Facebook 'Earned' Impressions Give Candidates Thousands' Worth of Free Ads

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Social media sites might not be able to predict election results, but there's no denying that outlets like Facebook are valuable means for political campaigns to gain exposure. Based on the results its report, "The Digital Politico: 5 Ways Digital Media is Shaping the 2012 Presidential Election," comScore analyzed how social media sites have become intergal to the reach of President Obama and the Republican presidential primary candidates. After examining the two campaigns, comScore resolved that social media needs to be regarded and included as part of a strategy as much as traditional mediums like print and television.

comScore compiled a couple of graphs contrasting how paid display ad campaigns perform against "earned" media impressions, which are basically all of the instances when Facebook users pass along information to their friends via Likes or other ways of sharing. The more that social network members pass along that link or post or whatever it is that a campaign shares basically amounts to bonus advertising that costs exactly zero.

What's revealing about this analysis is how candidates who aren't as well funded as Romney or Obama matched the amount of paid impressions with earned impressions, like Rick Santorum did, or completely dwarfed paid impressions with twice the earned impressions, as was the case with Ron Paul. The second graph clearly indicates that the strength of Ron Paul's campaign rests with his grassroots organization and successful virility of his messages on social media. comScore estimates that the 30 million earned impressions that Paul achieved is roughly worth $100,000.

Previous studies of political campaigns on Twitter reflect the strength of Ron Paul's message throughout social networking sites. Not only does he have a higher incidence of positive messages on Twitter and blogs, plus his average amount of retweets trumps all other Republican candidates.

While Paul might have the highest frequency of retweets on Twitter, he also excelled in frequency of impressions for fans on Facebook. Newt Gingrich's fans were passing along his messages at a much higher rate than Paul's fans, but can you blame them: with Gingrich habitually making bombastic statements about moon colonies, his unappreciated greatness, and self-references to obscure historical figures, why wouldn't more people want to share that carnival of messages?

Now that the Republican primaries are winding down and candidates begin to transition into the general campaign throughout the summer and fall, it'll be interesting to see how President Obama and (presumptive) Republican challenger Mitt Romney make use of social media and how well their messages resonate among their fans and followers. President Obama's campaign championed the grassroots nature and virility of social media during his successful 2008 campaign but after four years it's questionable whether he'll be able to ride that lightning again. Alternately, given that Romney is all but the official Republican nominee, even in spite of the GOP's reluctance to convalesce around Romney, it's not certain that all of Ron Paul's social media prowess could be transferred over to Romney's campaign. Well, certainly not without an endorsement for Romney from Paul, but even then his legion of loyalists may be hesitant to rally behind a candidate that's not Paul.

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