Politics as Usual? Facebook Fans, Advertising Budgets and the Familiarity of "New" Media

New media has often been touted as a total game changer when it comes to politics. Its low cost levels the playing field and its ubiquity allows people to explore all their options before deciding on a candidate. Granted, only the uninitiated would think that simply setting up a Twitter account would mean instant online visibility; the campaign has to be run with just as much care and attention on- and off-line. However, some new numbers from the gubernatorial race in Michigan might be a little disheartening to the “new media is revolutionizing politics” crowd: money talks, and Facebook-centric campaigns appear to be just as susceptible to this unfortunate adage as their TV- and print-based counterparts.

Nothing, not even a social networking campaign, is free. However, some (perhaps naive, perhaps optimistic) analysts have noted that the startup costs for a political campaign – being much cheaper if tools like Twitter and Facebook are used in lieu of expensive print ads and TV spots – means that candidates who might not have “big money” backing them have a shot at getting their name out there. A Facebook page, for instance is free. However, these analysts might be a little premature in declaring a page’s existence successful marketing. It takes fans, and lots of them, to really see success.
According to the Michigan Capitol Confidential, the latest advertising figures from the Michigan gubernatorial candidates speak to the idea that money talks in politics. Compared to the other candidates, those who spent more on Facebook advertising had more fans.
Businessman Rick Snyder, one of the Republican candidates, is in the lead in terms of both Facebook advertising money spent and the number of fans on his page. As of July 26th, his page has 22,937 fans – at a cost of $4,565.73. This money was put solely towards his Facebook campaign.
The other two Republican candidates, Attorney General Mike Cox and Congressman Pete Hoekstra, also spent money for a Facebook campaign. Cox has 12,060 fans with a Facebook advertising budget of $3,644.62, while Hoekstra has 11,948 fans and a budget of $810.05. Neither of the two Democratic candidates reported any Facebook-tagged advertising spending.
Looking at the numbers, it appears that spending more money leads to more Facebook fans. And while more fans might not necessarily mean more votes, it can’t hurt your chances. However, when we break it down a little, we see that Cox spent about 4.5x more money on his Facebook campaign than did Hoekstra, but only got 112 additional fans out of the deal. This indicates that with a budget over 4 times as small as Cox’s, Hoeskstra’s team likely ran a much more successful online campaign.
Dollar-for-dollar, Facebook advertising money might not directly equal more fans. But with larger budgets, politicians are able to do more with their online presence and ultimately increase their visibility, attractiveness and reputability on social networks like Facebook. New media, including social networks like Facebook, might not actually be all that “new” in terms of how politicians reach the people, with higher campaign budgets bringing in more supporters in the end.