Facebook has been experimenting with its newsfeed to serve up news over other content to some users. In yet other experiments, the social network has been serving up its Voter Megaphone buttons on Election Day to most of its US users, while withholding the "I'm Voting/I'm a Voter" buttons from a control group of several hundred thousand, reports TechPresident's Micah Sifry in Mother Jones. The result of these experiments is that exposure to either of the treatments increases the likelihood that the user will vote.
While Micah dives deep into issues related to Facebook's lack of transparency regarding its manipulation of user experiences for the purpose of research, this post will focus on my recurring theme that advocacy organizations and campaigns simply cannot avoid placing a high priority on social media anymore. With respect to Facebook's potential impact on voter turnout, Sifry says that delivering Facebook's Voter Megaphone buttons, which proclaim that "I" voted to my friends, has the potential to increase voter turnout by a few million.
In a tight election year like 2014, where the Senate is up for grabs and historical midterm turnout is significantly lower than during presidential elections, those millions of extra voters would have monumental impact out the outcome.
Facebook's research suggests two key causes for increasing the likelihood someone will vote: 1) if they see that their friends are voting and 2) if they are exposed to more news about the election and the policies at stake.
But why leave it all in the hands of Facebook? Why not use your social media channels to make the same impact? Maybe you cannot match the social network behemoth's scale, but you can create a more engaged and likely to audience of your own.
If you use your social media channels to put news about your issues in front of your audience, if Facebook's research is any guide, you can expect to mobilize more voters. Using a variety of targeting techniques to ensure your news posts are seen is the key to success. Since Facebook only disseminates your page posts to 2.5% of your page fans, you've got to boost your reach. There are several tricks to organically increase the reach of your Facebook posts to your target audience, including tagging key influencers, sharing your wall posts to other profiles and groups, and post on other people's pages. You can pay to promote your posts, if you have a budget, and target them to people most likely to agree with your viewpoint. Similarly, targeting your news posts on Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+ and other social networks will likely have similar results on people who see the news there as those who were exposed to more news in Facebook's experiment.
As for creating more peer pressure to vote, while not as simple as Facebook's "I'm a Voter" button, a campaign that encourages your supporters to Tweet, post on their Facebook wall or share through another social channel that they voted should also create the desired peer pressure to get out the vote. And if your organization's tax status allows you to endorse candidates, you can get people to declare that they are going to vote, or have just voted for a particular candidate. People who publicly declare their intention to vote for a particular candidate before Election Day increase the likelihood that they will vote for that candidate. And these declarations, before or on Election Day, also encourage people who see the declaration to vote, and for that candidate, too.
So while others wrestle with Facebook to get it to be more transparent with how it is experimenting on its users, we can focus on using what we have learned from Facebook and apply it to all of our social media outreach efforts.