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Analysis of Obama's Twitter and Communication Strategies in the 2012 Presidential Election

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Media
Wordcount: 4599 words Published: 18th May 2020

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How Former Presidential Candidate Barack Obama Uses Twitter and Communication Strategies to Make Huge Impacts on Building Public’s Opinion During 2012’s Presidential Election


The term social media is no longer a new thing these days. These tools enable us to do social interaction (Bertot, Jaeger, Hansen 2011, p. 30) through online networks and gadgets. Through the development of internet and online platform, a lot of people make varied online social communities and become content creators, allows them to stay connected and communicate through online social media (Hajli 2014, p. 387). According to Madden (cited in Bertot, Jaeger, Hansen 2011, p. 30), most of the internet users are between 18 – 29-year-olds, 86% of them use social media.

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Social media have become a great tool, and it enables people to do a lot of stuff with it. But most of the cases, just like according to Porter & Tepper (cited in Bertot, Jaeger, Hansen 2011, p. 30), social media are used to communicate, interact, edit, and share content in online social environments. What social media can do draw the interest out of a lot of people, resulting in the increased of social users, especially popular social media like Youtube, Facebook, and Twitter. According to Fotis, Buhalis, & Rossides (2011, p. 1), even in 2011, Twitter reached 175 million users and 95 million tweets per day, and Youtube reached around 200 million views daily from the mobile device. According to Donnelly (cited in 75 Super-Useful Facebook Statistics for 2018 2019, para. 1), Facebook reached 1.32 billion daily users in 2018. According to Iqbal (cited in Twitter Revenue and Usage Statistics 2019, para. 7), Twitter has reached 326 million monthly active users in 2018. According to Smith (cited in 52 Fascinating and Incredible Youtube Statistics 2019, para. 7), Youtube has reached 1 billion mobile video views per day in 2019. From the data provided above, it can be concluded that what social media can provide have such a significant impact on many people’s lives, seeing how the users of social media keep increasing each year. But in this case, I will be only focusing on Twitter since Twitter has been getting so much attention these days, including from the journalist and government.

From some of the data and facts above, new questions could be drawn from the result of how impactful social media are. How can social media affect people these days, and why it matters so much for some of them? What are the factors that make people so engaged in Twitter that it could build the public’s opinion? What kind of strategy used in twitter to affect their perspective in a particular aspect?

To answer the questions above, this research focuses on the government of the U.S. 2012’s presidential election, especially former President Barack Obama, as one of the candidates who won the election by using the power of social media. 


Obama’s presidential campaign in social media was one of the examples in combining the two most impactful aspects that influence public’s perspective, and those are the governments and social media. According to Bertot, Jaeger, Hansen (2011), one of the President of the United States that was using social media and its potential during the elections was the former President Obama. According to Jaeger, Paquette, & Simmons (cited in Bertot, Jaeger, Hansen 2011, p. 31), President Obama was one of the President of the United States of America that successfully used the full potential of social media during his presidential campaign when he was still one of the presidential candidates. This research assumes that communication strategies and theories must also be applied by Obama’s campaign team, alongside effective planning of the social media strategy in order for them to get the potential voters.

  • Uses & Gratifications Theory

In doing a campaign, a mass communication strategy probably one of the most effective ways to share awareness and get supports, and one of the communication theories that relate with it is the “Uses & Gratification” Theory. According to Vinney (cited in What Is Uses and Gratifications Theory? Definition and Examples 2019, para. 1) Uses and gratifications theory focused on the use of media to satisfy the media users according to their wants and needs where the users is the active agents with their own chosen media, allowing them to have controls over what they want to do with media. According to Whiting & Williams (2013, p. 362), uses and gratifications theory can make better measurements for social media marketers and in this case, to market a successful presidential campaign, and this research chose Uses & Gratification and Agenda Setting Theory.

  • Agenda Setting

Clearly, since it was the political era, there must also be agenda-setting in Obama’s campaign, and that refers to the “Agenda Setting” communication theory. According to Takeshita (1997, p. 12), agenda-setting can be explained as the framing process of a perspective in mass communication, and it explained how it affects the public’s opinion from specific issues. I believe that the combination of social media features and communication theories were the strategy used by the Obama campaign team to get the public’s supports since those two things are effective for mass communication and mass audiences.

The Testing of an Idea/Theory

In order for this research to answer questions and gather the data for the success of the use of social media for the presidential campaign, this research used descriptive qualitative data provided on websites/journals, e-news, and several statistics available on the internet out there or several result quantitative statistics from Twitter analytics (https://analytics.twitter.com/about), Statista (statista.com), and other websites that provide statistical data. The reason why this research chose statistical databases from websites was because it’s a mass audience-centered, and the limitation for research is because this research was done by a student with limited money and time. Gathering mass data in a short period of time is quite difficult for students, and data provided by the official and licensed websites will be very helpful since those websites are trusted and licensed. From the results of statistical data and websites, this research aimed to measure and answer how effective Twitter’s impact and what strategy, especially communication strategy, that were used by the former Presidential candidate Barack Obama’s campaign team on Twitter to maximize the political campaign’s strategy, by looking at the engagement, tweets, hashtags, and the reaction of Twitter’s users regarding the political campaign itself.

Result Findings: Quantitative & Qualitative


In the process of gathering quantitative data, there were limitations in the data provided by Twitter Analytics. It turns out that it can only provide data from those who log into Twitter. In other words, it makes it not possible for the user to check others’ analytic tweets, mentions, engagement, and etc. Because of this, this research only used statistics data from Statista.com in order to get the numerical and statistic data. There are several statistics available on Statista.com that helped this research to answer the questions. To support the findings, these are several topics that were found related to the research findings:

· Engagement

· Media post

· Followers 

· Tweets

· Twitter Mentions

Table 1: 2012 presidential Twitter mentions by Statista

Statistic above shows the number of mentions on Twitter regarding the 2012 presidential candidates in August 2012 from July 31 to August 7:

  • Barack Obama was mentioned 360,868 times
  • Mitt Romney was mentioned 356,164 times
  • Ron Paul was mentioned 25,647 times

Table 2: Number of Twitter followers by Statista

Statistic above shows the number of Twitter followers of Barack Obama and Mitt Romney from November 2012 during the 2012 presidential election:

  • Barack Obama was followed by 23,634,860 followers
  • Mitt Romney was followed by 1,754,110 followers

Pie Chart 1: Share of social media posts of Obama by Statista

Pie chart above shows the percentage of the overall share of social media posts made by Obama that focused several topics of the Obama’s successful campaign.

According to Richter (2012, para. 1), after the first news announced that Obama won the election, he tweeted: ”Four more years.”, alongside with a picture of him with his wife and these are results of the tweets:

  • It was retweeted more than 600,000 times, and become the most popular tweet in the history of the microblogging service.

    The 31 million election-related tweets posted throughout yesterday, make Election Day 2012 the most tweeted political event ever.

    With 327,452 tweets per minute, the activity peaked shortly after the first networks had called Obama’s re-election.

Qualitative Data

Several in-depth interview data were found in a book called “How Tweets Influence the Relationship between Political Leaders and the Public” (Parmelee & Bichard 2013). According to Parmelee & Bichard (2013, p. 37), there are several types of motivations of people for using social media (Twitter), Those motivations are: 

  • Convenience
  • Entertainment
  • Self-expression
  • Guidance
  • Information seeking
  • Social Utility

These motivations were used as the topics for the questions of the in-depth interview done by Parmelee & Bichard for several participants they had gathered. But since resources of this research is very limited because of lack of money that require this research to pay for the e-book, this research only managed to gather and compile some of the statements from the participant written on the book and these are some of their statements related to presidential election and their motivation according to the result from Parmelee & Bichard (2013, p. 58-62):

John (34) said that he followed political appointees because he believes that those who wield the political power make their tweets essential viewing:

“Mostly political candidates, elected officials, people who are appointed, for example, if they’re appointed by the President or they’re the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee. So the people I consider political leaders are those who have some influence on public policy. I would consider them a political leader if they are a part of the political spectrum, and maybe a future candidate, and if they have an influence on public policy.”

The other reason why John also motivated to follow political leaders is because of the tweets of the political leaders are considered important for John to pass them along to the others: 


“…. I’m using Twitter for information; not only I’m getting information, I’m selecting some of the things that I like, whether it’s a current law, whether it’s a bill being passed, or whether it’s an informational study that comes from the Department of Defense or the Department of State…. I kind of put in my own analysis and then put a link.”

What John has mentioned also related to one of the communication theories of this research, Uses & Gratification Theory, where the audiences have the option to select their own media.


Steve (28) said that it is important to follow people in the federal or state bureaucracy because sometimes they provide important political information:


“I would consider political leaders to be any Twitter account for any elected or appointed leaders, especially a member of Congress, state legislature, or any person in an executive office or a bureaucratic position. These people must answer to the public, and if they are going to communicate via Twitter, there’s a chance that communication could be newsworthy. I follow probably dozens of people like this.”


Brett was one of the participants who want to get involved in discussion with the political leaders: 


“I guess my main motive is to engage with them, I consider everyone on Twitter part of the same conversation…. A powerful person’s tweets ought to be an opportunity to respond to them directly and have at least some chance of being heard.”

Brett’s statement shows that this is one of the motivations from the self-expression aspect, and it was the reason why he used Twitter to engage with the politician.

Michael, as one of the participant, was motivated to follow politician leaders because of the entertainment motives and his motive is to get entertainment from following the members of Congress:


“There are certain members who I have greater respect for or less respect for, and I’m always interested in seeing what they’re saying about something. Reading tweets of members who are sitting in the Congress during, say, the State of the Union speech, giving their snide comments. It’s funny. There’s no substance to it, but it’s entertaining. I would say it’s more of a prurient interest rather than a real substantive interest.”


According to McComb-Gray (2017), since 2011, Obama employed 100 individuals to run his digital presence on social media, aimed to achieve a successful political campaign, and he also made his own hashtag, #Obama2012, to raise awareness and potential target voters. Obama campaign team had gathered massive data from voters for the past 18 months of the 2012 campaign through cookies and tracker programs, looking for the algorithms and essential information patterns of the potential voters online and use the data to persuade them to support Obama (Szkolar 2016, para. 3). 

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According to Szkolar (2016, para. 5), data mining was done by the data crunchers, also one of the main keys that Obama won the election. Not only the data mining can give information for the campaign strategy to find voters and getting their attention, data mining enables the Obama campaign team and data cruncher scientists to get information like age, sex, race, neighborhood, voting record, and the most important out of all is the behavior of each of every one of the people from the data gathered and it was really effective and efficient to use such strategy in the campaign (Scherer 2012, para. 6). 

These are the reasons why Obama’s campaign team able to successfully penetrated their potential voters’ minds and persuaded them to choose Obama. All of those charts and data from qualitative research above are the product of the data mining done by “the scientist” of Obama’s campaign team, alongside with well-planned communication strategy. Now, this can be really powerful and effective in understanding the potential voter’s behavior and how to market the campaign. While from the quantitative data result, it only provides statements from several participants about several people who want to engage in social media (Twitter) regarding the political elections and information. Combining data from the result from quantitative and qualitative makes it easier to connect the line and understand the flow of the strategy from using data mining to understand the behavior from qualitative data results, and see the behavior from some of the statements from the participants. Both of them are connected. 


Just like according to Parmelee & Bichard (2013, p. 27), it’s actually kind of difficult to conclude whether Twitter really influences the public’s opinion toward politics if it’s only from a single research method. Even though this research used qualitative and quantitative data gathering methods, it was actually hard to get more in-depth and concrete data because of several limitations like time, money, and available supporting data resources. Online websites, journals, and articles are the only platform that provides supporting data for this research. 

Even though some online platform provides data related to this research, there are a lot of articles and websites got deleted since the event of the presidential election that occurred in 2012. Some of the sites are outdated, and some of the posts are unavailable. Some of the data statistics on the internet also demand us to pay more for further detailed results of the data statistics. The same goes for the process of gathering quantitative data. Some of the quantitative resources have to be paid first to get the whole data from the e-book/e-journals.

Conclusion and further study

From this research, it can be concluded how social media can be really impactful towards many people’s lives through the case of the 2012 presidential elections and Barack Obama as the former Presidential candidate who won the elections through the use of strategized communication and social media data mining. It’s also proof that what social media can do, and in this case, Twitter really shifted the way of how to get the attention of the public and shape their perspective, like from the Agenda Setting Theory. I have found that the qualitative data are more to the outcome of the successful social media campaign, while the quantitative data are more to the outcome of the success behind the good communication marketing strategy of the campaign that was resulting in the engagement and involvement of the public in social media, and in this case Twitter.

But even though Obama won the election and his social media posts, mentions, followers are above the other candidates, it’s not strong enough to conclude that both aspects of the quality of the president and the numbers on social media are related in order for the candidates to win the election. This research still can’t prove whether the high numbers of posts, mentions, followers, and any other aspects of social media determine the winner for the election. Is it just because of all of those numbers, or is it because of the quality of the president itself? More similar cases and situations like this are needed for further study to prove the relation between the high numbers in social media and its relation to the successful campaign. 


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