When reading Mark McKinnon’s piece on Sarah Palin, I noticed that he mentioned her 2.5 million Facebook fans as a public staple of her political success. Mark is correct that Palin’s massive following on Facebook is unmatched in sheer volume on the Republican side, and surpassed only by Mr. Tech President himself, Barack Obama. But are her fans responding to her message? I spent some time comparing Sarah Palin’s fan base to four other Facebook pages to examine the response rate among her base.
This is a graph comparing her fans to that of Vermont Lt. Governor Brian Dubie, Florida Governor-elect Rick Scott, and two large conservative organizations. As you can see, in sheer volume Palin dwarfs the organizations:
“Liking” a status on Facebook is arguably the easiest action a political supporter can perform online for a candidate. It doesn’t require money or an e-mail list, but simply a single click of the mouse. With the highest amount of activity for these political groups being close to Election Day, I went back and looked at the status update with the greatest number of “likes” from October 1st to November 15th. The results were as follows:
|total fans||# who “liked”||% of fans “liking”|
Looking at it another way:
Governor Palin may have the most number of fans among Republicans, but it appears she may have reached a saturation point among activists on America’s largest social network. She is releasing her updates to over 2.4 million people, but unlike many smaller pages, they simply aren’t responding to her. This could be an issue of content, as she rarely asks for her supporters to take specific actions, or simply a sign of an interested but disengaged fan base (perhaps even with a large % of Democrats).
In my home state of Texas, Governor Rick Perry may have won handedly on Election Day, but he trailed former Houston Mayor Bill White throughout the campaign in terms of numbers of “likes.” On Election Day, White had more than 150,000 “likes” compared to Perry’s roughly 50,000. Despite this numerically large discrepancy, White and Perry share similar numbers of interactions on their wall, both in terms of comments and “likes.”
All in all, it’s important to remember that large numbers on Facebook, Twitter, and e-mail lists do not convert into large numbers of activists, clicks, or e-mail opens. It’s much better for campaigns to have active, interested “likes” than massive numbers. For those only interested in numbers, I’d encourage them to look at Bill White as an example. He may have invested more resources and had more than 3x the reach of Texas’s sitting governor, but his supporters were not fully invested.
Vincent Harris serves as Founder and CEO at Harris Media, a national media and communications firm based in Austin, Texas (www.harrismediallc.com). He is in charge of web operations for the Rick Scott campaign in Florida, and previously ran day to day online operations for Governor Bob McDonnell.