Saturday, December 22, 2007

Facebook and Politics

Facebook has an obvious vested interest in supporting politicians within its ecosystem. Chris Kelly, Chief Privacy Officer, and several others have been in DC several times this fall to encourage the use of Facebook in political activity. They tout their successes during the 2006 cycle, and expect great things to come during this, the most expensive and rancorous of all presidential cycles. However, their outreach to date does not yet align with the traditional needs of politicking.

Two things matter in politics: fundraising and organizing. If it doesn't help advance one or the other, then its of no use. Social media in general is an obvious asset in organization, as the "network" is at the heart. However, from a campaign's perspective, unless they know who is in their network and, more importantly, what they can offer the campaign (i.e. fundraising dollars, time to lick envelopes, etc.), then they are of no use.

Originally built within the US Politics application, Facebook's Pages tool now houses politician supporter pages. But, this tool does not allow page owners enough insight into who has "become a fan". In fact, Facebook has precluded (through this tool) the extraction of any information on these individuals from Facebook.

To be valuable to a campaign, they must have the ability to match the network collected within one channel to their other sources of information collected through other channels, such as previous donors, volunteers, email lists, etc. The Facebook Pages structure, therefore, leaves hundreds of thousands of self-identified supporters dangling outside the traditional campaign machine, unable to be harvested. Not effective.

Though difficult, the best option within Facebook is the application platform. There, data can be extracted. Unfortunately, however, generating a sizable network is difficult, as evidenced by the Obama app. Unless or until Facebook enables functionality to support these needs, campaigns must work to uncover the right combination to drive a network from an application.

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