By Teddy Amenabar
WASHINGTON (Oct. 30, 2014)—As Maryland's two gubernatorial candidates battle for votes, underdog Republican nominee Larry Hogan has been far more aggressive on social media than Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown.
Hogan has tweeted more in October than Brown has since June. Between Oct. 1 and Oct. 22, Hogan tweeted 1,434 times. Brown tweeted 548 times from June until Oct. 22.
On Facebook, Hogan has 10 times more likes—a show of support from those with Facebook accounts—than Brown does on his campaign page.
It's hard to gauge whether these efforts on either @Hogan4Governor or @BrownforMD will have an effect on Tuesday's election. But the Hogan campaign appears to be more engaged on social media.
Examining any social media efforts and their effects on an election is a lot like reading tea leaves, said Joseph Graf, an assistant professor at the American University School of Communication.
"I do think they matter, I just wouldn't read too much into them, especially for a midterm race," Graf said.
Hannah Marr, a spokeswoman for Hogan's campaign, said they've focused most of their attention and social media efforts on the Change Maryland Facebook page, which has more than 123,000 likes.
"A lot of Republicans haven't really been able to tap into social media," Marr said. "We're probably one of the most engaged and influential social media presences in Republican politics."
But Bryan Gervais, an assistant professor at the University of Texas at San Antonio Department of Political Science and Geography, said social media use isn't as one-sided politically as some may think. Comparing members of Congress, Republicans rival the activity from Democrats on Twitter, he said.
Political campaigns are drawn to social media for its ability to "circumvent the media," Gervais said.
"They can go over the heads of the media and directly connect with the people," said Gervais.
Brown's campaign office did not comment for this story despite repeated requests.
For every original tweet Hogan's campaign posts on Twitter, it posts around 8.6 retweets—tweets first posted by other accounts that Hogan's campaign shares. Brown only posts roughly 3.6 retweets to every original tweet.
For example, a typical Hogan tweet, from Thursday, was a repost from another user who said: "I know most don't care about politics, but the least you can do is make the right vote for @Hogan4Governor to help make MD a better place."
A typical Brown tweet, also from Thursday, called for Democrats to come out to the polls, saying: "The #BrownUlman team is out reminding Marylanders that today is the LAST DAY to vote early."
Retweeting supporters, and subsequently having followers see these on their news feed, can essentially become an unpaid advertisement for the candidate with far more credibility than the average television advertisement, said Jon Hoffman, a University of Maryland Department of Communication visiting lecturer.
There are countless studies to determine when and how much a campaign should post on social media, Hoffman said. Any over-posting can hurt more than help, ultimately annoying a user, he said.
Heavy social media use has become standard in political campaigns, Hoffman said. A fair number of people no longer watch television, and campaign officials see social media as the answer to reconnect with voters, Graf said.
"You have to go where the people are," he said.
There are ways to artificially boost Twitter followers and Facebook likes through advertising or pre-paid bots. Yet, roughly 89 percent of Hogan's followers and 91 percent of Brown's on Twitter are real, according to a Twitter audit.
On Facebook, it is much more difficult to determine if a following was artificially inflated. Using a basic strategy and some money, campaign officials can place advertisements on certain homepages for users who already support the Republican Party.
Since both natural and advertising-induced likes come from real accounts, there isn't a simple way to separate the two without knowing how much a campaign has spent on Facebook advertising.
What social media does provide is an idea for what is resonating with potential voters, Graf said. Today, campaigns are almost required to have a functioning website and social media presence.
"You don't want people to go looking for you and not find anything," Graf said.