By Jennifer Martinez - 08/15/12 11:44 AM EDT
But if a campaign posts more content online, that doesn't mean it's guaranteed to nab more votes for its candidate on Election Day. Still, Tom Rosenstiel, director of the Pew's Project for Excellence in Journalism, noted in a statement that "historically, candidates who are first to exploit changing technology have an advantage."
The report tracked the two campaigns' postings on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube over a two-week period this year, from June 4 to 17. It also examined the two candidates' websites in June and late July.
Of note, the study also found that online posts from the Obama campaign elicited more reaction from people than Romney's did. Posts from the Obama campaign generated more than 1.1 million "likes" in total on Facebook during the study's observation period, while posts from the Romney campaign received around half that number, some 635,000 "likes" in all. The difference in engagement on Twitter was even more stark: Obama's posts were re-tweeted more than 150,000 times, versus nearly 8,600 re-tweets for Romney's posts.
"These differences are not simply a reflection of Obama’s campaign posting content more often than Romney," the report said, noting that Obama's Facebook posts received more comments and his YouTube posts averaged more "likes" than Romney's. "If one looks at the average response to the campaign posts on each platform, Obama also has a substantial advantage."
But the two candidates share one particular trait in their digital efforts: While they might use social media to blast out messages to people online, the campaigns rarely use it to interact with them directly. The study found that just 3 percent of Obama's 404 campaign tweets were re-tweets of people's Twitter posts. Romney, on the other hand, had re-tweeted one message — from his son Josh — during the study's observation period.
Other than tracking the candidates' digital activity, the study also shed light on how the two campaigns are using different messaging strategies on social media. For example, while both campaigns' content largely focused on their own presidential candidate, Pew found that roughly a third of the Romney campaign's online posts centered on Obama and were critical of a certain policy stance or action he took. Meanwhile, around 14 percent of the Obama campaign's posts focused on Romney.
But the two campaigns also diverge in the way they communicate about the top issue in the election: the economy. The study reported that around three-quarters of Romney's posts touched on jobs or described Obama "as hostile to job creators." Obama's posts on the issue were divided between jobs and other, broader economic issues, such as investing in the middle class.
These economy-focused posts didn't exactly elicit much of a response from voters for either campaign, however. According to the study, Romney's posts on healthcare and veterans "averaged almost twice the response per post of his economics messages." Obama's posts on immigration, women's and veterans' issues received more than double the number of shares or re-tweets of his economic posts.