We’ve been a little hard on Facebook lately, what with the pay-to-play future and today’s obsession with Engagement. So let’s switch tack and look at a reason that political and advocacy campaigns benefit from building a Facebook following early rather than later. As Bully Pulpit staff Danielle Butterfield, Madeline Twomey and Lauren Miller discussed in a RootsCamp 2013 presentation on Democratic data and advertising in last year’s Virginia governor’s race, Democrat Terry McAuliffe’s campaign spent time and money to build his Facebook following as early as possible. Why? to have “social validation” for late-cycle persuasion and GOTV ads.
As shown in the screenshot to the right, Facebook supports ads on its site with socially validating information (“X likes this”, or “Y people like this”) to get more of us to click. While advertisers of all kinds have long known the power of “everybody’s doing it,” perhaps it works particularly well on Facebook, since the company has so much information about our social connections and knows how to use it. One particular constraint for political campaigns, though: they usually have very little time to build a following large enough for social reinforcement to matter.
For followers’ Likes and Shares to influence their friends, you need to have followers! Hence the need to build a Facebook following early, while you’ll have time to leverage it. And not just for Facebook ads, since Virginia Democrats also used a Facebook app that matched the central voter file with supporters’ friend networks. If supporters allowed it, the campaign could look through their friends to find priority voters already targeted for outreach, and then ask the supporter to reach them with messages designed to appeal. But again, this technique only works if you have enough supporters, since without critical mass, your investment in the technology won’t be able to pay off. So if Facebook’s going to be a part of your outreach, and you want to benefit from social validation, you’d better get moving fast. And that means advertising.
For more about leveraging Facebook for political campaigns and advocacy, see the new ebook, “How to Use the Internet to Win in 2014”.