Campaign button image by Shutterstock/Tom McKeith Image by Shutterstock/Tom McKeith

In 2008, sophisticated usage of social networks and media was a contributing factor in the Obama campaign's victory.

Four years later, the incumbent president appears to again be winning the battle for online engagement, this time against GOP challenger Mitt Romney.

In fact, Obama has posted almost four times as much content as Romney through social media, according to according to a newly released study from the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism.

Romney's recent suspicious uptick in Twitter followers indicates he realizes the importance of staying connected online, but neither candidate has committed to all that social media has to offer, according to the study.

The study found that both candidates used social media for direct messaging, but failed to utilize the social aspects of the tools. Citizen-posted content was either minimal or constrained to certain areas. Social media is increasing in popularity, while traditional methods of reaching the public are weakening, so it would benefit candidates to learn how to fully utilize social media, the study reported.

Here are some of the study's findings:

  • Obama's campaign has made far more use of direct digital messaging than Romney's.
  • The campaign is about the economy, but what that means differs depending on to whom one is listening. Romney focused on jobs, while Obama discussed jobs and economic policy.
  • The economy may have dominated both candidates' digital messaging, but it was not what voters showed the most interest in. Obama's messages about immigration or women's rights issues generated  four or three times (respectively) the number of responses compared with posts about the economy. Romney saw similar results for posts about health care or veterans rights.
  • Neither campaign made much use of the social aspect of social media.
  • Campaign websites remain the central hub of digital political messaging.

For in-depth coverage of the study about social media in the 2012 presidential campaign, visit journalism.org.