News Story

Snyder and Cox - Top Spenders on Facebook Fans

Social networking site becomes campaign battlefield in 2010 gov race

If money was the deciding factor and elections were fought on Facebook, then businessman Rick Snyder would decisively win the Republican gubernatorial primary next Tuesday and be primed to soundly defeat either of the Democrats in November. The 22,937 "fans" on his campaign Facebook page (as of Saturday afternoon) are nearly as much as the combined total on the pages of his two closest GOP rivals - Attorney General Mike Cox and Congressman Pete Hoekstra.

And, perhaps not coincidentally, campaign finance documents filed with the state's Bureau of Elections last week show that Snyder has also spent more on Facebook advertising seeking these fans than all other gubernatorial candidates put together.  

For the first time, the planet's top social networking site has become a political battlefield during an election season. Most of the major party candidates for the state's top job have fan pages dedicated to advancing their campaigns. Facebook had fewer than 100 million users worldwide during the run-up to Michigan's 2008 August Primary. Since then, it has grown into a force that many politicians cannot ignore. Adding another 100 million users every 173 days over the last two years, it topped half a billion last Wednesday - roughly one Facebook user for every 14 souls on Earth.

Because it allows a low-cost and high tech means of advancing their message, campaigns aggressively solicit new fans by encouraging existing fans get their friends to sign up. Facebook does not charge for this "social networking" route to building up fanbases.

Three gubernatorial efforts - Snyder, Cox and Hoekstra - report going the extra mile: spending campaign dollars with Facebook so as to generate even more fans. As noted above, Snyder has the largest collection of fans and his Facebook advertising expenditure, at $4,565.73, was also largest.

Hoekstra reports spending the least of the three on Facebook advertising: $810.05. As of Saturday afternoon, the Hoekstra page had 11,948 fans.

The 12,060 fans on the Cox campaign's page on Saturday were just slightly more than Hoekstra, but Cox reports spending substantially more on Facebook advertising to help him get there: $3,644.62.

The two Democrats, Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero and Michigan House Speaker Andy Dillon of Redford Twp., reported no advertising expenses paid to Facebook through the end of the reporting period last week. Neither did Republican Mike Bouchard, the Oakland County Sheriff. As of Saturday, the Bouchard page had 5,406 fans, the Bernero page had 5,789, and the Dillon page had 1,954.

State Sen. Tom George, R-Kalamazoo, appears to have only a personal user page on Facebook and not a "fan" page dedicated to his gubernatorial ambitions. There is no public record indicating that his campaign has paid to advertise for Facebook fans.

The now-defunct campaign effort of Democrat Lt. Gov. John Cherry reports spending $2,082.04 for Facebook advertising during 2009. As of Saturday, Cherry's page still has 2,234 fans, but its last update was Jan. 6, 2010 - the day after he announced that he would not be a candidate for governor. 

Though they can selectively remove users who sign up as "fans," campaigns have only limited control over who signs up on the page. As such, many of the so-called "fans" on each page are not actual supporters, but curious journalists, lobbyists, neutral political professionals ... and even outright opponents who join the page so as to keep tabs on what the competition is saying and doing. 

Many may be just undecided voters who have signed up to several rival campaigns at a time so as to get information from and interact with them. Other fans may not be old enough to vote or may not even live in Michigan.

The advantage to paying for advertising for fans on Facebook is the unique micro-targeting possibilities that allow the politicians to find exactly the actual voters that they are hoping to communicate with. By signing up as fans to other pages, many users give Facebook a detailed profile of their political leanings. Because of this, candidates can submit to Facebook's advertising department a profile and a geographic location for the type of voter that they are looking for, and even name the price that they are willing to pay for each sign-up.

One possible advertising campaign could go as follows:

A Democrat governor candidate competing in the primary could specifically target the advertising to Facebook users who have signed up to be "fans" of well-known Democrat politicians, such as the President, and to left-leaning political organizations, such as

Furthermore, the politician could specify that they want to advertise to only those within this group who list Michigan as their state of residence.  

Then, by listing the price the campaign is willing to pay for each sign-up, the campaign effectively determines how often and when Facebook will advertise the candidate page to the targeted group of users. A higher bid per fan causes Facebook to place the advertisement more frequently and during higher traffic hours.

From there, it's up to the targeted users to notice the advertisements on their page, click on them, and decide whether to hit the "Like" button to become a fan. When users sign up, the campaign is charged for it.

But the political arms race over spending money for Facebook fans is still very new. Outside of the race for governor, few other campaigns for state office report spending money on Facebook advertising.

One exception is the battle for the 21st House district in western Wayne County - a politically competitive seat envied by both parties.

The incumbent, Rep. Dian Slavens, D-Canton Twp., reports spending $465.83 for Facebook advertisements. As of Saturday, she had 405 fans. She is the only incumbent lawmaker in either chamber of the state Legislature to report Facebook advertising.

Shannon Price, one of two Republicans seeking to knock Slavens out of the House, reports $90 in Facebook ads - all of it spent in July - and had 439 fans.

The other Republican in this race, Lori Levi, reported no Facebook advertising expenses and had 363 fans.

Other candidates who reported Facebook advertising bills to the Bureau of Elections and what their fan total was on Saturday:

  • Sean Mullally, a Democrat hoping to represent Muskegon by winning the 92nd House district seat, spent $337.75 and had 1,060 fans.
  • Steven Mobley, a Republican contending for the 62nd House district job representing much of Calhoun County, spent $192.10 and had 404 fans.
  • Ned Staebler, a Democrat hoping to represent Ann Arbor by winning the 53rd House district seat, spent $140.97 and had 845 fans.
  • Eric Larson, a Republican seeking the 72nd House district job representing the Grand Rapids area, spent $115.74 and had 671 fans.
  • Ken Glasser, a Republican running for northern Michigan's 105th House district, spent $80.19 and had 450 fans.
  • Paul Peterson, a Republican seeking an open seat in southwest Michigan's 79th House district, spent $53.37 and had 80 fans.
  • Matthew McCormick, a Republican competing to dislodge Democrat Rep. Deb Kennedy in south Wayne County's 23rd House district, spent $10.40 and had 455 members for his campaign's Facebook "group" page.
  • And Republican Frank Chrzanowski, contending for the 55th House district in Monroe County and part of Washtenaw County, spent the princely sum of $3.76, in two installments, hoping to increase his Facebook fan total. One way or another, he ended up with 225 of them.

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.