Facebook App Proves A Game-Changer for Obama Campaign

By Jennifer Moire 

Answer: What is “targeted sharing” on Facebook? The question: How was the Obama campaign going to reach the millions of young people under 29 who had no listed phone numbers and flew under the radar — just out of reach of pollsters and volunteers — using the cellular network to communicate?

That was the problem the re-election effort faced in the final weeks of the campaign, according to a post on TIME political blog Swampland. Reaching young voters, who proved so important to Obama’s win in 2008, was critical to the campaign as the race tightened. Enter Facebook.

The solution was to create a seemingly straightforward Facebook application that looked like just another way to connect with friends, but proved to be “the most groundbreaking piece of technology developed for the campaign,” according to the Obama campaign’s digital guru, Teddy Goff.

The data from the Facebook app offer real-world proof  and confirm this key finding from academia:  Facebook friends can impact behaviors, such as voting.

While the University of California San Diego reported the same findings in a study from the 2010 election, this is the first time the phenomena has been seen in a presidential election. According to campaign operatives, this type of targeted sharing on Facebook is the way forward for campaigns in the future.

Here’s a look at how the targeted sharing on Facebook worked.

  • More than 1 million Obama supporters signed up for the app, giving the campaign permission to look at their friend lists.
  • Approximately 85 percent of voters without listed phone numbers could be found in the uploaded Facebook friend lists.
  • More than 600,000 supporters followed through with more than 5 million contacts, asking their friends to register to vote, give money, vote, or look at a video specifically designed to change their mind.

Obama’s digital team created simulations based on the data to determine how to best reach each voter with relevant information from their friends.

Early feedback found statistically significant changes in voter behavior. People whose friends sent them requests to vote early and register to vote, for example, were more likely to do so than similar potential voters who were not contacted.

Why didn’t the Republican machine do as good a job of realizing where the holes in voter support were, and plugging them through the use of social media apps. The Romney campaign had Facebook apps that enabled it to mine data from supporters.

Was it that these voters were largely never going to support Romney to begin with? Or was there some flaw in how the data were mined once it came into the campaign? One Obama staffer alluded to a possible deficit of digital talent among Republicans. Does the Obama campaign have that much more of a step-up on its counterpart, given their success in 2008?

The 2016 race started Nov. 7, so political observers don’t have long to wait to see how the Republicans react.