The 2012 presidential race pits a former community organizer vs. a former corporate executive, with Twitter sharing styles to match.
Data collected and analyzed by OhMyGov shows that President Barack Obama's tweeting pattern is, in a word, volatile.
Some days @BarackObama tweets a lot, other days hardly at all. The
tweeting seems to be unscheduled, or at least far less preplanned than that
his opponent, Mitt Romney.
The @MittRomney account, on the other hand, has maintained steady behavior throughout
the entire year. Romney keeps tweet output strictly under 25 tweets a week. This approach is tantamount
to an accountant's ledger: there is an agreed-upon limit for tweets, and
no matter what happens, it shall not be extended.
the folks running @MittRomney are consciously trying to avoid tweeting "too
much," which can be defined as at a frequency your followers are not accustomed to. The
@BarackObama feed, in comparison, looks unplanned, reactive, even moody. Maybe the staff's caffeine consumption drives the output.
compare the behaviors of the @BarackObama and @MittRomney accounts, we
looked at how often they tweeted (overall quantity and frequency of tweets)
and why they tweeted (if it was proactive or reactive to daily
which is observable by volatility). We reviewed outgoing Twitter
activity for the past year and found a stark difference between the two
Though Obama also has control over the official @WhiteHouse account and
various campaign accounts (such as @Obama2012), we chose to focus our
comparison on the primary personal handles of the two candidates. Okay, who's up for
a little social media psychology couch session?
Reactive or Consistent?
heated political campaigns go, how candidates say something is as
important as what they say. With millions of dollars spent on voter
polling and focus groups every day, observing how campaigns use social
networks like Twitter is a window into the state of mind of the staffers
who are dealing with the pressures of the 24-hour news cycle as well as
justifying the costs of their outreach (in both campaign time and
methods of reaching out to voters provide campaigns the opportunity to
respond quickly to breaking news and mitigate potential fallout caused
by unaddressed rumors or otherwise negative messages. There are likely
dozens of campaign strategists handling the official accounts for Mitt
Romney and President Obama, working around the clock to make sure messaging is
consistent across platforms.
the campaigns have the opportunity to tweet at any time, rapid response
is a double-edged sword: messages will reach millions fast, but they
may not have been vetted by appropriate staff for accuracy. In addition,
using social media as a purely reactive way to reach out to the public
is a generally frowned upon practice; it's the equivalent of only
calling a friend when you need a favor -- and then calling them five
times in a row until they pick up the phone.
On the other hand, campaigns
which aren't flexible to the interests of their followers on Twitter may
come across as aloof or impersonal. There is danger in either approach, but many large social media publicity campaigns -- politics or otherwise -- strive for consistency first.
Obama's Volatile Tweet Schedule
first chart below shows the weekly Outgoing Tweets for @BarackObama over the last year. Note that Obama tweeted with a relatively steady cadence from last September until mid-January 2012, mostly keeping to a comfortable 25 to 50 tweets per week. But as the Republican primary season shifted into its final heated stages, @BarackObama started on a series of Twitter benders.
During the last week of January, Obama more than doubled his tweeting over the week before, posting 96 times. Then he effectively clammed up for a few weeks. Then another huge spike, and a "new normal" characterized by more frequent tweeting and considerable week-to-week volatility.
The "Now you see me, now you don't" nature of Obama's tweeting is even more apparent when you look at the DAILY activity. People following @barackobama may see 20, 30, 40 posts from the president in a single day, or 5.
Is the Obama social media gang deciding what and how to
tweet on a day-by-day
Between August 30 of last year and today, @BarackObama sent a total of 3,615 tweets, @Mitt Romney sent 543. This equates to an average of just under 10 tweets a day for Obama, and 1.5 for Romney. But, of course, averages don't tell the whole story. The occasions on which Team Obama posted in the neighborhood of 10 tweets in a day weren't all that common. It was more likely you'd see a whole slew of tweets, or just a few.
Over the three months since May 30, Obama has increased his Twitter onslaught to an average of 16 tweets a day. Romney has remained steady all year at 1.5 per day.
are a few major spikes in activity which seem directly related to
national events. The spike in March occurred around the same time that
most political analysts began to raise serious concerns that the March
jobs report indicated the US economic recovery was slowing, rather than
continuing or accelerating. Stories like this one in the New York Times received 390 comments,
a high level of interest from readers. This level of online engagement
was likely seen as an "emergency call" to ramp up engagement with voters
across all platforms.
The most volatile activity from @BarackObama occurs around, sure
enough, the most chaotic announcement of the Obama Administration in
2012: the change in policy regarding gay marriage. Just
take a look at the Google Trends graph for mentions of "Obama" during
May 2012 - you can be sure the administration experienced a flood of
incoming media request during this time which, in turn, put pressure on
the entire communications staff to use all methods possible (including
Twitter) to communicate to the public and media in response of their
Zooming in on Romney's Twitter output for the last year, the machinelike consistency is even more apparent.
Mitt's Twitter feed has got rhythm, anyway
The Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism
recently took a look at the @BarackObama activity (as well as many
other networks), remarking that "Obama's campaign has made far more use
of direct digital messaging than Romney's." It's true: Obama has put
out more content than Romney. For example, since early July,
@BarackObama has increased the average tweets to over 125 tweets per
week, suggesting even more pressure being put on the campaign to reach
voters in the last two months alone. Pew notes the activity may lay, in
part, due to the campaign's revamped website launch in July.
The inconsistent, even erratic, nature of Obama's tweet output is
rare for someone with a large, well-funded campaign. Even across the U.S. Senate, no one comes close to the
Twitter activity of @BarackObama. The Senate's most prolific tweeter
over the last year, John Cornyn (R-TX), posted just 2,815 tweets. And he was one of only
four Senators to top the 2,000 mark. Where would Mitt fit? Exactly half of the Senate tweeted more than Romney over the past year, half tweeted less. (See, he is just an average guy.)
Four members of the U.S. House out-tweeted @BarackObama over that same time, with Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) ranking first with 5,145 tweets and giving the president a run for his money in volatility. However, if you include tweets from the official @WhiteHouse account, Obama would regain the top overall spot.
So when it comes to getting out the message, President Obama is indisputably the tweeter-in-chief.
A deeper look at a few nationally known politicians running for office this year -- including House
Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA),
Sen. Scott Brown (R-MA), U.S. Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and others --
revealed a tweeting frequency and pattern that's more akin to the Romney approach.
This group averaged around 2 tweets daily; rare was a day with more
than 10 posts.
When you compare the volatility and frequency of the campaigns' tweets, @BarackObama is definitely pushing limits, taking a calculated risk of saying too much, too often. Mitt Romney, in favoring consistency, may not be saying enough. We'll find out in November.
Editor: Mark Malseed
Follow us on Twitter at @ohmygov