"Is there a connection between aggressive social media and the ultimate political metric: winning your election?"
That's the question posed by online campaign consultancy firm Trilogy Interactive, which tried to quantify the impact of social media on the mid-term elections in a report published Monday.
"We were getting a little cranky with the simplistic headlines like we were seeing from the L.A. Times blog and Mashable on the importance of Facebook Likes," says Trilogy's Steve Olson. "So we did research to correlate the numbers of Likes and actual vote margins."
Olson is referring to a slew of reports showing how having more Facebook fans or Likes was a good indication of a candidate's success come election. Indeed, Facebook's political team said the social network helped predict between 74% to 81% of 2010 races. However, according to Trilogy's results, the consultancy found only a slight correlation between social media popularity and success in the Senate. That correlation "effectively disappeared" in House and gubernatorial races.
Trilogy says the Facebook margin of victory only explained about 13% of voting results. For gubernatorial races, that correlation is even lower, with the strength of a candidate's Facebook presence only explaining about 0.8% of the vote margin. And for House races, there was actually a slight negative correlation, meaning a stronger Facebook popularity was associated with a smaller margin of victory.
Facebook did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
"Statistical significance is not the same as actual significance—correlation does not imply causation," the report said. "We at Trilogy are still enthusiastic about social media and still believe strongly that smart use of tools like Facebook and Twitter are an essential component of a winning campaign—and they will be even more important in 2012."
"But we need to recognize social media for what they are—a tool to move supporters up the engagement ladder—rather than a magic bullet that wins races."