Santorum, Pataki trail 2016 rivals in early Facebook buzz

The presidential bids of former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum and former New York Gov. George Pataki, each launched this week, are considered long-shots (Pataki's more so than Santorum's.) But how do both men stack up against their rivals in the early race for social media buzz?

Not very well, according to Facebook.

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Santorum declared Wednesday. Between 12:01 A.M. on Wednesday and 12:01 A.M. on Thursday, 169,000 people on Facebook in the U.S. generated 266,000 interactions (likes, posts, comments, and shares) related to the former senator and his announcement, the social media giant announced Friday.

Pataki announced his bid Thursday, and during the 24 hours surrounding his debut, only 59,000 people on Facebook in the U.S. generated 81,000 interactions about the former governor and his candidacy.

They aren't insignificant figures, but they pale in comparison to the Facebook buzz generated by some of their better-known rivals.

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz leads the GOP pack - his launch day drew 5.5 million interactions from 2.1 million people. Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul's drew 1.9 million interactions from 865,000 people, and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio's drew 1.3 million interactions from 695,000 people.

Even some other candidates considered facing long odds earned more Facebook buzz than Pataki or Santorum. Retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, for example, generated 1.5 million interactions from 847,000 people when he announced his bid. And former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina generated 515,000 interactions from 304,000 people.

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Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton, for what it's worth, dominates everyone in the 2016 race when it comes to Facebook engagement: her April debut generated 10.1 million interactions from 4.7 million people.

The numbers, of course, provide only one data point - there's no telling what share of each candidate's Facebook interactions were positive or negative, and no concrete evidence that social media buzz will translate into votes.

But the data shouldn't be discounted, either. Campaigns are increasingly utilizing social media to disseminate messages, raise money, and engage voters. The number of people discussing a candidate on a platform like Facebook can say something about how broad and how passionate a candidate's level of support may be. And in a crowded primary like the 2016 GOP race, that kind of following can make a crucial difference.