Welcome to FWIW, ACRONYM’s weekly newsletter breaking down digital strategy and investments across the political spectrum. Each week, we look at how campaigns are – or aren’t – leveraging smart digital strategies to drive narratives and win elections.
For what it’s worth, some of it might surprise you.
As you know by now, Facebook is a powerful tool for driving paid advertising to many different segments of the electorate. But, it’s also an important organizing tool for campaigns to engage their followers organically and build a community of energetic supporters. Which of the 2020 candidates has the largest audience? Whose supporters are most engaged on Facebook? We take a look in this week’s FWIW.
2020 by the numbers
Donald Trump’s campaign digital spending increased a bit over the past week, now spending over $9 million on Google and Facebook since the midterms. You can see all these charts and how they change over time at our FWIW Digital Dashboard.
This week, the Pete for America campaign continued to increase their digital spending by investing more in Facebook for grassroots event organizing and fundraising. Many of his new ads are geographically targeted and promote specific rallies or fundraisers where supporters can see him in person. Full disclosure: ACRONYM’s former Senior Organizing Director Greta Carnes is now Mayor Pete’s National Organizing Director – we you, Greta. And Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren continued to spend significantly on both Google and Facebook this week, primarily for email list building and fundraising.
Here are the top Facebook and Google Spenders from May 16 – May 22:
Both NARAL Pro-Choice America and Planned Parenthood were among the top ten spenders on the platforms this week, rallying supporters, educating communities, and going on offense against extremist anti-abortion legislation in multiple states.
Deep Dive: Who’s winning the Facebook primary?
We aren’t the first to tell you that candidates can and should use targeted paid ads on Facebook to blast out their message and build their email and donor lists. But, organic engagement on the platform also provides real value to their campaigns, but often gets overlooked by reporters covering campaigns because well, money talks. Being able to leverage a large, organic, and energetic Facebook following provides campaigns with another channel for disseminating their message and growing their base. Using publicly available data we compiled from the platform, we took a look at how the 2020 candidates stack up in terms of their audience size, and more importantly, engagement on Facebook.
Who’s building the largest audience?
Campaigns don’t necessarily need a large amount of followers or page likes on Facebook in order to run effective digital advertising programs. That said, a large amount of page likes on Facebook can provide campaigns with a larger organic audience for their posts, more opportunities for engagement, and credibility when they do decide to put dollars behind their messages.
Candidates like Donald Trump, Joe Biden, and Bernie Sanders who have near-universal name ID and a long-time Facebook presence naturally lead the pack in terms of audience size on Facebook, but comparing the followings of the entire Democratic field provides some unexpected insights. It also establishes a baseline for us to dig into other Facebook engagement data:
Cory Booker has invested in building his organic social presence since his time as Newark mayor, and now maintains a bigger audience than Kamala Harris and Beto O’Rourke – who both carried over their large page followings from their U.S. Senate campaigns. Author and spiritual guru Marianne Williamson, who gets very little attention in terms of earned media but is also making a run at the nomination, currently has a much larger following on Facebook than most Governors, U.S. Senators, mayors, and members of Congress running for President.
Some candidates, however, have been rapidly ramping up their Facebook engagement since announcing their candidacies, and will continue to do so. Here’s how many new Facebook likes each candidate’s page has added since the beginning of the year:
Despite spending over $130,000 on Facebook since January, John Delaney actually (and remarkably) decreased his following on the platform. After months of campaigning and investment, more people “liked” John Delaney on Facebook back in January than do today.
Pete Buttigieg’s initial introduction to voters and subsequent meteoric rise in the polls can also be seen in his Facebook page growth, outpacing Bernie Sanders in net new likes since January.
Although Elizabeth Warren maintains one of the largest audiences of supporters who like her page, she lags in organic page growth, adding only a fraction of new supporters compared to candidates like Beto O’Rourke, Kamala Harris, and Pete Buttigieg. Meanwhile Donald Trump, despite universal name ID and an already large following, continues to outpace the Democratic field on Facebook and grow his audience, adding over 274,000 new page likes since January.
Whose supporters are the most engaged? 🤔
A better way to gauge a candidate’s support on Facebook is looking at various metrics for engagement – how many people are sharing, liking, and commenting on their content every day. This can show enthusiasm for a candidate’s message, and reflects how a campaign’s supporters are becoming advocates for their candidate.
Again, candidates like Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden have a built-in advantage with this due to their large followings, but it is notable that Pete Buttigieg and Tulsi Gabbard lead the field in average post shares, despite having very small page audiences.
Not all campaigns use Facebook the same way. For instance, Bernie Sanders posts on Facebook twice as much as the Trump campaign. Here’s how much each candidate has posted on the platform since January:
As most of these campaigns know by now, some types of content just falls flat. Other times, a post can garner insane amounts of organic engagement and drive the candidate’s message to millions of people. We took a look at which posts for each candidate were the most engaging. What we don’t cover here but we hope more campaigns take more advantage of is turning their best organic posts into even more effective ads on the platforms.
Maybe predictably, Beto O’Rourke, Bernie Sanders, and Joe Biden’s most shared and engaged posts were their own announcement videos. Kamala Harris’ most shared post was a photo lifting up the new class of women sworn into Congress in January.
Elizabeth Warren’s was a link commemorating what would have been Rosa Parks’ 106th birthday. And Pete Buttigieg’s most shared post was a heartwarming note about marrying a couple in South Bend:
Read + share 🤳
That’s all for this week. But before you go, we want to make one ask of you – if you love FWIW, forward this email to three friends. They can sign up for weekly updates at www.anotheracronym.org/fwiw, follow us on Twitter and email us with ideas of what we should dive into next.
– the team at ACRONYM
P.S. You can find today’s issue of FWIW hereand read this week’s edition of FWIW Virginia at this link.