(Adds Trump tweet and Yik Yak data)
By Amy Tennery and Melissa Fares
NEW YORK, Jan 29 (Reuters) - Donald Trump was the big winner across social media on Thursday night during the seventh Republican presidential debate - despite the fact that he did not attend.
In all, Trump commanded 36 percent of the Twitter traffic during the debate, according to the social media company. The real estate billionaire tweeted on Friday: “Great Twitter poll-and I wasn’t even there. Thank you!”
Trump was also the most searched-for candidate on Google during the debate, according to data supplied by the search engine, which co-sponsored the event with Fox News.
Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush also gained traction on Google.
Trump boycotted the event after Fox News refused to yield to his demand that network anchor Megyn Kelly be replaced as a moderator. After Fox News issued a sarcastic news release about the contretemps, Trump hosted his own event in Des Moines, a fund-raiser for veterans. He was rewarded with positive social media buzz.
Not long after he took the stage on Thursday night at his event at Drake University, a group of protesters chanted loudly. Trump responded: “I love the protesters in the big arena because the cameras (don’t move away from) my face.”
That quip won him praise on social media, and his Twitter sentiment measured largely positive during the event, according to social media analytics firm Zoomph.
“An unbelievable night in Iowa with our great Veterans!” Donald Trump (@realDonaldTrump) tweeted on Thursday. “We raised $6,000,000.00 while the politicians talked!”
To be sure, he failed to garner as much attention on Twitter as the last time he was on a debate stage. According to Brandwatch, a social media monitoring company, Trump received roughly 130,000 Twitter mentions during the debate. This marked a roughly 40,000-tweet decline from the previous GOP debate - which he attended.
While Trump led the field in terms of mentions, Yik Yak, a location-based mobile app popular with millennials, said on Friday that Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky had the highest approval rating with app users at 73.6 percent.
At the debate, Cruz came out swinging against Trump in his initial comments, mocking the tycoon’s penchant for brash criticism.
“I‘m a maniac, and everyone on this stage is stupid, fat and ugly,” joked Cruz, in an effort to, as he put it, get “the Donald Trump portion” of the program out of the way.
Cruz’s joke became one of the standout moments in the first half of the debate, gaining momentum on Twitter among news outlets and average Twitter users.
The debate moved on to discussion of substantive issues. Foreign affairs, national security, immigration, reproductive rights and healthcare were the most tweeted-about topics during the debate, according to Twitter.
Additional reporting by Anjali Athavaley in New York; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Matthew Lewis