The use of Facebook in Rahm Emanuel’s successful 2011 mayoral campaign could offer progressive causes — and candidates — important lessons in utilizing the social network to galvanize support.
“The ’08 campaign taught everyone in politics that by talking to people where they are, on Twitter and Facebook, you could quickly get your point across to them,” said Thomas Bowen, executive director of Emanuel’s political action committee, New Chicago Committee. “I’ll give you one example. We knew that early voting would be very important, so we used Facebook to push specific messages, even during specific time periods. If it was a weekend, you saw something like ‘your early voting location is open now’ ads.”
With the help of advertising agency Bully Pulpit Interactive, which was founded by members of President Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign social media team, Emanuel’s campaign utilized Facebook to put information and multimedia content in users’ hands for them to share with their networks. Emanuel's camp also used the social media platform to draw users to the campaign’s main web site and interact with potential voters that had questions for the campaign, such as where to volunteer.
Bully Pulpit said that 30 percent of Emanuel voters interacted with his campaign online and that 87 percent of visits from social media channels to his web site, ChicagoForRahm.com, came from Facebook. Agency reps added that 30,000 new Facebook fans in Chicago (65,000 fans total) were connected to 2.5 million people on Facebook from the city. That means, according to Bully Pulpit, 98 percent of Chicago Facebook users potentially saw stories about Emanuel in their Facebook news feeds.
“We couldn’t imagine having run this campaign without Facebook, particularly in moments like the residency battle,” said Ben Coffey Clark, managing director of Bully Pulpit Interactive.
Bowen said that about 25 percent of the petition signers to let Emanuel run for mayor after the Illinois First District Appellate Court removed him from the ballot due to residency issues were from his Facebook fan page. The Supreme Court of Illinois later unanimously overturned the ruling and Emanuel won the election with 55 percent of the vote.
An effective online strategy
However, the Emanuel campaign’s online efforts were not limited to Facebook and Bowen said that the primary campaign web site was still the most important part.
“The Facebook page and the advertising strategy around it were components of our overall Internet-based strategy," Bowen said. "The campaign web site always had more traffic and is still the most important part of any web-based strategy. The Facebook page was not meant as a primary source of fundraising. It was meant for getting people up on the campaign and to broadcast information to folks where they were at — on Facebook."
Bowen said he would advise those looking to run a successful social media campaign for a political cause to clearly delineate a social media strategy and publishing plan.
“Firstly, know what your goals are," he advised. "You can use social media for a variety of functions and people often neglect to have a clear purpose when they start. Set the rules around that purpose, otherwise it can completely monopolize all your time. Lots of voters use social media, but many of them do not as well.”