By Too Conservative
141, 544. That is the current number of Facebook supporters of Massachusetts Senator-elect Scott Brown. What was a perceived advantage online for Democrats across the Country has vanished as Republicans begin to “get” the need to embrace social media as a powerful tool to raise name ID and mobilize supporters. The campaigns of Scott Brown and Bob McDonnell prove that Facebook is the best, and only real necessary tool (although one could argue Twitter) that every campaign should embrace online.
Facebook is free. I’ve seen campaigns and organizations across the country spend thousands of dollars building custom social-media platforms, or waste money paying a design artist to skin their Ning site (http://www.ning.com) to reflect their website’s look and feel. These costs are unnecessary. While Facebook may not be the shiniest coin, its functionality, and organic user base make its usage far more beneficial than spending time and money having to cultivate support on a unique platform.
A study in December of 2009 showed that 77% of Facebook fan pages have less than 1,000 fans. The best way to break through the initial 1,000 barrier is a two-fold strategy: e-mail, and micro-targeted ads. By sending out a social-media centered e-mail, campaigns can convert their e-mail subscribers into Facebook supporters. Regarding Facebook ads: they are arguably better and more effective than any other online advertising medium because ads are targeted to self-identified supporters of specific keywords.
Unlike Google where ads are targeted to search or content keywords on a specific site, Facebook ads allow you to identify and target people who are in 100% agreement with your values system, regardless of your ideology. Recently I ran a series of 2nd amendment ads across Northern Virginia (yes, there are gun supporters there). Using Facebook’s ability to geo-target cities in the region, and then micro-targeting supporters who self-identify as supporters of pages such as “Guns, Hunting, Deer Hunting, Skeet Shooting, NRA, Ammo, etc.,” I was able to deliver pro-gun ad copy specifically to the audience I wanted to reach without having to deliver the message in a more public forum as Google ads require. Facebook also provides automatically generated code for an easily embeddable widget which can be placed on a campaign’s website, or in blogs.
Using the “advertise something I have on Facebook” feature, Facebook lowers the barrier to becoming a fan of your politician to a simple click on the ad. Ads can also be used to link externally to a website or landing page. A fantastic idea to score kudos with constituents is to target them on their birthdays with a simple message: “Have a fantastic year and Happy Birthday from your Governor.”
Campaigns too often don’t take advantage of the ability to harvest e-mail addresses on Facebook. No, you don’t have to pay thousands to a developer to build an application. Using the website www.emailmeform.com or one similar, a campaign can embed a form into the FBML application and by a quick change of the wall settings, can ensure that every non-fan visiting the Facebook page will land on an e-mail signup. We harvested hundreds of e-mails addresses this way with Bob McDonnell’s campaign. Campaigns at every level should be utilizing this tool.
Building more complex applications on Facebook such as yard-signs, or fundraising tools are more complicated than the average political staffer could create, but are worth reaching out on pricing to your web developer. Especially if you have an active and engaged supporter base on Facebook.
With Bob McDonnell’s campaign, we made a decision early to make Facebook the primary social network of the campaign, and it worked. By election night we had more than double the amount of supporters as our Democratic opponent, and were well ahead of both statewide candidates in the more populous New Jersey Governor’s race. Yes, both Bob McDonnell and Scott Brown had the unique advantage of receiving national attention which was a big lure to Republicans across the country wanting to stay engaged with their campaigns, but without our consistent ad presence on the social network (we spent a little over $8,000), and constantly engaging our supporters through a series of Fan pushes, we would not have gotten there.