Why Isn’t the Republican Party More Interested in Facebook?

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republicanlogoWe don’t espouse political philosophy here on Inside Facebook, though we are in favor of encouraging constructive political debate. That’s why we were surprised to hear at last night’s Startup2Startup event from Randi Zuckerberg, Facebook’s manager of political and social change initiatives, that despite her team’s best efforts during last year’s election season, the Republican Party generally wasn’t very enthusiastic about making Facebook a strategic part of its campaigns.

Zuckerberg, speaking alongside Chris Sacca (Twitter investor, surrogate speaker for the Obama campaign during the election, and former Googler) and Steve Grove (YouTube’s news and political director), said at Startup2Startup’s “Government 2.0″ event last night (full video below) that Facebook made every election season idea and political program equally available to all candidates, but Republicans just pursued those ideas less. Even when the Obama campaign would come to Facebook with new ideas, Facebook shared them with the McCain campaign, she said.

“We made very sure to offer the same thing to both sides. There were even times when the Obama campaign would come to us with incredible ideas, and we told them that even though this was their idea, just by telling us about it, we were going to have to offer it to the McCain campaign also. However, the McCain campaign did not usually take us up on the ideas,” Zuckerberg said.

In addition to its Facebook Pages, Platform applications, and advertising campaigns, the Obama campaign was also first to implement Facebook Connect. Chris Hughes, a co-founder of Facebook, led many of Obama’s social media efforts.

“The Obama campaign was really run like a technology company. They were really quick to adopt a lot of things. They actually came to us with more ideas than we brought to them. We were really focused on building scalable tools for any politicians to use, local or national, and the Obama campaign had really tremendous ideas for how to leverage the viral spread of information,” Zuckerberg added.

To illustrate the general difference between the ways the two parties were interested in working with Facebook during the campaign season,  Zuckerberg told the story that while Facebook was overwhelmed with organizers interested in meeting with them during the Democratic National Convention – even being whisked away to VIP parties and the like – Facebook’s political team had a harder time finding people interested in meeting during the Republican National Convention the following week.

“I was begging people to meet with us,” Zuckerberg said.

The results, which have been well documented, speak for themselves. The Obama campaign schooled the rest of the world on how social media is done.

Since the US Presidential elections, Zuckerberg said Facebook has received an outpouring of interest from candidates around the world interested in “doing an Obama.” Political parties around the globe are considering how to apply lessons learned from the United States in 2008 to their upcoming elections. That makes sense, as 70% of Facebook’s user base lives outside the US.

In fact, just today, the Conservative Party in the UK launched a new Facebook application encouraging constituents to “donate their status” ahead of the European elections next week.

This use of social media by the Conservatives is reminiscent of the Obama campaign’s deployment of similar tactics during the race for the White House last autumn,” Emma Barnett of the London Telegraph wrote earlier today.

By this point, the Republican Party (and every party) has surely realized the ways social media and Facebook have changed politics. 60 million Americans from 13 to 65 are getting their news from their friends on Facebook each month, and the persuasive power of social recommendations is much stronger than any TV, radio, or newspaper ad can ever be.

As Steve Grove said last night, political dynamics map very well to the social web. Any political candidate who doesn’t do their very best to understand and use Facebook and other social tools to the best of their potential does so to their own detriment.

Update: Matt Burns, director of communications for the 2008 Republican National Convention who commented below, issued the following follow-up comment to Inside Facebook:

“I LOVE Facebook as much as the next person.  I can’t speak for the McCain campaign because I wasn’t working on its new media efforts, but the convention itself made unprecedented efforts to incorporate new media into our campaign.   Over the course of our convention, we attracted 1.7 million unique visitors, and strategically partnered with Google/YouTube and Ustream.TV to draw an additional 7 million unique viewers to our content.  And the GOP convention had more Facebook “friends” than the Democratic National Convention.  We had about 10,000, while the Dem Convention had about 3,300.”