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.