Facebook gets Fox News? vote for key role in GOP debate

Facebook?s role as an indicator of public sentiment and a generator of candidate questions in Fox News Channel?s broadcast of the first Republican presidential primary debate this summer will be a good use of the social networking site to create direct interaction between candidates and voters, improving the quality of democracy.

The Aug. 6 debate, to be carried by Fox?s mobile application and Web site along with traditional outlets, will feature Facebook data that reflects how the issues of the day resonate with users as well as images and video questions that will be used to form questions for candidates. The move shows how salient social media has become in every candidate's campaign strategy, especially to reach millennial voters who resist traditional media channels.

?For the candidates involved, there will be a different benefit for each,? said Sean Gera, strategic analyst for marketing with Callfire, Santa Monica, CA. ?Candidates that have established themselves well on social media platforms, are comfortable with engaging a versatile audience, and are able to get their message/response shared across social media channels will benefit the most.  

?Those who do not have an adequate social media presence or are unaware of the nuances of social media will struggle,? he said.

Adapting on mobile
The heavy social media emphasis in the debate underscores a reality of politics. Candidates who adapt to their environments and audiences, particularly at the beginning of campaigns when they have more flexibility, tend to gain more recognition in media channels.  

?This debate will be an opportunity for many lesser known candidates to take advantage of a channel that can really bring them to the forefront,? Mr. Gera said.

Announcing Facebook partnership on Fox.

Since 2008, when then-Sen. Barack Obama successfully leveraged social media to raise money, deflect opponents? attacks and build support for his presidential run, the number of campaigns that use social media has risen exponentially. 

The use of Facebook, Twitter and numerous other social channels is hitting its stride as a valuable campaign channel and a standard practice.  

?The audience of the future for candidates, millennials, do not use the same channels as other generations, and campaign consultants know this,? Mr. Gera said. ?Therefore, we should expect every election to see more usage of social and mobile channels.  

?This primary component of election politics, debates, is now mainstreaming this relatively new channel, social media, by putting it front and center.? 

Fox?s leveraging of Facebook in the debate will have the greatest effect if candidates can also become informed and educated by the questions and responses from social media users. Besides strengthening campaign messaging in the future, deploying social media in the debate may also open the electoral process to a new audience.  

?Younger voters who had not previously participated may feel courted on their turf and engage with the candidates, the party, and the process,? Mr. Gera said.

Fox declined to provide details, beyond a release, about how the debate would use Facebook.

The debate will be presented live from the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, OH from 9 to 11 p.m. Moderators will include Fox Special Report anchor Bret Baier, The Kelly File anchor Megyn Kelly and Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace.

Media outlets are growing increasingly sophisticated at leveraging mobile to reach audiences on smartphones and tablets.

Increasing engagement
During last year?s U.S. midterm elections, ABC News? decision to send 10 million push alerts to users of its app who had signed up for election night alerts paid off in increased engagement with the brand.

ABC election coverage.

?Fox News is aware of the need to reach and engage an audience on mobile and other platforms,? Mr. Gera said. ?Just like political consultants, they know that their future audience does not engage through the same channels.  

?If they do not innovate and adapt to reach new audiences, then they will suffer the consequences that many networks have learned the hard way,? he said.

Final Take
Michael Barris is staff reporter on Mobile Marketer, New York