printable banner

U.S. Department of State - Great Seal

U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

Facebook, Social Media and U.S. Elections

Katie Harbath, Manager for Policy, Facebook
Tampa, Florida
August 30, 2012

 11:00 A.M. EDT


MS. HARBATH: Thank you all for being here this morning, especially on the last day of the convention. Like they mentioned, I work in our Washington, D.C. office with Republican candidates and elected officials alongside with my colleague, Adam Conner, who works with the Democrats. We’re part of a broader team that works with candidates, elected officials, organizations such as the convention, and how they can best use Facebook for their campaigns and to be interacting with voters and constituents.

To give you a little bit of a sense of how we’re approaching it, if you think back to the 1990s, it was all about the web browser. You had to know a website URL, and you had to actively think about going there to see if there was something new or updated. In the 2000s, it was all about search. It was the wisdom of crowds. You could search for information, and the most popular results would pop up, but you didn’t know who those people were that were clicking on them. Were they the people next door, or were they somebody on the other side of the country or the other side of the world. And now in the 2010s and recent years, we’ve moved from the wisdom of crowds to the wisdom of friends. And more and more campaigns are starting to really utilize that word of mouth power to be getting out their message and really bypassing – no offense – any need for the media to be talking to those voters.

And what we’ve found is that that can be very, very powerful. To give you a sense of it, Mitt Romney, when I just looked this morning, had 2.2 million people talking about him on Facebook. That number is over the last seven days, and it’s the number that’s up on his page. And 2.2 million people were engaging with his page at some point in time over the last week. And every time a person engages with his content, it shares it with their friends. And on average, every person has 190 friends. So if you do the math very quickly, he can reach millions and millions of voters in the United States by using word of mouth from people that they know.

And what campaigns are finding is that while social media alone cannot win you an election, it can certainly help. If you’re not on it, it can certainly help you lose an election. To give you some look at how it has changed campaigns, if you think back to 2010, there were candidates like Marco Rubio in Florida here and Scott Brown in Massachusetts where, when they started their campaigns, no one gave them a shot. They said they weren’t going to raise enough money. There was a better funded candidate out there. And they really used social media to help build up their base, push out their message, and end up winning their campaigns. This year we saw in Texas – the Texas Senate primary, Ted Cruz faced the same dilemma. He was up against a much better funded candidate, but he really utilized social media from the get-go. And it wasn’t just to push out a message. He also used it to raise money and to get volunteers, and he ended up winning that primary.

So what we’ve seen is from presidential campaigns down to city council, candidates are using it not to push out press releases, but instead to share photos and videos from behind the scenes on the trail. Photos are getting about two times the amount of engagement than any other types of posts on the site. And so you’ll see these campaigns putting up pictures of volunteers and then a few sentences and then a link to ask them to go volunteer. They’re putting up photos of – Mitt Romney’s body guy was posting photos from the bus of the kids running around. And people are sharing that a lot. I was looking today, too. They put up a picture of Paul Ryan last night after his speech onstage, and it’s already gotten 14,000 shares.

And so very, very quickly, these guys can push out messages, and no longer is it a 24-hour media cycle; it can be a 20-minute media cycle. Where a candidate is saying something at a rally or saying something here at the convention and very quickly people are tweeting it out, they’re putting it up on Facebook, and then the other campaign is responding. And then the campaign responds back, and very quickly you’ve gotten all the reactions in the blink of an eye.

Here at the conventions specifically, we started working with them about a year ago, and they came out to our Palo Alto campus, and they worked with us, they started brainstorming on how they might integrate social media. And they really wanted to have this convention without walls concept where people at home weren’t just going to be watching it on network TV and that was the only shot they got.

And so using Facebook, people are now are seeing status updates from delegates on the floor, from elected officials all around Tampa, from just all the other guests, from you, the members of the media who are posting these behind-the-scenes photos. And they’re really getting a chance to not only interact with people here in Tampa, but also have live discussions with their friends online while the speeches are happening. We’ve done a partnership with CNN and Mass Relevance. You can go to So it’s F as in Frank, B as in boy, insights, and – I should probably use F as in face and B as in book. If you go there, you can see; keep refreshing it. We’re tracking the people talking about this number.

And you see last night a huge spike for Paul Ryan, which is not shocking given that it was his speech. The night before, a huge spike for Mitt Romney with Ann Romney’s speech and Chris Christie’s speech. And you can very quickly see throughout the day how the chatter is going online and how it really mirrors real-time events. So I highly recommend that you check that out.

Also here at the convention, for us at Facebook, it was just very important. We work really hard. Nearly every candidate is on Facebook, and nearly every elected official is on Facebook, and we wanted to make sure we had a presence here not only to help them, but to help the delegates as well have a really good time. And we have these photo spots, and we’ve got our spaces just over here around the corner, so feel free to come by and check it out. It’s a little blue kiosk about this tall. You register one of these Facebook cards to your profile. You only have to do it once. And you and your friends can go up, swipe it, and take a picture and share it immediately out on your Facebook page, which is kind of a fun thing, and it’s been really popular down here as well.

And we’re really working with candidates now, once the conventions are over, going into election season. We’re starting to move away from necessarily building up lists to get out the vote. And Pew Internet has found that Facebook users are 57 percent more likely to persuade their friends or coworkers to vote. And more and more of these campaigns are going to be working towards making sure that those – all of these fans that they’ve built up, friends that they’ve built up on their Facebook pages will be encouraging those friends to get out and vote. And in an election that could be as close as this one is, that could make all of the difference.

But with that, I’d be happy to take any questions folks have about Facebook’s presence here at the conventions or what we’re doing with the elections.

Yes, sir.

QUESTION: I’m with Excelsior Mexico. I’m just curious about the concept of a convention without walls. How successful do you think it has been? How many people are following the convention through this new concept, if it is possible to measure it? Is is there a very big contrast, for instance, between the peak hours last night and regular timing?

MS. HARBATH: During peak hours last night and what time?

QUESTION: At the – let’s say the afternoon.

MS. HARBATH: Oh, yes. You can actually see in the afternoons and in the mornings here, and especially at night when people are sleeping, it’s much lower. And then we were starting to see a little bit of a spike around 10 a.m. yesterday. And then it went down a little bit in the afternoon when there wasn’t much campaign activity happening. And then it shot up during the prime time hours.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MS. HARBATH: I don’t have any numbers off the top of my head, but you might want to go look at that CNN site and take a look.

QUESTION: Hello, I'm from Asahi Shimbun of Japan. Thank you for coming by. Do you see any difference between the way both parties use Facebook and – I may be wrong, but my perception was the Democrats seemed to be on it earlier. Maybe the Republicans are a bit more aggressive now. And also, what do you see going from here after the 20-minute news cycle? You’re going to go to the 20-second cycle, or what do you think is happening there?

MS. HARBATH: So my first convention was in 2004 in New York, when I was working for the Republican National Committee doing their digital outreach. Facebook wasn’t even a year old yet. Twitter wasn’t around. YouTube wasn’t around. But the Bush campaign had a very aggressive digital campaign. And while the perception claims to be out there that the Obama team is doing better, if you look at peer engagement numbers, right now, if you go to Mitt Romney’s page and Barack Obama’s page and look at that people talking about this number, Mitt Romney has more people engaging with his page right now than Obama does. And they tend to be about even. Sometimes Obama will be a little bit above. Sometimes Romney will, depending on what’s in the news cycle. But I think that it’s actually very even. They’re both implementing a lot of the same strategies to be helping to get their messages out there. And I think they’re very much on par and competing with each other at the same level.

QUESTION: Where do you see the campaigns going from here?

MS. HARBATH: Oh, after this. It is so hard. Again, if you think back to eight years ago, none of this was around, and four years ago, this was hardly – social media was just starting to emerge. I think that it’s a little bit hard to predict. But I think more and more things are going to move towards mobile. You see the campaigns using Square, which I don’t know if you’re familiar with it, but it’s an app you can download on your iPhone or iPad. They send you a little card reader that goes into the headphone jack, and people can take – they can have people walking around – they’re using them, I believe, in the store over at the forum to be able to check people out just like they do in Apple stores. So I think a lot more of the campaigns’ things will be focused on both the mobile and social.

QUESTION: Tahrir Newspaper, Egypt. You mentioned that 2000 was the search, and before that the web, and then after that, now, Facebook. And then I have a few questions related to Facebook presence or participation in this convention or political process. First, when you say 2.2 million, is it a big number or a small number? Because it’s nothing if you compare it to –

MS. HARBATH: That’s true.

QUESTION: -- Lady Gaga, for example.

MS. HARBATH: It’s actually a very big number. I don’t know Lady Gaga’s people talking about this number off the top of my head.

QUESTION: Over 20 million.

MS. HARBATH: Well, that’s the number of fans. So there’s a difference, too, between the number of fans. To give a perspective, Barack Obama has 25-27 million fans, but only a little, like, between 1.5 and 2 million people actually engaging with his page.

QUESTION: Another question, which is usually in Facebook process or Facebook reality, okay, friends is – but in the same time foes are – I mean, enemies or whatever, those who are trying to interfere and damage the discussion of conversation. How do you – is there a chance to – I mean, are you trying to figure out how you are going to face this in the coming years?

MS. HARBATH: Most of the campaigns have been finding that it’s most of their own supporters and that the conversation that is happening on their posts, while there are people who might not be supporters and are negative, there’s actually a lot of people who are supportive, and the conversation tends to regulate itself and tends to be pretty balanced.

QUESTION: The other thing, which is related to rules and regulations, at any time are you trying to come in – or anybody come in -- and say, okay, stop here, don’t move more regarding the discourse or the conversation? Okay, you first put it there is no convention without walls.


QUESTION: But if people, like any place, they’re trying to trespass whatever you call it. I don’t know the terms using –

MS. HARBATH: No. I think I know what you’re asking. We really leave it up to the campaigns themselves and how they manage the page. And so most campaigns choose to allow the discussion to go on unless people are being harassing or swearing or spamming. But it’s not something that –in Facebook, we have terms and conditions of the same things. But for the most part, we leave it up to the campaigns to police it themselves.

All right. Thank you.

# # #