A billion dollars will be spent by major political campaigns online this cycle. The technology is... well, it's quite amazing what campaigns could do online if they were creative enough, but they remain somewhat captive to the safer instincts of conventional strategists.
When Donald Trump's campaign started to look more professional and less like an extension of his quest to stay relevant, I and others noticed that his social media presence was remarkable in one very tangible way: When his Twitter account uploaded a new tweet to the world, it was quite clear that his fingers had punched it out. The filter between Trump's brain and the thoughts he shared was tissue-thin.
I dare say that virtually none of the other candidates actually tweeted at the time. Tweets had to be run by someone, or many people, first. Not Trump's, for better or for worse. Turns out, mostly, for the better.
I wondered whether Trump would co-opt other social media, too. A new study by the folks at EPIServer, a digital content and marketing company, suggests that Trump has turned out to be proficient across the omnichannel — more so than any other campaign. The company cites his "[h]ighly effective use of Twitter and Facebook; most tweets, second most followers and page likes of any candidate; noteworthy tweets clearly visible on website." Though Trump's website is comparatively barren, that's fine. No one supports Trump because of his website. He's adapted the social media formats that are best for him. EPIServer gave him its highest Digital Campaign Score — a 75.
Number two is Bernie Sanders. It turns out that his website does attract visitors and pageviews, the most of any candidate or campaign so far. People hear about him; they want to learn about him; they go to his website and feel the Bern. In contrast to Trump, his activity on Twitter doesn't drive attention — but then again, Sanders is a different candidate who uses social media differently.
Some other highlights from the EpiServer study:
Ben Carson's campaign page has more Facebook followers than any new candidate, a consequence of his early engagement. But his website isn't very well developed.
Hillary Clinton is everywhere. She has the most Twitter followers and has a presence across all social media platforms. But her Facebook following is "is equal to or less than other GOP candidates polling lower," EpiServer notes, and her campaign hasn't figured out how to get folks to use social media to engage.
Episerver's methodology seems solid enough. It ranked the candidates on Twitter followers, total number of tweets, Facebook likes, Facebook new likes, Facebook referrals, the breadth of their social media reach, and how easy it is to find issue discussions on a candidate's web page.
Several candidates with well-intergrated social media campaigns, like Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush, score low here, and this tells us something about the level of excitement they generate. The message remains the medium — and more important than the method.