If you want to know where Democratic gubernatorial primary candidate Kathleen Falk is, "liking" her FalkforWI campaign page would be a good place to start.
On Monday, one post on the page read, "On Air with The Ed Schultz Show right now." Shortly before that, a photo of Falk talking into a microphone accompanied this caption, "Calling for Scott Walker to replace DNR head Cathy Stepp."
Democrat Tom Barrett, on the other hand, isn't so much about location as he is about issues: ads about job losses under Republican Gov. Scott Walker, links to news articles about politically hot topics in Wisconsin and comments such as, "Thanks to your dedication and support, grassroots individuals across Wisconsin helped us raise $750,000 in just 25 days to take on Scott Walker."
While their message is mostly the same — each aiming to be the best candidate to oust Walker in June — the way each campaign uses social media tools to send that message looks different.
Falk takes an interactive approach
Falk is building her brand utilizing interactivity — a key aspect of social media. The majority of the Kathleen Falk's Facebook page posts tend to be about publicity efforts, whether Falk appeared on a TV show or in person somewhere, as well as links to articles shedding light on her stance on issues. The campaign also has started utilizing live video streaming to broadcast town hall meetings so that Facebook users can watch and submit questions for Falk — such as a recent discussion over the student debt crisis.
"We use it for a lot of things, we use it to have a back-and-forth conversation with Kathleen’s Facebook friends, to publicize information … show Kathleen out on the road," said Scot Ross, the spokesman for Falk's campaign. "It’s essential to communicating ... having that important back-and-forth with our supporters."
Barrett uses tools to inform followers
Most of Barrett's Facebook posts are less interactive and more informative, with links to news articles focusing on hot-topic issues, press releases and campaign ads, as well as other fact-based posts, such as a graph that shows the loss of jobs under Walker's watch.
But accompanying his links, Barrett's page also sends out extra tidbits about why he believe he's the best choice for office.
"As governor, Tom Barrett will bring our state together and put Wisconsin back to work," one post said; and another said, "From the Capital Times editor, 'On both style and substance, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett is the best hope to unseat Scott Walker. And it’s not close.'"
Barrett also has a Flickr photostream page, offering a pictorial timeline of the places he has been, as well as a video page on YouTube, with links to his ads and other related clips. Barrett's campaign did not return a phone call seeking comment on its use of social media.
Is it enough?
A strong social media presence doesn't necessarily guarantee success, however, and whoever wins Tuesday's primary faces a big challenge against Walker, said Tom Snyder, CEO and president of Trivera, a Milwaukee-based company that works with businesses on websites and social media.
”The use of social media for political campaigns is kind of like yard signs, that they may not change anyone’s opinion, but it will give people an opportunity to reinforce their ideas."
Snyder said he has heard that Walker's campaign is already aggressively placing pay-per-click advertising — such as those that appear on Facebook and Google — and his financial ability to pay for more of these may be more helpful than the free social media tool as a whole.
"I think, in my own opinion, that Barrett and Falk — whichever one of them ends up winning in the Democratic primary — are really going to have to step up their game," Snyder said. "Typically social media provides you with a fairly low-cost (way) to reach the masses … especially if you have a powerful, passionate group of supporters.
"To see what Scott Walker is doing with his pay-per-click … with the money he has, he’s going to be able to really leverage the paid placement aspect of social media to kind of short circuit what the others are doing," Snyder added.
How do the numbers stack up?
But when we come to how often they're using Twitter, Falk has the edge by far.
In April, Barrett's campaign tweeted 89 times, while Falk's campaign published 236 tweets. That's not including retweets or tweets that begin with an at-mention. While each campaign has spent plenty of tweets criticizing Walker, each has taken its own approach in addressing other issues.
The bulk of Falk's last 100 tweets (about 41 percent) provide information about campaign events and appearances.
An additional 16 percent of her tweets mention Walker, usually criticizing his actions as governor.
Comparatively and similar to his Facebook use, Barrett spends significantly fewer tweets on his campaign events (about 27 percent), and more on Walker, totaling about 34 percent of his 70 tweets since he announced his candidacy.
Like Falk's, his campaign often criticizes Walker's actions — but his campaign also tweets about polls that show him in a head-to-head race with the governor.
Barrett's campaign breaks more severely from Falk's in the area of endorsements. While Falk's campaign has tweeted a few words of encouragement from other politicians and fans, Barrett's has posted about 16 original tweets announcing endorsements from prominent politicians, unions and other organizations.
Meanwhile, Falk's campaign takes more of a front seat in interacting with Twitter followers, retweeting and tweeting at users almost as frequently as drafting original tweets.
Another candidate in the Democratic recall primary, state Sen. Kathleen Vinehout, limits her social media use to only a Facebook page with 2,035 likes. Nearly all of the posts on her page are photos of Vinehout talking to crowd at campaigning events and other forums.
Secretary of State Doug Lafollete, also running in the primary, is similar in his limitations: on Facebook, he only has a personal profile but he beats Vinehout with 3,654 friends; while he does have a Twitter account, it’s limited to 113 followers, he’s not following anyone and some of his "tweets" are sending followers to Facebook to read his message.
Social media a 'vital' political tool
Jumping on that social media bandwagon is a smart and vital move by any politician, Snyder said.
"It’s pretty much a given that political campaigns need to use the vital power of social media," he said. "The Obama campaign back in 2008 was kind of the text book example, back in those days, of how political campaigns could use social media — and that’s kind of changed how political campaigns have used it ever since."
While it's hard to measure whether use of social media actually changed anyone's minds on who to vote for, from a voter's standpoint it is a good tool for engagement, Snyder said.
"I guess my feeling is that the use of social media for political campaigns is kind of like yard signs, that they may not change anyone’s opinion, but it will give people an opportunity to reinforce their ideas," he said. "I think if you’re engaged in a campaign where name recognition is important, then social media (is an excellent tool)."
Patch correspondent Rory Linnane contributed to this story.