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Bush Fans 13 Times More Engaged on Facebook Than Obama Fans

Patrick Ruffini

Patrick Ruffini

At Engage, we’re huge believers in data. And oftentimes, the most interesting data is hidden in plain sight.

One of the huge shifts in online politics in recent years is the accountability and transparency imposed by public video view, follower, fan, and “like” counts on services like YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter. It’s really easy to tell who has the momentum by looking at these numbers obsessively and analyzing their growth. Granted, it is possible to “game” the numbers by purchasing Facebook ads or engaging in elaborate pump-and-dump follower schemes on Twitter, but there is usually some deeper truth the numbers are telling us about your brand or your candidate (whether it’s about organic momentum, or the hustle respective teams are showing in growing those numbers — which is notable in and of itself).

If a candidate or brand has a huge following, but relatively little engagement from users, that also tells a story. And that brings up an interesting contrast between the Facebook pages of two Presidents — George W. Bush and Barack Obama — seen as polar opposites in style and tech savvy.

President Bush is a relatively new entrant to Facebook, and in a few months has amassed 637,713 fans (at this writing) — a number that’s grown during his recent book tour.

Contrast this to President Barack Obama, who at 17,117,366 fans, which makes his the 17th most liked page on Facebook, right between House and Bob Marley.

One would expect that Obama’s following, at 26.8 times Bush’s, would lead him to absolutely dominate the 43rd President in “Like” counts. It is surprising how much that’s not the case.

To be sure, Obama still gets more “Likes” — but by nowhere near his lead in fans. On average, President Obama’s last 10 posts have been liked an average of 11,579 times, to Bush’s 6,655 times. That works out to more than 1% of Bush’s fan base interacting with his page on any given post. For President Obama, it works out to a pretty weak 0.07% fan interaction rate — and a 13-fold advantage for Bush on that score.

Nor is this a trend isolated to George W. Bush, who has seen a resurgence in the polls lately. The other Republican mega-brand on Facebook, Sarah Palin, also sports a much higher rate of fan interactions than Obama and comes close to besting him in raw “Like” counts — seeing an average of 9,444 Likes per post off a fan base of just over 2.5 million.

For comparison purposes, we also analyzed two of the most popular brands in raw numbers — Facebook itself (29,727,677 fans), and Starbucks (18,727,225 fans). They had predictably high “Like” numbers in a raw sense, but the rates of interaction were just below Obama’s at 0.05% apiece, showing that people are less likely to outwardly express an opinion about a product than a hotly debated public figure. The exceptions were posts that tapped into funny Internet memes (Facebook’s post about people changing their profile pictures to cartoon characters topping the list at 53,380 likes) or causes (Starbucks’ post about World AIDS Day at 20,245).

Other fun and/or interesting findings from this brief study:

  • Content matters — with the most popular posts getting vastly more traction than the average post. For instance, Facebook’s post about Smurf avatars got 48 times the “like” love than its most recent post about their “STEM Video Contest.”
  • Content perceived as self-promotional or directly commercial in nature tends to perform worst, particularly when it’s not coming “from” the principal. I’m a big fan of this White House update video, but my comment is aimed squarely at this.
  • Photos > Text. President Bush’s two most popular posts, at 16,000 likes a piece, were fairly routine photo updates from his book stops. Ironically, videos didn’t see this much of a bump over the average, which confirms what I think is a common sense understanding of the popularity of photos on Facebook and how easy it is to interact with them, even when compared to video.
  • Despite the current hue and cry from the left, Obama’s most “liked” posts come when he shows a more centrist face. Obama’s most recent post about a tax cut compromise at 17,518 likes and his showing of Commander-in-Chief chops by visiting Afghanistan, at 21,881 likes — did better than a base-pleasing post on the DREAM Act (8,116 likes).

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  • Patrick Ruffini’s answer to Will a Twitter campaign be as effective as last time for President Obama’s re-election in 2012? « The Unreal Truth

    2011-09-06 17:59:50

    [...] Today, President Obama's combined following on Facebook and Twitter, at more than 30 million, almost certainly outdoes his e-mail list, but close observers would almost certainly conclude that his e-mail list is more valuable in generating contributions and driving campaign activity. There is also the question of whether Obama's fans/followers in social media are very engaged, when prominent Republican figures are able to drive nearly as many Facebook "likes" on posts with just a fraction of Obama's total following: http://www.engagedc.com/2010/12/… [...]

  • Quora

    2011-09-04 21:31:37

    Will a Twitter campaign be as effective as last time for President Obama's re-election in 2012?... President Obama had approximately 140,000 Twitter followers on Election Day in 2008. He now has 9.9 million. In relative terms, Twitter is almost certain to be more influential in this election by that measure alone. In absolute terms, it gets a lot tr...

  • The Engage Show 17: Deal with it | engage

    2011-07-21 00:10:56

    [...] Patrick: Bush Fans 13 Times More Engaged on Facebook Than Obama Fans  Standard Podcast [25:00m]: Play Now | Play in Popup | Download About the author [...]

  • Engage » Blog Archive » The Engage Show 17: Deal with it

    2010-12-10 11:23:48

    [...] The caveat about unofficial fan pages is global to every politician to some degree. I could just as ...Anonymous [...]

  • George W. Bush’s Facebook Fans More Engaged Than Obama’s (REPORT) | Barack Obama and USA

    2010-12-10 09:22:34

    [...] a political analysis and strategy agency focusing on new media, reports the following statistics from a study of popular Facebook posts: On average, President [...]

  • 2010-12-09 22:10:00

    The caveat about unofficial fan pages is global to every politician to some degree. I could just as easily throw in unofficial Bush fan pages or "Miss me yet?" groups. I wanted to compare apples to apples. And though some of these unofficial channels were larger relative to the official pages early on in the '08 campaign (think "one million strong for Obama" or the MySpace profile the Obama campaign seized) they have since been dwarfed by the 17M+ people Obama has been able to amass on his page, largely because Facebook has geared itself towards official brands. The issue here is whether a legacy online presence still matters, or matters as much as you think it might. Is Obama's in-built base of 17 million Facebook fans, 13 million emails, etc. something he will use to crush any prospective Republican opponent right off the bat? This analysis, and really, the whole enthusiasm gap during the 2010 election, suggest that their support is not a gimme, that it has to be actively renewed each time. Just because Obama has opened a channel of communication with these people in the past, it doesn't mean they're still listening.

  • Daily Dive-9 Dec 10 | adeliemanchot

    2010-12-09 16:01:26

    [...] Bush Fans 13 Times More Engaged on Facebook Than Obama Fans [...]

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  • Alan Rosenblatt

    2010-12-09 15:24:00

    There are many places where people can express that they "like" Obama on Facebook. In addition to the 17 million on his Page, his new group has 1 million. The White House has nearly 900,000 "likes." And there are many more niche community groups all dedicated to Obama. As for Bush, he is essentially concentrated on his new Page with 600+k. To do a straight comparison between just the two pages oversimplifies the analysis. Obama fans are spread across many pages and groups and have many opportunities to engage on these. Bush fans are all concentrated on the single page. Also, whenever you have such a high concentration of people on a single page, you inevitably get a lot of drive-by likers. Given these factors, it is really no surprise that the engagement rate on Bush's page is higher than on Obama's. Likewise, there is very little impact to the observation that Bush's fans are more engaged. Simply put, this finding tells us very little, if anything, of value. It is just an interesting observation. That's my 2-cents, Patrick. - Alan Rosenblatt