Email marketing firm iContact says the GOP presidential campaign is demonstrating the power of social media – and small businesses can learn from how the candidates are – or are not – reaping benefits of Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Google+.

Based on a study of the campaigns, the Morrisville-based company concludes:

  • “Newt Gingrich has mastered Twitter
  • “Ron Paul reigns on YouTube
  • “Mitt Romney has a holistically integrated social campaign.”

“This survey provides insight into how the Republican candidates are using social media to their advantage, with different strategies, perspectives and investments across channels. While it’s never a one-size-fits-all approach, as we see here, the common takeaway remains that social media presence can lead to increased engagement and a return on investment,” said Jeff Revoy, chief product and marketing officer at iContact, about the study.

“By applying the many lessons learned and creative successes from these candidates, small businesses too can enjoy the many benefits of social media marketing,” he added.

Social media correlations and takeaways as seen by iContact:

  • Facebook flexes its muscles:

The world’s most popular social networking site dominated all platforms across Republican candidates with the largest volume of followers and engagement levels. Facebook’s strength across social platforms should be no surprise to small businesses as a recent iContact customer survey revealed that 76 percent favor Facebook. With more than 800 million users, Facebook has announced several upcoming changes aimed at maintaining its dominance in 2012.

Small Business Takeaway: Facebook serves as the most favored platform for small businesses to reach customers and prospects in new and powerful ways. Small businesses not using it are potentially missing valuable customer interactions and engagement.

  • Focus on quality, not just quantity:

While Mitt Romney had the highest number of Facebook fans; he experienced the lowest percentage of Facebook fan engagement at 8.97. In contrast, Rick Santorum had one of the lowest numbers of Facebook followers across all candidates but had the highest engagement level at 50.42 percent.

Small Business Takeaway: If social media follower numbers are high but engagement is low, it’s time to reevaluate content and platform to ensure your brand and messages resonate with your audiences. Switch up message content or try a different social media network that might be better suited for particular content. For example, use Facebook if a message will become too diluted when edited down to fit within Twitter’s 140-character limit.

  • Social media and email create a powerful combination:

The candidates have all incorporated email into their marketing strategies to achieve the combined punch it provides when used in conjunction with social media. They have made it very easy and seamless to subscribe to email and social media updates from their campaigns.

Small Business Takeaway: With the buzz surrounding social media, it’s important to not forget about a tried and true marketing vehicle: email. Don’t miss out on the huge opportunity that email marketing delivers. Social media is great for sharing content and engaging customers in interactive discussions, while email can help convert the results of those initial engagements and conversations into targeted campaigns and long-term customers.

  • A picture is worth a thousand words:

This saying is often true for both photos and videos. Romney uses photos and videos to create content for his social properties, utilizing multimedia or a link where fans can take action in almost every single Facebook post. His campaign posts photos and videos from events, speeches, and commercials to help convey Romney’s message to voters in a unique way and has branched out into emerging platforms such as Flickr and Tout. Similarly, Ron Paul has utilized his campaign’s YouTube channel to amass more than 7 million clicks.

Small Business Takeaway: Small businesses should look to harness the power of photos and videos within social media campaigns. They can tell the story of a brand and culture quickly, intimately and efficiently to potential advocates accustomed to text-only noise on social networks. Sharing photos and videos with customers and advocates can only help a brand’s presence in the social world. If the content is compelling, these groups will share it with their friends, giving a small business increased visibility among advocates and driving brand engagement.

  • Content is king:

While all candidates are utilizing Twitter, Gingrich carries the highest number of engagers across the network with 1.38 million followers – more than five times the number of the campaign with the second largest Twitter community. He tweets often, but more importantly, Gingrich seems to provide content his community wants.

Small Business Takeaway: Even with the plethora of social media vehicles available at marketers’ fingertips, it’s important to realize that it’s less about the channel and more about the content. Relevant and engaging content is still the most important thing for followers.

  • Google+ remains a guessing game:

The verdict is still out on Google+, with only Gingrich and Romney integrating the new service into their social media strategies. iContact’s customer survey revealed a similar sentiment across small businesses with 48 percent loving Google+ while 52 percent were not convinced.

Small Business Takeaway: Google+ may still be in its infancy, but don’t overlook it when evaluating social media strategies. As Google+ looks to add more functionality for businesses there will likely be a mad dash to the unconquered social territory with Google providing rapid content availability for consumers in order to aggressively compete with Facebook. Small businesses should not be afraid to get in as early adopters of Google+ to test the waters and see if it’s a social media channel that fits their needs.

  • ROI for every budget:

No matter the size of the campaign budget, all candidates realize that social media is a key investment and have incorporated it into their marketing strategies. Even candidates with lower campaign funding have seen high engagement numbers across their followers, signaling that messages are resonating with their communities.

Small Business Takeaway: There is a social media strategy to fit every budget and generate a positive return on investment (ROI). Outlining social media ROI using a goal-based approach is a great start for small businesses. An iContact customer survey revealed that top three social media goals for small businesses are strengthening brand, generating sales and acquiring contacts. There are several types of metrics to consider when measuring progress against these goals and adjusting marketing to drive better results. For example, if your goal is to strengthen your brand, you can dive into how your social media content engages your audience by looking at “retweets” or “likes.”

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