Campaigning through Facebook

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Facebook recently announced that there are over half a billion users on the site – a large community by any means, and a great place for communication and debate. Over half of all users log into their accounts every day, giving any organisation an excellent reason to occupy Facebook real estate. By creating a Facebook Page, organisations can raise their profile and their information has the potential to be accessed by millions of users, without much effort.

One of the major advantages for organisations is the fact that users are willingly spending time on Facebook. Instead of having to attract visitors to your website, you can go directly to where they already are, and the tools that you can use to customise your campaign are largely free. However, Facebook has some flaws as it was not designed to support activism and it will not necessarily guarantee a successful result. This guide will outline the advantages and limits of using Facebook for the purpose of campaigning.

Why use Facebook in campaigning

Whether you decide to create a Facebook profile for your organisation or for a specific campaign will depend on your strategy. Regardless, it is a good idea to begin by creating a space on Facebook in order to make sure that you "own" the name and unique URL of your organisation.

Once you determine how this fits into your campaigning strategy, make sure to set clear objectives. Do you want to build a network / supporter base? Is the goal to disseminate information and encourage action? Do you want to drive traffic to your website? Know who you want to target and develop a plan to reach out to those individuals and groups.

For more information on developing a social media strategy, click here.

The basics

You have the option of creating a Page or a Group. In most instances, a Page is more appropriate because it allows you to customise the look and feel of the site and provide your own branding.
Facebook Pages: Facebook Groups:
For commercial use For non-commercial use
Unlimited number of "fans" or individuals who like the page Unlimited number of members
No messaging capabilities Full messaging capabilities
Status updates appear on the individual's news feed – this means your news reaches more people Friends only updates to news feed – you must be friends with the people in the group to get their news
Create events (organise a critical mass of people, promote panel discussions, conferences and key political moments) Create events
Custom applications can be installed (useful for specific campaigns –i.e. take action activities like petitions and letters) No options for customisation
Personalised Facebook URL No vanity URL option
Click here for more information on how to create a Facebook Page and options for customisation.

Managing Facebook

Identify experienced Facebook users to administrate your Page, and allow them to take the lead on organising your Facebook campaign. This will help ensure that the campaign runs smoothly and it also should be less time-consuming.

When you begin populating your Facebook Page, ensure that the content you display relates to your overall campaign objectives. You may wish to set up an RSS feed to your wall and generate content from your website. Click here to learn how.

Once you are happy with the content and the look of your Page, decide how you will publicise it. How will you promote the Page on your website and in other publications, products or social media sites?

Facebook will help you track the reach of your campaign by emailing administrators weekly statistical updates including the number of people who visited the page and number of new people who "liked" the page.

Pitfalls to watch out for

While social media sites such as Facebook thrive on interconnectivity and debate, make sure that you are always in charge of the conversation. This means allowing for debate, but also restricting comments if they become offensive or inappropriate. There is a fine balance and this is something that you should define in your social media strategy.

Security may also be an issue for your organisation and you should keep in mind that you are using Facebook, which is not a secure site, at your own peril. Users can hack into your account and retrieve data on the fans of your Page. Include a disclaimer, and discourage the sharing of personal information.

In the past, government agents from countries where the right to free expression is restricted have been known to join the Facebook Groups and Pages of free expression organisations in order to find information on the individuals who "like" the Page. Given that most people use their real names and identities, some users may be concerned with the lack of anonymity. They might be in political danger if their information is found, so make sure that you make this explicit on your Page.

General Tips

More on the Web

Facebook guidebook:

Introduction to Digital Activism:

Putting free expression issues in perspective.

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