MOBILE, Ala. (WALA) - If numbers can't lie, social media activity predicted the 2012 presidential election.
President Barack Obama defeated Mass. Governor Mitt Romney by reaching the 270 electoral votes required to secure a win in the general election. In the time leading up to Nov. 6, both campaigns fought a social media battle unlike any seen in a previous election.
Expanding the ground game
Obama's campaign had been using social media since the 2008 election. The President's Facebook page , with 33.1 million "Likes", dates back to February 2007, when the then-senator announced his candidacy. Governor Romney's page , which has more than 12 million likes, dates back to February 2010. His presidential announcement came in June of 2011.
Assuming an (albeit, unlikely) equal growth over the number of months since their inceptions, Romney's page gained 352,000 new "Likes" per month while Obama's gained over 398,000.
The campaigns both embraced Facebook's Timeline profile layout, which was rolled out earlier in 2012. Both campaigns focused on sharing photos, as opposed to text or link posts. On election day, both campaigns only shared photos highlighting certain ones.
If campaigns focused on using photos on Facebook, Twitter was the go-to network for sharing ideas and links.
This Tweet is paid for by...
This year marked the first time a candidate's campaign has paid to advertise on Twitter, a micro-blogging site.
According to Twitter.com's Help Site, "The # symbol, called a hashtag, is used to mark keywords or topics in a Tweet. It was created organically by Twitter users as a way to categorize messages."
These hashtags make tweets searchable and more easily retrievable by grouping them into common categories.
If a hashtag gains enough following from users and finds its way into enough posts, it makes it into the site's trending topics list, which means it is featured on all users' homepages.
Think of it as a social media snowball. But, for the right price — $120,000 per day, to be exact — one can buy enough snow to make a snowball.
The Romney campaign purchased a trending topic during the Republican National Convention.
For one day during the convention, #BelieveInAmerica appeared in the trending topics section on the left side of every Twitter user's homepage. When the mouse was held over the topic, a small pop-up message read "Paid for by Mitt Romney for President."
The RNC also paid for a keyword during the convention, #RomneyRyan2012.
The nights the topics appeared as sponsored, supporters jumped on them, but opponents also voiced their opinions on the campaign.
As the campaigns went on, the #RomneyRyan2012 and #BelieveInAmerica hastags stuck. For the most part, tweets using them on Nov. 6, election day, were posted by disheartened supporters.
Promoted tweets are similar to sponsored trends. In Twitter searches for a given keyword, a promoted tweet will appear at the top of that search.
The Obama campaign purchased tweets that appeared at the top of searches for Mitt Romney and Barack Obama on the website. Instead of paying a set price for those promoted tweets, the promoter pays for each time a user reposts or responds to the message.
A search for @MittRomney (the governor's official campaign account) returned this tweet from the Obama camp:
Why Mitt Romney was not an effective governor: OFA.BO/yVXafv— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) October 16, 2012
A search for @BarackObama returned a similar tweet that touted a shortened version of the president's stump speech.
If users queried either of those subjects, those respective tweets appeared at the top of the results.
Organic trends, ones that simply gained enough traction to make it to the trending topics list on their own, also played a part in the campaign, especially during debate season.
Parodied and shared
During the debates, Twitter users latched on to several quips from both candidates.
Do "Horses and bayonets", "Fire Big Bird", and "binders full of women" sound familiar?
All three phrases found their way to the trending topics list during the debates. A Twitter account created for Obama's "horses and bayonets" line, which came during an exchange about the country's armed forces, has gained numerous followers and several copycats.
Tumblr.com also gave users an outlet for creative energy as it related to the debates popular one liners. Accounts parodying Romney's "binders full of women line", as well as Obama's "horses and bayonets", quote popped up within hours of the debates.
An even divide
Less-known social networking sites like