Can social media predict the 2012 GOP presidential nominee? That’s the question I asked for a recent panel presentation to the National Communication Association at its annual convention in New Orleans.

I proposed that the more popular a candidate is on social media, and the more a candidate is able to engage others on social media, the more successful the candidate will be in caucuses, primaries and the election.

To test this, I looked at 17 different measures of social media success – both in terms of popularity (the amount of reach for each candidate) and engagement (how well candidates used the tools). The results mirrored recent national polls, meaning there may be some value to this data.

Here’s a look at how the candidates rank in each area (all data was from Nov. 13, 2011).

1. Total followers on Twitter

It’s worth noting that Gingrich had 1.3 million followers as far back as March, so his huge following is not necessarily tied to the election.

1. Newt Gingrich1,346,342
2. Herman Cain164,339
3. Mitt Romney161,669
4. Michele Bachmann112,198
5. Rick Perry103,649
6. Ron Paul76,545
7. Jon Huntsman48,858
8. Rick Santorum37,878

2. New Twitter followers in the past 30 days

CandidatesNew Followers
1. Herman Cain47,434
2. Mitt Romney27,720
3. Newt Gingrich11,835
4. Michele Bachmann8,184
5. Jon Huntsman7,729
6. Rick Perry7,291
7. Rick Santorum5,920
8. Ron Paul5,905

3. Facebook Likes

The top three candidates here all started with a solid base. Romney had 800,000-plus as far back as March.

1. Mitt Romney1,175,188
2. Ron Paul582,857
3. Michele Bachmann459,152
4. Herman Cain371,532
5. Rick Perry170,911
6. Newt Gingrich168,031
7. Rick Santorum31,955
8. Jon Huntsman22,814

4. New Facebook Likes in past 30 days

CandidatesNew Likes
1. Herman Cain99,320
2. Mitt Romney43,229
3. Ron Paul39,321
4. Newt Gingrich15,617
5. Rick Perry3,844
6. Jon Huntsman2,569
7. Rick Santorum1,843
8. Michele Bachmann-1,077

5. Twitter lists

How often each candidate has been added to a list on Twitter. This is an indication that followers find value in their content.

1. Newt Gingrich10,125
2. Michele Bachmann4,964
3. Mitt Romney4,182
4. Herman Cain3,784
5. Rick Perry3,499
6. Ron Paul3,330
7. Rick Santorum1,498
8. Jon Huntsman1,219

6. Twitter Lists/Followers

The frequency with which followers add candidates to Twitter lists. For example, Bachmann is added to a list once for every 22.6 followers that she has. The lower the number the better; a high number may be an indication you are followed by accounts that aren’t really engaged with your content.

1. Michele Bachman22.6
2. Ron Paul23.0
3. Rick Santorum25.3
4. Rick Perry29.6
5. Mitt Romney38.7
6. Jon Huntsman40.1
7. Herman Cain43.4
8. Newt Gingrich133

7. Number of last 20 Tweets with @

This shows that the candidates are actually being “social” on Twitter and not just pushing their message.

1. Michele Bachmann12
1. Newt Gingrich12
3. Jon Huntsman11
4. Rick Santorum10
5. Mitt Romney7
6. Rick Perry6
7. Herman Cain5
8. Ron Paul0

8. Klout score

Klout measures influence online on a scale of 1 to 100.

1. Herman Cain82
2. Rick Perry77
3. Mitt Romney76
4. Jon Huntsman71
5. Newt Gingrich70
6. Michele Bachmann67
7. Rick Santorum65
8. Ron Paul61

9. Tweetgrader Rank

Tweetgrader measures the “power, reach and authority of a Twitter account.”

1. Newt Gingrich20,303
2. Herman Cain36,321
3. Rick Perry48,240
4. Rick Santorum51,252
5. Michele Bachmann61,184
6. Mitt Romney67,228
7. Ron Paul84,200
8. Jon Huntsman108,558

10. Tweetlevel Score – Measures your influence on Twitter.

1. Newt Gingrich82.8
2. Herman Cain79.7
3. Michele Bachmann70.1
4. Rick Perry69
5. Rick Santorum64.5
6. Mitt Romney62.2
7. Ron Paul55.2
8. Jon HuntsmanN/A

11. Rank

Measures how likely your tweets are to be retweeted, an indication that people value what you say.

1. Herman Cain13,746
2. Newt Gingrich30,312
3. Mitt Romney43,367
3. Rick Santorum43,367
5. Rick Perry68,823
6. Ron Paul108,000
7. Jon Huntsman108,674
8. Michele Bachmann109,402

12. Shares on Last 12 FB Posts

The number of people who clicked “share” on each candidates’ last 12 posts to Facebook.

1. Herman Cain2,882
2. Newt Gingrich2,189
3. Michele Bachmann1,960
4. Ron Paul1,884
5. Rick Perry1,286
6. Mitt Romney891
7. Jon Huntsman262
8. Rick Santorum113

13. Likes on Last 12 FB Posts

The number of people who clicked “Like” on each candidates’ last 12 posts to Facebook.

1. Herman Cain56,384
2. Mitt Romney32,756
3. Michele Bachmann20,208
4. Ron Paul17,678
5. Newt Gingrich12,781
6. Rick Perry10,802
7. Jon Huntsman1,667
8. Rick Santorum17,678

14. Comments on Last 12 FB Posts

The number of people who commented on each candidates’ last 12 posts to Facebook.

1. Rick Perry13,126
2. Herman Cain7,419
3. Mitt Romney6,980
4. Michele Bachmann5,365
5. Ron Paul3,746
6. Newt Gingrich2,143
7. Jon Huntsman383
8. Rick Santorum129

15. Facebook “Talking About This”

Number of people who have interacted with candidate’s page in the past seven days.

1. Herman Cain85,554
2. Mitt Romney52,378
3. Ron Paul49,935
4. Newt Gingrich20,560
5. Michele Bachmann18,426
6. Rick Perry7,871
7. Rick Santorum3,875
8. Jon Huntsman2,593

16. Mentions on Twitter Past 7 Days

Source: (Searching a candidate’s Twitter username and real Name)

1. Herman Cain138,000
2. Rick Perry92,000
3. Ron Paul40,000
4. Mitt Romney26,000
5. Newt Gingrich17,000
6. Michele Bachmann9,059
7. Jon Huntsman3,976
8. Rick Santorum3,095

17. strength

Strength is the likelihood that your brand is being discussed in social media.

1. Herman Cain36%
2. Ron Paul33%
3. Rick Perry31%
4. Mitt Romney27%
4. Newt Gingrich27%
6. Michele Bachmann26%
7. Jon Huntsman20%
8. Rick Santorum19%

Overall results

Each candidate is assigned a value from 1 to 8 based on how they ranked for each area I tracked. The lower the candidate’s average score, the higher they are regarded in social media circles. You can see that Herman Cain is leading the pack with an average rating of 2.29. Newt Gingrich (3.47) and Mitt Romney (3.53) are second and third.

Twitter Followers21345687
Twitter Followers last month13246875
Facebook Likes46135278
Facebook Likes last month14285376
Twitter Lists41325678
Twitter Followers/List78514236
Tweets with @ in them71516843
Klout Score15362874
Tweetgrader Rank21653748
Tweetlevel Score21634758
Tweetrank Rank12385637
Shares of last 20 FB Posts12635487
Comments of last 20 FB Posts26341587
Likes of last 20 FB Posts15236487
Facebook Page “Talking About This”14256378 mentions last 7 days15462387
SocialMention Strength14463287
Average ranking2.293.473.534.244.294.946.416.65

Engagement results

Below is what the results look like when I only look at engagement and not popularity. Rick Perry jumps up two spots in these results. So while he doesn’t have as large of a following as others (he ranks fifth on both Twitter and Facebook), he is engaging well with that audience.

CandidateAverage Rank
1. Herman Cain1.3
2. Newt Gingrich3.5
3. Rick Perry3.7
4. Mitt Romney3.9
5. Michele Bachmann4.9
6. Ron Paul4.9
7. Rick Santorum6.6
8. Jon Huntsman7

Comparing to national polls

I decided to compare my results to two national polls released at the same time (Nov. 14) – one from CNN and one from Public Policy Polling. Those two polls had Gingrich, Cain and Romney in the lead. My results had the same three in the lead (although Perry did jump into third place when only looking at engagement).

Social MediaAvg.EngagementAvg.CNN/ORC Pub Policy 
1. Cain2.291. Cain1.31. Romney24%1. Gingrich28%
2. Gingrich3.472. Gingrich3.52. Gingrich22%2. Cain25%
3. Romney3.533. Perry3.73. Cain14%3. Romney18%
4. Bachman4.244. Romney3.94. Perry12%4. Perry6%
5. Perry4.295. Bachmann4.95. Paul8%5. Bachmann5%
6. Paul4.946. Paul4.96. Bachmann6%6. Paul5%
7. Santorum6.417. Santorum6.67. Huntsman3%7. Huntsman3%
8. Huntsman6.658. Huntsman78. Santorum3%8. Santorum1%


Early results indicate that measuring social media popularity and engagement is a good indication of how a candidate is performing nationally. I plan to look at these numbers again in early December and on the date (Jan. 3) of the Iowa Caucuses.

If we see a change in the national polls reflected in the social media numbers, that may help validate my research.

It’s also hard to say at this point whether a candidate’s success in social media propels them to success in the polls, or whether a candidate’s success in the polls propels them to social media success (the chicken and the egg debate). But clearly social media is an area that no candidate can afford to ignore.