While Iowa caucusgoers are kicking off the official 2012 Republican presidential nominating contest, in the social media realm among users nationwide, Texas Rep. Ron Paul already is in the lead, according to a data analysis of Facebook use by Socialbakers, which collects social media statistics.
"The amount of interactions are just insane," said Socialbakers CEO Jan Rezab. "Ten percent of Paul's Facebook fans are talking about him. The average for brands like Coca-Cola is just 1 percent."
Paul's engagement rate — the number of "likes" and comments on his posts, divided by his total number of fans — has grown at a faster rate in the past month than that of any other Republican presidential contender or President Obama, Rezab said.
Socialbakers compared every candidate in the Iowa caucuses. While Paul is leading on Facebook engagement, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney is not far behind. And Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann's fans chat more with each other than any other fan base, Rezab said.
How much online engagement will reflect what happens at the ballot box or caucus participation remains to be seen.
Cyber-strategists in the Republican campaigns of Romney and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, as well as in Obama's campaign, told NPR they are working to figure out how (and if) online Likes, Friends and Tweets translate into support offline.
Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, who has risen lately in traditional polls in Iowa, has a relatively low fan base engagement on Facebook, Rezab said.