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Did Social Media Predict The Withdrawal of Gingrich and Santorum?

Peter Claridge

Five months in and we are left with just two Republican presidential candidates in the race. Well, I say two, but who really believes that Ron Paul, despite his cult like status and huge following amongst the younger crowd, will actually get the Republican nomination? Unmetric has been tracking the campaign since day one and with the withdrawal of two candidates who were both using social media to great effect, I decided to dig a little bit deeper in to the data and see if there were any signs that the withdrawals were entirely predictable.

Santorum: The First Casualty

What started as a slow burner quickly turned in to a stick of dynamite as Rick Santorum went from a third place nobody to chief challenger to Romney within just a few months, unseating Gingrich in the process. Infact, in a blockbuster January, Santorum went from just 40,000 fans to over 100,000 fans in one month, an increase of nearly 140%. However, by March 16th the explosive growth truly ran out of steam, managing to add just 9,000 new fans between then and the announcement 25 days later that he was withdrawing from the race. In the run up to the April 11th announcement, new fans increased by only 144 per day, a cataclysmic change from March where he was adding over 810 new fans per day.

Santorum Facebook Fan Growth

Up until March, the social media team for Santorum had been one of the most active Facebook posters out of the four candidates, averaging over 10 new posts per day. However in March, this was drastically scaled back to just 4 posts a day. Interestingly, as Santorum’s social media team posted less, the engagement went up as more people Liked, Commented and Shared the posts which suggests that over the months the team was on top of their game and were really understanding what content resonated well with the fans. However, politics is a popularity game and as Santorum struggled to add more fans it was clear the campaign couldn’t go any further.

Santorum Posts vs Engagement

Gingrich: From Contender To Outsider

Until his recent withdrawal from the candidate race, Gingrich was one of the top performers on social media with his hard line conservative politics and consistent attacks on the incumbent president striking a chord with many voters. In terms of engagement, his social media team were on top of their game, soliciting far more Likes, Comments and Shares on each post than all the other candidates. This high engagement was encouraged with questions like “Can we get 1,000 shares” and “Can we get 5,000 Likes for a conservative president” and helped turn around a campaign that looked like it was over before it began back in June 2011. Gingrich, inline with the other candidates, saw exceptional growth in December and January, bringing in a massive 70,000 new fans, although by March his Facebook page could only add another 5,500 fans, the lowest of any candidate since the campaign got underway. The growth rate, which had stalled in March at 1.9%, ran out of fuel in April and by the end of the month Gingrich had fewer fans than at the start. The final nail, as it were, in the campaign.

Gingrich Facebook Fan Growth

The beginning of the end of Gingrich’s campaign can be pinpointed with stunning precision to the 21st March when the social media team posted the announcement that they were just 4,000 fans short of reaching the magical 300,000 mark. Ironically after that post was made, the Gingrich Facebook page started losing fans and they never got to 300,000.

Newt Wants 300,000 Likes

April was also a telling month for the campaign with the Facebook page being updated much less frequently. In the four months up to April, the team had been posting an average of 54 posts per month, but in April they managed just 26 posts. This had an impact on the engagement score which dropped to 218 from a four month average of 250.

Gingrich Posts vs Engagement

Ron Paul: Time To Throw In the Towel?

The Republican Presidential Election campaign now has just two candidates. One, who is looking to move back to the more mainstream policies after being forced further right to compete against the conservative policies of Gingrich and Santorum, and a maverick who seems to be a thorn in the side of the Republican party.

Romney has received the backing of Gingrich and seems to have benefited from the exits of the other two candidates with his fan growth rate jumping up to 6.6% in April, double what it was in March. On the other hand, Ron Paul’s growth rate dipped to just 2.4% in April, the lowest in five months, suggesting that his campaign has also run out of puff.

Ron Paul Facebook Fans Growth

Another indicator that Ron Paul’s campaign is coming to a natural conclusion is the number of posts and engagement score has been falling in the last few months which is inline with what happened to the other two candidates.

Ron Paul Posts vs Engagement

Last Man Standing

It seems that it will simply be a matter of time before Ron Paul withdraws from the race now that his fan growth has started to stutter. Romney’s fan base, on the other hand, saw renewed impetus as it surged ahead in April, likely from fans jumping from Santorum and Gingrich. The graph below illustrates just how the fan growth has changed over the last five months for the four candidates. It’s interesting that for all of Santorum’s success, he wasn’t able to translate that in to a large Facebook following and for all of Ron Paul’s grass roots support and young, passionate advocates, it’s not being reflected in the polls.

Candidates Facebook Fan Growth

All data has been compiled and analyzed from the Unmetric application which tracks dozens of metrics to enable brands to benchmark themselves against competitors and their industry sector. Gain access to all this data by claiming a 10 day free trial..