In a sign of the times symbolic of deeper changes afoot in American politics and political communications, US President Barack Obama entered the White House Tuesday to find many of the technologies that helped bring him to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue unavailable. Chief among them: Facebook, where Obama’s 4 million supporters generated a groundswell of support and activism that impacted the election in ways far beyond what has been seen before online.
In 2004, Facebook was used by thousands of students at a few colleges. By the end of 2008, nearly 150 million people worldwide were using Facebook to share information with family, friends, and colleagues. On election day alone:
- 5.4 million people shared that they’d voted with friends on Facebook
- 2 million election-related virtual gifts were sent
- 1.6 million people donated their status to rally friends to vote through the Causes application
- 1.5 million people mentioned Obama, McCain, Palin, Biden or Election on their Facebook wall
- 15 million people of voting age in the US logged in to Facebook
President Obama was recognized throughout his campaign for his team’s savvy use of new kinds of communication platforms – like social networking and text messaging – to influence and engage massive numbers of voters. And those efforts had a tremendous impact.
Obama’s multi-platform strategy has set the example for national campaigns in upcoming years, and (like advanced database marketing strategies were to presidential campaigns in the 90’s and early 00’s) these efforts have equipped the Obama administration with vast amounts of voter data and millions of voter relationships that will offer a strong competitive advantage in the years and elections to come.
Facebook has become a vital platform for political communication. And despite how important Facebook was in the 2008 elections (even in many local races), it has the potential to have even further reaching effects in the way campaign communication strategies are run. In a world where 30 second commercials wield the greatest influence, political discourse can often become quite limited. But in a world where feed stories from your friends wield the greatest influence, the potential for political discourse – and engagement – just might become much deeper.