising, search, messaging or community development, these two Presidential campaigns are pioneering the use of social media unlike ever before.

Let’s review both Facebook strategies and how they compare, in 5 separate categories. Whether you like one candidate over the other OR neither, there is a lot to learn from both.

1. Voter Acquisition

In terms of advertising, the Obama campaign is running an aggressive premium Facebook advertising campaign. The Romney campaign has been more subdued on the advertising front, instead feeling the benefits of advertising by third parties and PACs.

Obama is paying to place posts in the Newsfeeds of potential voters in swing states, regardless of party affiliation and whether or not they have Like’d the candidate’s page. They’re running on both desktop and mobile, and also in the right sidebar.

Obama is also running ads to his current fans in order to collect information and ensure that they turn out to vote.

Third-party organizations and PACs, like American Crossroads and FreedomWorks, are running a variety of marketplace ads pushing for early and absentee voting in swing states.


2. The Battle for Search

While both candidates are actively using Facebook’s new Sponsored Results advertising product, the Romney campaign is easily winning on this front.

Overall, the Obama campaign is running defense. They’ve paid to sponsor their own search queries, in order to ensure that Barack Obama comes up #1 for searches of Obama’s page.

The Romney campaign though has gone much farther with Sponsored Results, defending its own search position, but also placing the Mitt Romney Page in search queries for Barack Obama, Joe Biden and Paul Ryan. When searching for Mitt Romney, Paul Ryan’s Page comes up as a sponsored option too.

It’s important to both defend your brand in search results when faced with aggressive competition AND go on the offensive to ensure expanded visibility.

3. Divide and Conquer

Both campaigns have taken very different strategies for Facebook audience segmentation and delivering tailored, separate messaging.

The Obama campaign has created a large network of separate Pages, dividing by demographics and location.

The Romney campaign focuses predominantly on the main Mitt Romney page, but makes a point of showing certain messages only to users in specific states. They take advantage of Facebook’s gating option, for example sharing information about rallies and volunteer efforts to users in specific states.

The Obama campaign segments its Facebook audiences based on demographics and interests. They use different messaging for each Page. The African Americans for Obama Page features videos by prominent figures Morgan Freeman, Jay-Z and Maya Angelou, in addition to many photographs of African American voters. The Latinos for Obama Page integrates Spanish into a lot of its content.

The Romney campaign has fallen short on this front – it’s only moderately successful segmented Page being Veterans and Military Families for Romney.

More general content is shared across all of Obama’s Pages though, like this:

Obama Segmentation Pages

Page Likes People Talking About This
Women for Obama 1,156,317 815,024
African Americans for Obama 264,614 151,745
Latinos for Obama 150,871 57,286
Veterans for Obama 49,918 32,688

Romney Segmentation Pages

Page Likes People Talking About This
Veterans and Military Families for Romney 81,216 38,644

(Data as of October 19, 2012)

4. Social Savvy Messaging

More now than ever before, it’s increasingly difficult to cut through the clutter on Facebook and reach a user. The Presidential campaigns both take great care to ensure that their messaging is quick, clever and visually compelling.

According to Facebook’s Katie Harbath (Manager, Public Policy), “We’ve found photos get 2x the engagement than just posts with text. If you do post text, no more than 250 characters.”

Both campaigns follow Katie’s tips and heavily focus their messaging strategy on short, visually-engaging posts.

Obama’s campaign interweaves photography and text in most its image posts, either overlaying the text on top of the photo, or adding it above or below the photo. Obama’s campaign also overlays a lot of quotations over photos. If a graphic uses an overlay, they ensure that the background photo doesn’t take away from the text.


Romney’s campaign doesn’t overlay text on their photos as often, but frequently shares photos that include signage in the shot with easily readable campaign messaging.


Both use consistent branding and specific typography and colors on their overlays and infographics. Obama’s branding palette appears to be more diverse than Romney’s though. Romney typically uses a simpler, traditional look with red, white and blue, and the occasional purple for women’s issues.

Both campaigns are also using infographics on Facebook, well sized and scaled for the newsfeed.


Video on Facebook

While both campaigns occasionally share videos, Obama’s campaign uploads their videos directly to Facebook and then highlight them in the Timeline, while Romney’s campaign links directly to YouTube videos and does not highlight them.


5. Application Use

Romney’s Page features a Stand With Mitt Application that provides easy access to Timeline Badges and the ability to see which of your friends stand with Mitt.

Both candidates have Donate and Store applications.

Obama’s Page features a Commit To Vote Application that provides personalized voting information for the user based on their state, as well as a Register To Vote Application solely on the segmented Pages (African Americans for Obama, Latinos for Obama and Women for Obama Pages).


This election cycle is the first real social media Presidential Race, with both candidates full invested and innovating in the space. No matter who wins, it is clear that Facebook and social media are now fully engrained in Presidential politics.

Whose campaign do you think is doing a better job on Facebook?

Post Author

Ryan Cohn is Vice President of Social/Digital Operations at Sachs Media Group. A nationally-acclaimed digital media thought leader, Cohn teaches advanced social media at the Florida State University. His insights are regularly featured by a variety of prominent media outlets,...

  • Great insight Ryan. I learn something new from you everyday.

  • Good insights on different methods of Facebook marketing. However, I think it’s important to notice that in one of the posts for Team Obama, there are several negative comments against the President directly underneath. Is this type of instant feedback an instance of the old “there is no bad publicity,” or is there a way to measure how each of the campaigns’ efforts may actually turn people away from a candidate? It’s the same conundrum all businesses face in how to handle negative feedback in social media.

  • Nice piece. It will be interesting to see, if the data is made available, what users did in interacting with the ads. For instance, if I see an ad that is not pertinent to me or my interests, I habitually block the ad/company and choose from the list of reasons. I don’t know how many people bother, but I’ve I’m going to be served up ads on Facebook, I’d rather help further define who I am so I can get better ads, and maybe better deals.

    In the case of candidates, I’ve blocked several for all sorts of reasons – including because I just thought their ads were horrible. And I’ve noticed that after doing it consistently for the past few months it seems Facebook has “learned” not to promote candidates/issues I will not support on my screen.

  • Nice analysis! To your point #3, I’m curious how the combined numbers (especially Talking About) for Obama’s segmented pages + his main page compare to Romney’s segmented pages + his main page? Wondering which strategy resulted in the highest engagement averages.

  • Wow! What a great – and very balanced – analysis of the ways each campaign is using social media. There is a lot to learn here! Thanks for sharing.

  • Really, really interesting. I noticed Romney’s use of Sponsored Results the other day (screenshot at http://atmd.st/fbsr). It is actually refreshing to see these candidates (or, I guess their campaign staff) taking advantage of new media and keeping up with the latest trends/best practices. Using branded images and infogrpahics? That’s something even some of my clients don’t see the value of (yet)!

  • Bill Smith

    Well presented, understood and balanced. I had dinner with a group of FSU students and professors this past week. The topic was not politics, but it came up. The professors were divided between the two candidates, while the students were in favor of the President, because he will reduce or forgive student loans. How do we communicate to students this is short term, and what do they face in the future? A day later, the same question came up with a female bartender at Fridays. She was preplexed as to who she would vote for, as both candidates haven’t given her a clue as to the path or compass she should take in fullfillng her life after 22. Everything seemed short term. Sort of a fix thing.
    We live in one of the most interesting times of my life, and as a professional communicator, I am challenged by today’s youth and how we reach them. Ryan, your input certainly helps, and perhaps keeps me grounded into one more decade of kicking butt as a teacher. Lunch is on me.

  • Don

    Obama has segmented pages because he has diverse supporters. The pages reflect the racial, ethnic and gender differences represented in the Obama campaign.