Is Facebook Helping Presidential Campaigns Get Out The Vote?

By Jennifer Moire 

Unless you have your head in the sand, you know that Election Day is right around the corner — Nov. 6 to be exact. And as we close in on the end of what’s been dubbed the first social election, Facebook continues to prove that it’s more than just a place to tag friends in photos or share updates about family. The social network is a tool used in the presidential campaigns’ get out the vote efforts, known as GOTV to politicos.

It’s easy to understand why. A study in Nature released last month reveals that a single Facebook message increased turnout by 340,000 votes in the 2010 midterms. Research by the Pew Research Center reveals that Facebook is influential in persuading friends to vote.

In the closing days of the 2012 election, as campaigns turn from debate prep to GOTV, the candidates are urging voters to use social media to check voter-registration deadlines, polling-place locations, and ballot issues.

In fact, the campaign of President Barack Obama, and then the Mitt Romney team, released Facebook applications to aid in the effort to get their supporters to the polls. And there are myriad apps by third parties that are aiming to do the same.

Despite the flurry of recent activity, no one really knows how effective Facebook will be in turning out the vote. We may never know, since it’s nearly impossible to trace a vote back to a canvassing event, phone call, or Facebook post.

But we can check out the type of Facebook content the campaigns are using for GOTV, like highly visual posts and memes that can be easily shared, liked, and commented on among friends. And, like any other brand, we can bet that the digital teams at the respective campaigns bow to the EdgeRank algorithm gods when crafting their posts.

Rebecca Heisler, social media director for the Romney campaign, told AllFacebook:

We’re very excited. We’ve grown exponentially since May. We have a lot of people in these states. It’s a great opportunity to reach people every day.

Heisler said targeting voters on Facebook is one of the secrets to the campaign’s success, adding, “Overwhelmingly, targeting is done by state and city.” On average, the campaign makes 50 state posts per day through Facebook and the Romney campaign website.

For example, the campaign promotes events for turnout purposes, and it is currently pushing early voting in those states. It also targets Facebook posts with videos based on the campaign’s media ad buys.

Heisler said the campaign is willing to “mix up” its content to see what spurs engagement, even in the final days of the race.

Posts that contrast between the plans of Romney and Obama are the type of content that gets people to engage on Facebook, Heisler added. The debates are another example. And the meme using the “Friday Night Lights” slogan “blew up” on Facebook.

Heisler said the campaign is also enjoying the success of Paul Ryan’s Facebook page. With 5 million likes, “there’s no reason not to leverage that page more than other pages” to share content.

A senior digital strategist for the campaign added that Romney’s social content is driven by enthusiasm from the public, great events, and great ads — a “holistic circle” of content that has paid dividends. That level of social media integration, he believes, is unprecedented for Republicans.

Coming off of the primaries, team Romney had to build its infrastructure as it was using social media, he added. The resulting data-driven approach has had a meaningful payoff, and he pointed to the “talking about” figures for each of the vice presidential candidates as proof.

He said Joe Biden‘s talking about numbers routinely hover around 10,000 or 20,000 each day, while Ryan is consistently around 1 million — a reflection of the success of the Romney camp’s approach. “It’s striking that the president has more likes, yet his engagement numbers are below ours.”  Take the talking about numbers for the Republican ticket, and he said the Romney campaign has far exceeded the Obama/Biden engagement metrics.

GOTV on Facebook is mostly limited to the presidential race this cycle. Most down-ballot candidates — those running for the U.S. House of Representatives, Senate, and in local races — haven’t caught up. Yet.

We spoke with John Brougher, vice president of marketing for NGP VAN, a digital firm that works with the Obama campaign and progressive Democrats, about how GOTV will evolve with social media, and he said:

It’s easy to get folks riled up about a presidential election. What I’d like to see is social media being used more for local organizing.

Brougher thinks that in 2014 and 2016, the story will be about how local campaigns — candidates for mayor or municipal offices — are organizing on social media, adding:

I’m excited for the potential for these campaigns with smaller budgets.

For Brougher, social channels are an important tool in the campaign organizer’s tool kit — along with traditional means of mobilizing voters, such as door knocking, telephone banks, and direct mail. He added:

Sure, Facebook is a newish medium. But we’re using this medium to do what we already know. GOTV principles are always the same, bringing people into the community.

He believes there are two directions we’re seeing technology needs evolve: heavy social media use and mobile. “The ways we gather as neighbors are shrinking, and the Internet has the potential to change that.”  Mobile, he added, could offer campaigns a different way of organizing.

Readers: Have you been on the sending or receiving ends of GOTV efforts via Facebook?