Newt Gingrich has made Facebook a cornerstone of his communications strategy and online brand. The former U.S. Speaker of the House of Representatives was the first of the 2012 Republican presidential candidates to introduce timeline to a Facebook profile, as well as being the first to launch a Facebook timeline page that directly critiqued an opponent, Mitt Romney.
And, last week, timeline launched on the Speaker’s political page. Vincent Harris, the Gingrich campaign‘s digital strategist, spoke exclusively to us about upgrading to timeline and how the campaign’s Facebook efforts measure up to the remaining Republican hopefuls.
How did you approach the Speaker’s Facebook timeline on his political page?
We feel that timeline is a great tool to showcase the Speaker’s very long conservative record. It’s tailor-made for showcasing the history of a distinguished politician. We were very excited to become the first candidate to utilize timeline. We replicated the Speaker’s profile timeline, on his political page, which we launched last week.
What are some of the differences between both timelines?
The main difference lies with the tabs, which don’t exist on personal profiles. We have a tab for the Speaker’s energy position, a donate tab, a tab highlighting Senator Santorum’s less than conservative record, and a tab on Governor Romney’s position on guns. The campaign uses those tabs to obtain data from the people on Facebook and solicit feedback from our supporters.
How important is maintaining a consistent brand on the Speaker’s Facebook profile and political page?
Branding is so incredibly important online, especially on Facebook, where numerous studies have shown that a status update with pictures has higher engagement and interaction rates. We take that very seriously and think a lot about how we want to brand him online.
The cover image on both timelines features the Reagan message, with the Speaker and Callista at a rally. We picked that from hundreds of photos, and the tag line “Bold Reagan Conservative,” encompasses the speaker’s brand of conservative. Rarely will you see us post something on Facebook that doesn’t have an image attached with it.
Almost every post has its own unique image. We are actually spending at least a couple of hours a day creating these images.
How do you plan to use the Speaker’s political timeline page at this stage of the race?
Our three goals with Facebook are engagement, persuasion and fundraising. Facebook is a top referrer for us in terms of where we are gaining traffic. On Sunday, Facebook was the top referrer in terms of how we were raising money online.
The Speaker has done multiple live town hall events that stream on Facebook through the UStream app. We are interacting with our supporters on Facebook through different mediums. But those three goals haven’t changed.
Do you emphasize one more than another?
It’s a balance. We don’t want to push fundraising too hard and then worry about the unlike rate. Fundraising isn’t pushed every day on Facebook. It’s pushed methodically, generally in accordance with a communications initiative or money bomb.
We are pushing event information and geo-targeted posts on a daily basis. If there is a national press program with the Speaker, we will urge supporters on Facebook to watch. That changes day by day and week by week. I am in constant communication with our communications director about what the message of the day is.
What will we see on Speaker Gingrich’s political timeline going forward?
I think that the use of Facebook will continue to evolve and I see the Speaker using the timeline on his political page not only through his staff but by engaging directly on Facebook himself. He is very intelligent and he cares deeply about his online brand. At every stop he asks people to go like him on Facebook. So he understands the need for a campaign to fully integrate social networks.
What advice do you have for other politicos developing a timeline?
Try to reflect the nature of the candidate when the timeline is created. Politics is a contact sport, so understand that everything on timeline will be examined by the press and opponents. It’s important to keep the campaign and politician on message by highlighting their achievements.
Which of the Republican presidential campaigns have used Facebook effectively?
It’s very clear this is a Facebook-dominant election cycle and that the social network is playing a critical key role in the presidential campaign. Any campaign that doesn’t acknowledge that does so at its own peril.
I’ve been surprised at the lack of serious time and attention spent by the Romney and Santorum campaigns, and even to some degree the Obama campaign, on Facebook. We are spending hours a day coming up with unique graphics to engage audiences.
If you actually have an engaging graphic, people are going to share it on Facebook. I don’t understand why other campaigns wouldn’t take the time to do develop images. People are on Facebook not to hear from a candidate but to interact with their friends, and time is so limited. Those visuals tell a much better story than long posts. Some of the other candidates are posting Shakespearean soliloquies on Facebook.
The most important thing about Facebook is knowing you only have a certain amount of time. Your content needs to be engaging and fresh and vibrant. I don’t think our opponents understand that.