Obama’s Paper Tiger Facebook Page

The media loves writing stories on social media usage in politics. Whether this is because social media is constantly evolving or whether it’s because it’s simply the “shiny thing” to talk about right now, the stories seem to flow like wine. The issue with many of these stories is that they remain centered only on the public number of supporters for candidates and rarely showcase how a campaign is using a specific platform or how their fans are interacting.

Take this recent story by Laura Phelps of the Medill News Service in which she ends the article with a descending list of candidates for President, ordered by their total number of “likes” on Facebook.

I’d like to offer up a different and better metric: the percentage of people “talking about” each candidate. The “taking about” number was released by Facebook earlier this year (2011) and is a cumulative number, updated daily, of people who have interacted with a page. Page interactions include liking a status, commenting on a status, tagging a page in a photo, writing on a pages wall, and various other actions.

This metric showcases the virility of a campaign on Facebook. If we use this metric and divide the total number of “likes”, the candidate in descending order by the largest percentage “talking about” would look like this:

Candidate “Likes” “Talking About” % “Talking About”
Rick Santorum 36903 7707 0.208844809
Jon Huntsman 29225 5427 0.185697177
Rick Perry 177611 31128 0.175259415
Newt Gingrich 218329 34329 0.157235182
Ron Paul 643696 54717 0.085004412
Michele Bachmann 460425 16932 0.036774719
Mitt Romney 1226679 38329 0.031246153
Barack Obama 24285260 282218 0.011620959


This table stands in stark contrast with the ones the media normally promotes, ones only focused on total public numbers of “likes”. As the table above shows, yes, Mitt Romney and Barack Obama are leading the field in terms of “likes” but there are significantly less people interacting with their pages than candidates with less “likes.” This statistic is amazing: Mitt Romney has 33x more “likes” than Rick Santorum, yet only has 5x more people “talking about” his page.

Facebook is set up to reward interactive pages. Its unique EdgeRank system does this by promoting content that is interactive more than stale content. Because of this system, it would technically be possible for content posted on Rick Santorum, Jon Huntsman, or Rick Perry’s page to be seen by more people than something posted on Michele Bachmann or Mitt Romney’s page, despite them having significantly more “likes.” Let me repeat that so folks can grasp the concept: despite Mitt Romney having over 1 million “likes” on Facebook, a piece of content posted to Rick Santorum’s 36,000 “likes” could technically be seen by more people.

Even Ron Paul who usually gets a lot of props for being a web-friendly candidate has less people “talking about” his page than four of his Republican opponents.
As the chart above showcases, it’s obviously is harder to bring about engagements with pages the larger they become. My best guess as to why some of the smaller pages have a larger “talking about” number would be because those pages are made up of mostly organic “likes.” These are people who are rapid supporters who sought out these candidates on their own on Facebook and opted to “like” a page without needing to be advertised to.

As Facebook has continued to morph itself into an ad-centered model, it has become harder to break through the clutter and reach fans with creative and engaging content. Facebook is not only rewarding interactions on pages but they are in a way punishing non-interactive pages by not showing content to users who haven’t interacted with a page in a while. Facebook’s solution to fix this: advertise!

When the story about Facebook and the 2012 cycle is written, it shouldn’t be about shear total public numbers. Barack Obama may dwarf every Republican on Facebook in terms of total number of “likes” but less than 1.2% of his fans are “talking about” his page and interacting with his content. Obama’s Facebook page is truly a paper tiger, one that has a lot of bark but very little bite. He ran an incredibly impressive social media operation in 2008 but Republicans have caught up and in some ways are doing better on Facebook and Twitter. Reporters would be wise to read up on Facebook’s EdgeRank algorithm before writing stories on his campaign’s social media domination. When that story is written, it is the Republicans who dwarf Obama.


Vincent Harris serves as Founder and CEO at Harris Media, a national media and communications firm based in Austin, Texas (www.harrismediallc.com). He ran online operations for Governors McDonnell and Scott, and currently is working with the Rick Perry Presidential campaign.