Campaign analysts and social media experts have been claiming that the 2016 election could be won or lost through clever use of social media. Whether true or not, the candidates are allocating substantial sums of money to this aspect of their campaigns. So, with this in mind, I decided to look at which of the remaining 5 candidates seems to be making the biggest impact through social media. In this series of posts, I’ll be looking at their use of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other sites. Each of the social media platforms has its own written and unwritten rules and the candidates need to approach each in a way that is consistent with these rules while preserving their own styles.
There was a time, perhaps some of you old-timers out there still remember, when Facebook was the big social media outlet. Yes, it’s still big, if currently not as ‘cool’ as other sites. According to the Pew Research Center, 72% of all internet users in the U.S. have a Facebook account. It has the oldest demographics of any social media site with 48% of adults over 65 having an account on this platform. No other site shows such an equitable age distribution of its members. It tends to be preferred by women (77% of the population) over men (66% of the population). Here is the chart of its demographics.
Facebook is the most non-confrontational of all the social media sites, at least in principle. The basic Facebook formula involves posts on holidays, vacations, kids, and pets, which must be responded to with positive comments. The pressure on members to treat each other with respect is probably what makes the site appeal to an older demographic with more traditional values. In theory, anyway, candidates need to keep this in mind when posting here. If you want to say something inflammatory, you should use other sites. But this is the 2016 election in which we’ve seen all normal rules tossed aside. And it’s the same on Facebook. You can find no more heated confrontations than within the comments posted on candidate pages. In fact, some are on, or even over, the Facebook hate speech policy, part of which is stated here.
“We’ve also found that posting insensitive or cruel content often results in many more people denouncing it than supporting it on Facebook. That being said, we realize that our defense of freedom of expression should never be interpreted as license to bully, harass, abuse or threaten violence.”
But they later admit that their algorithms have failed in some cases.
“We have been working over the past several months to improve our systems to respond to reports of violations, but the guidelines used by these systems have failed to capture all the content that violates our standards. We need to do better – and we will.”
In short, Facebook has become a place with as much confrontation as you will find in any other social media site. This is especially true on some of the candidate pages. I’ve even seen commenters challenge each other to physical fights.
The effectiveness of a Facebook site is often equated with the number of ‘Likes’ it receives. (Political candidates don’t list friends.) That said, it should be kept in mind that likes can be bought. Prices vary for the quality of the like but, generally, $150 can buy you 1,000 likes from ‘real people’ as opposed to likes from bots or fake sites, which are a cheaper alternative. If you buy more likes at one time, some sellers will give you a bargain price. One site will sell you 10,000 likes for $300, for example. For a political candidate who wants to make it look like they are gaining in popularity, purchasing one million likes for $30,000 could be a good investment. I suppose what I’m saying is that one should take the number of likes with a degree of skepticism. Facebook tries to remove fake profiles (and the accompanying fake likes), but it is a losing battle.
With all of the above in mind, here is how the candidates stack up on Facebook as of late March, 2016. I’ll start this analysis by first posting the candidates’ Facebook stats and let you reach your own conclusions before I make any observations.
Donald Trump holds a commanding (2 to 1) lead over all other candidates. This is as difficult to explain, in terms of Facebook’s demographics, as Bernie Sanders taking the second spot. Why? Because Facebook fits squarely into Clinton’s key supporter base – older, white women. It is where you would expect to find supporters looking for the latest information from her. Then, where are they?
I would speculate that Clinton’s lack of Facebook support comes from two reasons. First, most of her supporters have been supporting her for a long time. They know her stand on nearly everything. They really don’t need to go to Facebook to confirm this. If something unusual occurs during the campaign, they may look at her site, otherwise, why bother? This brings up the second reason why she may not be receiving the Facebook attention one would expect: her supporters lack the enthusiasm of Sanders and Trump supporters.
Trump supporters tend to be older, white males. Next to Hillary, you would expect Trump to do better than all other candidates on Facebook. Unlike Hillary, he is a bit of an unknown commodity. Even his supporters aren’t sure where he stands on everything, so, for them, visiting his Facebook site would help keep them informed. In addition, you cannot discount the enthusiasm factor.
In my opinion, it is the enthusiasm factor that puts Sanders in the anomalous second place position in total Facebook likes. His supporters seem to have an almost fanatical dedication to him and apparently flock to the site to defend his position and fiercely attack anyone that opposes it. Mostly, though, they congratulate each other on being Bernie Sanders supporters, often under the belief that they share a certain enlightenment that the supporters of other candidates lack. Their comments often go unopposed, compared to other candidates. Few negative comments appear on his site.
Hillary has another problem; Bernie Sanders supporters. They will use her site to launch stinging attacks on her and her supporters. For her part, Hillary simply marginalizes Sanders. She treats him like a small dog that is pulling on her pantsuit leg. She can’t kick it across the room because the owner is watching, so she simply pretends it doesn’t exist. Clinton often attacks Trump, but she rarely mentions Sanders. She lets the commenters do that. Probably nothing could anger Sanders’ supporters more, and so the tension between the two camps grows. Here is an example of a typical anti-Clinton, pro-Sanders comment on Hillary’s Facebook page.
Trump is basically attacked by everyone. He is as fiercely defended by his supporters as Sanders is by his. However, I find few Trump supporters visiting Sanders’ Facebook page. Here is a typical comment from a Trump supporter on those posting negative comments on Trump’s Facebook site.
You would expect Cruz supporters to be more active in writing anti-Trump posts, but, in truth, they are conspicuous in their absence. Most of the trolls come from the Sanders camp. Cruz, however, is routinely attacked by Trump supporters. Kasich supporters seem to attack no one. Unfortunately, the anti-Kasich commenters on his own site often outnumber comments by his supporters.
Why do candidates use Facebook at all?
Actually, that’s a good question. If they are mainly visited by supporters and haters, how does having a Facebook page change anything? True, they may be able to clarify some issues and keep supporters charged up, but most supporters stay as supporters and most haters stay as haters. In truth, all social media campaigns are hoping to persuade the undecided voter that they are the best candidate. That’s one reason to keep Facebook posts sounding reasonable and friendly… at least most of the time.
And Facebook makes finding the undecided voter and potential supporter about as easy as you can ever imagine. They even have a page dedicated to organizing political compaigns. Imagine the information Facebook has on millions of Americans. With this information, they can help a candidate find the precise people who are most likely to respond to their campaign. As Facebook claims, they can “use signals from Facebook’s deep engagement with voters to target people based off of predicted political affinity. Tap into the political conversation on Facebook by targeting the most likely people to spread political information. Use the power of identity to put the right message in front of the right voters at the right time with 1:1 voter file matching.” And, of course, “Geo-target your support base of potential voters by congressional district and more.” That’s a considerable amount of power and an advertising angle well worth investing in. Still, the candidate must offer up a product that these targeted people will respond to.
In my objective analysis of who has the best Facebook setup, I would have to choose Sanders. He puts up relevant content and differentiates his Facebook style from his Twitter style. This makes it look like he understands the difference and is making an effort to reach different demographics. By simply copying one social media site’s content to another, a candidate risks looking uninformed about social media and, quite frankly, lazy.
Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump both use Facebook well. Clinton, however, tends to use Twitter and Facebook as if they are more or less the same. Trump shows an understanding of the importance of differentiating the two. So, because Trump also has more likes and attacks more vehemently, I will give him the second place nod and relegate Hillary to the third position.
Cruz does a good job differentiating his Twitter and Facebook pages. Unfortunately, his most recent page shows the ‘Photos’ section on the left with this image, which is amusing in light of the sex scandal allegations that were recently leveled against him.
Someone should have picked this up. His site is also riddled with attacks from Trump supporters and needs to be defended more than it is.
John Kasich does nothing really wrong on his Facebook site. He’s simply been lost in the dust of the other candidates. His problem is the same as Clinton’s and it almost looks like he’s copied her design and strategy. The differentiation of his Facebook and Twitter sites is fair. Again, he has more attacks from Cruz supporters than positive comments from his own. These points plus his lack of likes puts him in last place, behind Cruz, in his effective use of Facebook.
In my next post, I’ll look more closely on how the candidates are using Twitter.