Facebook as a Campaign Tool: A Look at Mayoral Candidates

The use of Facebook as a tool in government and politics is a potential equalizer between the governed and those who govern, as we saw recently when we looked at mayors using Facebook. The medium can allow public officials to have more access to the public than traditional media outlets — although it also a way for them to be more directly criticized.

To follow up, this week we looked at how mayoral candidates are using Facebook in their campaign efforts, many before pending May elections, and how Facebook’s new Open Graph protocol might affect this tactic. We’ve previously written about how Facebook figures prominently in elections around the world, and when it comes to mayors, there’s an abundance of examples to choose from.

Facebook Pages that we looked at were generally fully functioning, with lots of information and interactivity tended to belong to candidates that didn’t have alternative official web sites. Campaign web sites are a mainstay of electoral politics in the United States but it seems that the function of Facebook Pages is still being developed. The pattern of Facebook versus web site tended to a one-or-the-other approach, the balance more often leaning towards campaign web sites, which almost always included information such as an official biography or donation page not found on Facebook.

Facebook’s new Open Graph protocol could make Facebook Pages more, or less, necessary. Given candidates’ preference to stress their official web sites, Facebook’s social plugins will start to feature prominently in campaigns. These could let you see what friends support a particular candidate, for example. Given that candidates tended to have a broadcast mentality on Facebook — that is they were more likely to put out information than to try for interactivity — it’s likely that they’ll be more comfortable strengthening their web sites, as opposed to Pages, with the addition of these plugins.

Electoral Pages for mayoral candidates tended to be hyper-local with status updates that either chronicle their campaigning or ask supporters to fall behind a particular event. Almost none had welcome pages and information on the Wall tended to be limited to these updates and links that were often from candidates’ web sites — which brings up an interesting point. Most Pages included photos and links, but almost none made more than occasional use of videos, notes or events.

Hyper-local pandering wasn’t limited to U.S. Pages.

Many search results on Facebook for mayors running for elections yielded Filipino candidates, who seem to be vying for positions before an election in May. These Pages had names in English, but more often than not, they consisted almost entirely of Tagalog. Fans and candidates interacted on the Wall and elsewhere in Tagalog and fanbases numbered from 74 to 981 on the Pages we reviewed: Erwin Hermosa For Mayor, Vote Ver Varias, Diman Datu For Mayor, Jun Buenaventura For Mayor, John Bongat for Mayor and Francisco “Cocoy” Mendoza For Mayor. It’s not surprising, considering that our Facebook Global Monitor Report found that the Philippines was only second to Indonesia in terms of Facebook’s Asian growth, jumping over 1 million users from March 1 to April 1 this year.

In the U.S. we reviewed Pages from mayoral candidates across the country with fanbases ranging from 223 to 4,651. As previously mentioned we observed that, more often than not, Pages were used as a means to broadcast information from a candidate’s web site, and candidates posted links from their web site to provide fans with information on how to donate or where to pick up a yard sign.

A few candidates who delved into their Facebook Pages were:  Bay City, Texas’ Mark Bricker with 397 fans in a city of about 18,000 people;  Danville, Kentucky’s Jamey Gay with 571 fans and 15,500 population and Mount Airy, Maryland’s Wendi Peters with 223 fans in a town of 8,700. Both candidates face May elections and used their Facebook Pages to heavily promote themselves over web sites (although, Bricker does have a basic web site). In Peters’ case it doesn’t appear that she has an official web site, consequently her Facebook Page is outfitted with a Welcome tab with a brief outline of her candidacy where users land upon visiting her Page; additionally Peters has a Priorities tab where she lays out specific points of her candidacy. For Bricker, Facebook seems to be a medium in which he’s comfortable (he’s 26 and posted a story about himself and his social media in the campaign) and where he’s more likely to promote things like his campaign t-shirts or fundraiser barbecue. He specifically asked fans in a status update to contact him via Facebook, for example. Finally, Jamey Gay was the only candidate we reviewed who included a Donation tab and box right on Facebook; he also actively asked fans what they thought of issues such as recycling and growth and participated via comments.

Remaining candidates were more apt to re-post things on Facebook from their web sites, obviously focusing most of their energies there, although it was interesting to see these candidates often promoting their Facebook and other social media sites prominently on their web sites. This signals that, while many candidates understand the importance of Facebook to their campaign, the implementation of that social media strategy is confusing to them; tips for candidates and their staff are available in the Inside Facebook Marketing Bible.

Louisville, Kentucky candidate Greg Fischer with 1,223 fans in a city of more than 255,000 hyped Facebook on his campaign web site, as did Lexington-Fayette, Kentucky candidate Jim Gray with 3,232 fans in a city of more than 282,000, Columbus, Georgia candidate Wayne Anthony with 359 fans in a city of about 186,000, Newport News, Virginia’s McKinley Price with 604 fans and a population of 193,000 and Knox County, Tennessee’s Tim Burchett with 4,651 fans from a base of 436,000 people.

Candidates obviously thought including Facebook in campaigning was very important, but their delivery on that medium was secondary, as web sites were the primary hubs of information and communication for their campaigns. More often than not these Pages didn’t include an official bio, a place to donate, a place to request political signs or a place to sign up for an email newsletter — which meant links to their web sites or status updates served these purposes, creating a multi-tiered structure to their communications. Yet, the candidates did have the presence of mind to ask fans to recommend their Page to other friends.

The impact Facebook’s new plugins will have on candidates’ ability to reach out to potential voters has yet to be seen, but if the current trends continue, it seems likely to detract Page-specific activity in favor of a Facebook experience centered around a candidate’s web site. For more in-depth analysis of Facebook’s new developments check out our premium service, Inside Facebook Gold.