Melissa, a political campaign candidate who is running in a local election in California, writes us with a question about using Facebook Fan Pages and Groups:
“. . . I know that political candidates can use Facebook to help raise money and find volunteers, but should I start a Facebook Fan Page or a Facebook Group for my campaign? What is the difference, anyway? Also, do you have any general tips for how I can use Facebook in my local election to get more supporters, votes, contributions, and use it in conjunction with my candidate website? Sorry if that’s too many questions, thanks a lot!!!”
It’s not too many questions, Melissa, and I’m glad you asked. The differences between making Facebook Fan Pages and Facebook Groups–and how political candidates can take advantage of them in their campaign to win on election day–was a subject that I had been meaning to write a post on.
Facebook Fan Pages for Election Candidates and Political Campaigns
You can check out a previous post I wrote about how to create a political campaign Facebook Fan Page for more information, but let me give you a quick recap. You should make a Facebook Fan Page if you plan on eventually having a very large amount of online political campaign supporters, say north of 5,000. It allows you to build a community of campaign fans who will interact and comment on your page, view your Facebook posts, photos and links, and check back for more information and updates about a candidate.
Facebook Fan Pages are also easier to hack and personalize, with options to import from your political campaign website and auto-create a post in your “notes” tab whenever you publish something on your personal blog.
A politician Facebook Fan Page is easily indexed by the search engines, and when you have enough followers you can set a “Vanity URL” for your page (also known as a “custom URL” or Username). Switching to a Vanity URL means that you can get rid of the random string of letters and numbers in your Facebook Fan Page web address and replace it with your actual name (see my own Facebook Fan Page, www.Facebook.com/PhilVanT, for an example). You can create your own Vanity URL after 25 people become fans of your page.
Another good thing about Facebook Fan Pages: you can integrate them into your political campaign website and encourage visitors to become fans right on your homepage. Facebook has a customized widget that you can easily plug in to the code on your election candidate website, and the resulting box will show a selection of several of your fans, as well as giving visitors the opportunity to join your page with one click of their mouse. Check out my campaign website to see an example of an integrated Facebook Fan Page widget box.
The major downside of a Facebook Fan Page for political campaign candidates is that as the page administrator, you are NOT able to send inbox email messages to your fans. You can send them notification updates, which show up under the “updates” tab in their message center, but these aren’t checked nearly as often by Facebook members. So unless your fans happen to come back to your campaign election page to check for new events and updates, they probably won’t notice if you post any news or information.
The reason that Facebook doesn’t allow you to send email messages to all of your fans is because they don’t want to let spammers have the ability to mail bulk spam messages to large groups of people. Some Facebook Fan Pages have millions of members (wouldn’t that be nice to have as a local election candidate?), and giving someone the ability to send email to millions of members is dangerous, as you can probably understand.
Facebook Groups for Election Candidates and Political Campaigns
As a candidate in a local election, here’s the best thing about having a Facebook Group for your political campaign: you are actually able to send out bulk email messages to everyone who joins your group, as long as that group doesn’t go over 5,000 members.
I’m sure you can see the value in this: if you have a hundreds of members in your Facebook group, then you can quickly send out fundraising and donation requests, event information, and volunteer pleas to every single one of them with the click of a mouse. It’s a very powerful ability to have in a political campaign, and it basically means that every person who becomes a member of your Facebook group is part of your own personal candidate email list.
Of course, you don’t want to overdo it with sending out messages to your Facebook Group members. Any more than once every couple of weeks (I would even limit it to once a month) will probably tick people off and make them more likely to leave your group. Keep that in mind and try NOT to send a message out to your group every week asking for campaign contributions and door-to-door volunteers!
There are a few downsides to having a Facebook Group instead of a Fan Page for your political campaign, though. Groups don’t have as much online visibility, since you can’t create Vanity custom URLs for them. Additionally, you can’t publicize your group on your campaign website like you can with a page. And generally, groups are much more difficult to grow to very large membership numbers, since they weren’t designed with Internet marketing and search engine optimization in mind.
Which One: A Fan Page or a Group?
So, what should you do for your political campaign? Should you create a Facebook Fan Page, or start a Facebook Group? I’ve given you the pros and cons of both, and it’s really up to you what you should do, considering the size of your political campaign and its overall online marketing goals.
Personally, I started both a Fan Page and a Group for my own campaign committee. My Fan Page is much larger and is integrated into my political campaign website, and I spend time every weekend suggesting it to new Facebook friends and posting new information on the page wall.
My campaign Facebook Group, while smaller, still has several hundred members, who constitute my most reliable supporters. When I have a very important announcement or request for support, I always send it out in a message to all of my group members (never more than once a month, though).
Melissa, I hope this post helps you decide whether you want to create a Facebook Fan Page or Group for your campaign. While using online social media tools won’t guarantee a win on election day, it is a great addition to your campaign that will help you broadcast a strong message and allow you more options for communication with and recruiting supporters.