Nowadays political campaigns are making good use of social media. Heck, this is a big reason why Donald Trump got the GOP presidential nomination -- he's a Twitter Master.
So when the May 17 election for Salem Mayor and City Councilors approached, I decided to throw about a thousand bucks into supporting my favored progressive candidates -- Carole Smith, Cara Kaser, Matt Ausec, Sally Cook -- via "boosted" posts on my Strange Up Salem Facebook page.
This was part of what I thought of as my extra year of Mini Cooper payments effort to improve Salem's political landscape. The five year loan on my 2011 Mini was paid off this April, so I figured that contributing the equivalent of 12 more months of $250 car payments, or $3,000, to candidates I liked was a great idea: $1,000 went to Mayor candidate Smith, $1,000 to Progressive Salem to support the three city council candidates, and about $1,000 went to the Facebook boosts.
I'm sharing details of the results I got from Facebook for my $950 because (1) this is interesting, at least to political geeks like me, (2) it might help future progressive campaigns, and (3) maybe people more knowledgeable about Facebook advertising than I am can point out mistakes I made, or ways I could have used that money better.
First off, in no way do I fully understand the mysteries of how Facebook operates. (Actually, probably no one does, other than some Facebook insiders.)
Here's an example mystery: about 2,500 people have given my Strange Up Salem page a "like." I used to think that this meant that whenever I published a post, those 2,500 people would see the post in their Facebook feed. But this isn't how Facebook works, as described in "Organic Reach on Facebook: Your Questions Answered." (Organic means how many people you reach for free by posting to your Facebook page.)
There is now far more content being made than there is time to absorb it. On average, there are 1,500 stories that could appear in a person’s News Feed each time they log onto Facebook. For people with lots of friends and Page likes, as many as 15,000 potential stories could appear any time they log on.
...Rather than showing people all possible content, News Feed is designed to show each person on Facebook the content that’s most relevant to them. Of the 1,500+ stories a person might see whenever they log onto Facebook, News Feed displays approximately 300. To choose which stories to show, News Feed ranks each possible story (from more to less important) by looking at thousands of factors relative to each person.
Thus I paid Facebook to "boost" six political posts between April 18 and May 10. I did this because I'd become aware of the limited reach of the organic non-boosted posts.
During that same time period, the month before the May 17 primary election, I published 20 politically-related Strange Up Salem posts that weren't boosted. Meaning, the number of people reached through their Facebook feed was all organic, not paid.
Of these 20 posts, the highest organic reach was 1,091. Remember: about 2,500 people have given Strange Up Salem a "like." So at best, Facebook was sharing a political post with well under half of the potential viewers.
At the time, I had a feeling that the negative/snarky/edgy posts were reaching more Facebook users than the positive/please support/heartfelt posts. Today I confirmed this by looking over Facebook statistics. The average reach of the nine positive non-boosted posts was 521 people. The average reach of the eleven negative posts was 737 people.
So even though we hear a lot about how citizens want political messages to be positive, my experience is that people actually are more attracted to negative/snarky/edgy. In this case, about 30% more. Of course, Facebook algorithms play a large part in this.
I'll now turn to what happened with the six paid posts.
The amount I paid Facebook to "boost" each of the posts ranged from $100 to $175 (the first five posts were boosted for $150-$175; a final post on May 10 was boosted for $100). Here we get into the above-mentioned mystery of the "thousands of factors" that determine whether Facebook includes a post in someone's feed.
Again, I'm no expert on this.
But I've heard that the number of "likes" (now, this includes "love," "ha ha," "wow," "sad," and "angry"; the "likes" shown below include all of these), along with the number of comments, helps determine how widely Facebook shares a post. Knowing this, or at least strongly suspecting this, my first five boosted posts were decidedly on the negative/snarky/edgy side.
(Also, the truthful side, I hasten to add.)
Here's the Facebook statistics for each of those six Strange Up Salem posts. You can click on the link to read the post, but only the owner of a Facebook page can see the results of paid post "boosts." The audience for these boosted posts was either a "liberal" group I designed using certain Facebook criteria, or a "liberal/populist" group that edged into Libertarian sorts of folks.
(1) Chuck Bennett's shameful role in U.S. Bank tree killings. April 18, boosted for $150. 18,733 total reach: 4,562 organic, 14,171 paid. 265 likes, 145 shares, 95 comments.
(2) Rage against Salem's machine. April 25, boosted for $175. 14,594 total reach: 2,626 organic, 11,968 paid. 266 likes, 75 shares, 39 comments.
(3) Chuck Bennett lobbied for a copper mine in the Opal Creek forest. April 26, boosted for $175. 14,375 total reach: 4,351 organic, 10,024 paid. 295 likes, 129 shares, 36 comments.
(4) End Salem's oligarchy. April 28, boosted for $175. 13,614 total reach: 2,619 organic, 10,995 paid. 201 likes, 65 shares, 20 comments.
(5) "Speak Up" or "Shut Up" -- Choice for voters in Salem's May 17 election. May 4, boosted for $175. 7,942 total reach: 1,416 organic, 6,526 paid. 205 likes, 36 shares, 27 comments.
(6) Vote. By May 17. In Salem's primary election. May 10, boosted for $100. 4,597 total reach: 1, 195 organic, 3,402 paid. 147 likes, 45 shares, 18 comments.
Overall, the $950 I spent on Facebook boosts resulted in a total of 73,855 reaches (16,769 organic, 57,086 paid). So the cost of exposing a Facebook user to one of my marvelous Strange Up Salem election-related posts was about 1.7 cents (1.66 cents, to be almost exact).
I'm happy with that. I'm not sure whether the Facebook users reached through the 495 shares are included in the paid reach. Probably they are. Facebook just describes paid reach as "The number of people who have seen this post because you promoted it."
It's impossible to tell how my $950 affected the election. I like to think that some people decided to vote for Smith, Kaser, Ausec, and/or Cook after seeing one of my Strange Up Salem posts related to the May 17 election. But who knows?
All of the progressive City Council candidates won. Carole Smith lost the Mayor's race, unfortunately. Three out of four was a good outcome for Salem.
What I do know for sure is that the Facebook boosts resulted in a lot more people viewing the political posts. Recall that the most people organically reached through the non-boosted posts I published around election time was 1,091. So instead of 6,000 or so people seeing the six boosted posts, the money I spent resulted in almost 74,000 people seeing them.
(By "people," I don't mean distinct individuals. I mean a person seeing a post.)
I don't fully understand, though, why the organic reach of the six boosted posts averaged about 2,800 people. I targeted Facebook users with various interests, rather than choosing to promote the posts to those who had liked my Strange Up Salem page and their Facebook friends.
Maybe the boosts, which created more likes, comments, and shares, affected the algorithm which determines how widely Facebook organically shares a post to those who "like" the Strange Up Salem page. But I'm already over my head in the deep waters of Facebook's ocean, so I'm going to stop speculating.
Bottom line: my first foray into paying Facebook to promote election-related posts was satisfying. I feel like I helped the four candidates who I urged people in Salem to vote for. And for sure, the $950 led to a lot of Facebook users being better informed about the election for Mayor and three City Council races.