7 Political Trends To Watch For On Facebook In 2012

Look for Facebook to play a major role in what promises to an exciting year in politics. With the presidential race and congressional elections — not to mention state and local races — heating up in 2012, candidates and campaigns will be using Facebook in new and innovative ways.

Here are seven Facebook features that campaigns and voters can expect to see in the New Year.

Congress on Facebook

Members of Congress have taken to Facebook to engage with and enhance their interactions with constituents, by livestreaming and posting videos, sharing photos, and conducting tele-town halls to communicate with voters. Both Republicans and Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives have even held contests to encourage members to employ Facebook and other social networking sites to grow their followers and fan base.

Today, House members must have two Facebook pages — one Facebook page as an elected official, and one political page that represents their campaign efforts. The bifurcation can cause branding and communication challenges for constituents, so look for efforts to change the chamber’s policy.

Congressional Ads

Once the House approved the use of Facebook ads by its members, interaction between lawmakers and constituents has grown by more than 300 percent, according to a study by iConstituent, a firm that works with more than 90 congressional offices on ad campaigns.

Look for more congressional offices to follow the lead of Rep. Gregg Harper (R-Miss.), who uses Facebook ads to grow his fan base and incite action as specific pieces of legislation move through Congress.

Sponsored Stories

In 2011, GOP presidential contenders, including former candidate and former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, were already testing variations of sponsored stories. Now that sponsored stories will start appearing in news feeds early next year, the strong click-through rates by virtue of more targeted placement among fans receptive to the content will be that much more appealing to a broader spectrum of politicians.

Tabs and Tools

Campaigns have already started to customize Facebook tabs and tools and adapt them to their specific needs. For example, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney’s digital media director told us about a photo-uploading tool his team developed, and its decision to stream major events via its LiveStream and the YouTube tab on Facebook.

Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich’s (R-Ga.) team created Wayin Newt and Wayin debates tabs on his page, and his page also features a Ustream tab for event coverage. Look for campaigns to push the envelope in terms of using new and existing applications to get the most from Facebook.

Streaming Video

Republican presidential candidates, such as Pawlenty, turned to Facebook to not only announce their campaigns, but also to hold town halls. Facebook has live-streamed events with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, former President George W. Bush, executives from Davos, and other guests. Facebook even hosted a town hall with President Barack Obama at its California headquarters.

Voters can expect candidates to leverage Facebook to stream official events as the political season heats up in 2012. Streaming events is also a way to bypass the media filter and launch a dialogue between candidates and voter on Facebook.

Timeline

Facebook’s timeline feature is a powerful visual expression of an individual’s history. Our blog has addressed how businesses and brands could employ timeline on its pages once the feature becomes available to this audience.

That prompted us to consider whether timeline would benefit an elected official or a candidate. Would support for a past bill or piece of legislation come back to haunt a lawmaker in a campaign? In the end, campaigns should use whatever tool or resource makes sense, and that means using the timeline feature if and when it’s ever available to politicians’ pages. Controlling the message is core to any campaign, and that mantra would just be extended to a candidate’s Facebook presence.

Applications

As e-readers and new technologies become ubiquitous, politicians are adapting their message to these platforms.

The U.S. Senate only named Facebook as an approved technology just over one year ago. As Senate offices become used to Facebook, expect senators to leverage the platform in different ways. Some offices have already started; our sister blog, SocialTimes, covered the iPhone app launched by Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga).

The general public is starting to turn to Facebook to express their views during major events on the political calendar, making the platform one indicator of the health of a candidacy or campaign. Our coverage of the GOP presidential primary debates has cited news feed comments that give a sense of who won the debate, for example.

Finally, look for new Facebook mobile applications as the race heats up in 2012.

What do you think of these trends? Do you see other Facebook political trends in 2012?

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