Implications Of Facebook Data Rules On Political Campaigns

  • by , Op-Ed Contributor, October 6, 2015

In 2007 at its f8 conference, Facebook unveiled open access to its social graph, the map of how its users are interconnected and the information they share with one another. In fact, Facebook strongly encouraged developers to build apps on top of the social graph saying, “… any developer worldwide can build full social applications on top of the social graph, inside of Facebook.”

Political campaigns took advantage of Facebook’s open approach with Barak Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign being a poster child for using technology to identify potential supporters among users’ friends. The campaign then used that data to encourage friends to vote or sent them another campaign-specific message. Using Facebook social graph to tap friends of supporters helped increase voter rolls as friends of supporters were five times more likely to click on content from a friend, than from the campaign itself, according to The Wall Street Journal.

However, in May of this year, Facebook put into effect new restrictions on its user data that are leaving some campaigns scrambling to find new ways to draw on supporters’ social networks. As we learned with decreasing organic reach on Facebook, campaigns must resist the temptation to build their house on rented property. Said another way, campaigns should view Facebook as a means of reaching an audience and converting them to known supporters who are willing to take action on behalf of the campaign — whether that is to donate, share campaign messages with their network, or volunteer.

Let’s look at four ways campaigns can do just this and gather valuable information in the process:

Calls-to-Action: Be audience-centric when designing your call-to-action. Know what motivates your audience to take action and share with others. People want their social actions to be a reflection of their social persona, so make sure you are delivering calls-to-action that reflect that and make them look good to their network. For example, if your audience wants to appear civically engaged, give them opportunities to easily volunteer for your campaign and share that they are doing so. 

Marry Email and Facebook Marketing: There is tremendous value locked up in any Facebook community and unlocking it by converting followers to members of your house email file is a powerful way to move beyond building awareness and start growing reach and engagement. The virtuous cycle created by uniting Facebook and email marketing allows a campaign to market across channels and create a powerful matrix of which channel performs best for which audiences and which messages.

While this may sound simple and obvious, I surveyed the Facebook pages of the four leading Democrats and 14 Republicans currently running for President to find only one candidate with posts that solicited emails in the Facebook context. While almost everyone used the new Facebook action button “Sign Up,” this has limited benefit as most people visit a Facebook home page once — to like the campaign. After this initial interaction, the vast majority of a campaign’s content is seen in the News Feed. About half of the campaigns I surveyed solicited donations, volunteers or other calls-to-action in their posts. Yet, the action was followed with a URL that drove people off Facebook. Our research shows that calls-to-action that keep people in the Facebook context get a 20% response rate, much higher than calls-to-action that require someone to click through to a Web site.

Solicit Feedback: Giving supporters a way to voice their opinion helps personalize your campaign by showing that you care about people’s issues and concerns. When people feel heard, they are more likely to act on behalf of your campaign, whether that is to volunteer, make a donation, or recruit other supporters. More to the point, giving supporters an avenue to express their opinion via social media can provide your campaign with important, near real-time feedback, which can be extremely important on breaking news or sensitive topics. While people may not always feel comfortable leaving a comment, they can be inspired to participate in a poll or survey because they give people a private way to share their voice.

Measure Success & Repeat What Works: Although Facebook is eliminating the ability to access social graph data, campaigns still have a trove of information from Facebook Insights that should be tapped for everything from which messages perform best to what post types receive the most engagement. Campaigns can (and should) analyze this information by demographic, geography, and more to maximize the impact of their social media content and subsequent engagement. 

Algorithms and policies will change. The best approach to successful campaign management on Facebook is connecting directly with people on issues that they care about. Appeal to your audience, solicit their feedback directly, and ask for them to share your message. You’ll find you’ll go much further than trying to game the system, which will change in a month or two anyway.

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