While only a minority of campaigns at the state and local level spend significant amounts on paid Facebook ads, almost every state and local campaign has their own Facebook page that hosts organic content. Due to recent changes in Facebook’s platform, only a tiny fraction of people who like a page will actually see its organic posts. However, large organic followings lend credibility to campaigns and give them the opportunity to maintain and grow their base for donations and canvassing shifts!
For both Democrats and Republicans, there’s a huge gap between the “haves and have-nots” when it comes to their organic audiences.
On the Democratic side, human rights activist and author Qasim Rashid has the largest Facebook following thanks to a pre-existing audience from before he announced his State Senate bid. The dropoff from Rashid’s following is steep – Delegate Chris Hurst has roughly half the number of Rashid’s page likes and other Democrats have an even smaller fraction. In general, we see that most of the top Democrats on Facebook have continued to grow their followings since the June primary.
The biggest outlier across both Democratic and Republican campaigns is Senator Siobhan Dunnavant, whose campaign has managed to gain over 2,000 page likes since the June primary, although it’s worth noting that her campaign has maintained a robust paid presence on Facebook.
Using CrowdTangle, a content discovery and social monitoring platform, we compiled data on House of Delegates and State Senate campaigns to see whether or not campaigns can grow their organic audiences through organic content alone. We found that while it may be possible for campaigns to grow their Facebook followings from organic content alone, it’s tough to do quickly, especially for candidates without large pre-existing followings.
This scatterplot looks at how often House of Delegates and State Senate campaigns posted on Facebook between the primary and June 6th (in terms of average posts per day) and compared it to the post-primary growth of their pages to see whether more organic engagement leads to a bigger audience.
While there is a small, loose correlation between posting more on Facebook and page growth, simply engaging through organic content isn’t enough to grow quickly. And for first-time candidates running without a pre-existing following, growing quickly is key for building a following large enough to be leveraged for votes, donations, and volunteer shifts.
We highlighted the top three campaigns in terms of page growth and all of them have had at least some form of paid presence on Facebook since the June primary. In general, the candidates with the largest page growth had either a paid presence, a large pre-existing following, or a viral/controversial moment. Most campaigns don’t come in with a pre-existing following and aren’t able to capture a viral moment, so paid advertising is the most viable option for most campaigns to grow their social media following.