Multilingual Business Communication

March 22, 2009

The new political weapon: Facebook!

Filed under: marketing communication, Séverine De Ryck — meertaligebedrijfscommunicatie @ 3:51 pm

During the Democratic primaries in 2007, Barack Obama did everything he could to become more popular than his rival Hillary Clinton. To make the most of his chances, he started to use the social netwerk site Facebook. Very soon, the group ‘Barack Obama (One Million Strong for Barack)” had garnered 259,647 members. With this medium, Obama succeeded in mobilising millions of Americans to hang posters and to run door-to-door campaigns. For the eventual presidential election, Chris Hughes, one of the founders of Facebook worked as a volunteer for Obama and had a big impact on his eventual victory. 

Inspired by this easy way of free publicity, Belgian politicians are preparing themselves for the Flemish and European elections on 7 June, 2009. Annick De Ridder, a not so well known member of the Flemish Parliament, called on her 1600 Facebook friends to help her with her campaign. In her message, she asks for volunteers to help her stick posters, to place billboards, and to accompany her in running a city campaign. In the few days her message has been launched, she has received a lot of positive reactions. Also Marino Keulen, the Flemish Minister for Home Affairs is running his first campaign on Facebook. He invited his friends to attain an informational meeting about his policy, and he announces that he organizes a prom on 9 May. Even Yves Leterme (CD&V) posts pictures on Facebook to mobilise his supporters, and probably also to polish up his damaged image. As a consequence of the financial crisis, political parties have to cut down their marketing budget, just as normal businesses do. I’m curious if these Belgian Facebook campaign will be as successful as those in the United States.

Het Laatste Nieuws 21-22 March 2009 p. 2: Hét campagne-wapen: Facebook



  1. On his website e.politics, Colin Delany suggests that Facebook has not been the right communications tool for politicians to use so far. The reasons for this are related to the kind of site Facebook is. First of all, Facebook is not a mass-communications tool, as its aim is to connect individuals. What is more, Delany claims that “Anecdotal and survey evidence suggests that as soon as Groups and Apps spread widely, Facebook users became overwhelmed by the volume of invitations they received.” This is also why advocacy groups on Facebook have few members: there are simply too many of them for us to be interested in or to support them all. Apart from that, the author suggests that Facebook has not made a difference in the American election campaign, as the number of Obama’s Facebook friends has not helped him beat Clinton (who apparently had five times less friends). What it has done, however, is connect individual people who shared the same political view.

    Still, Delany does not write off Facebook as an election tool. Politicians just have to know how to use it: “they need to work with rather than against a site’s basic structure, and in Facebook’s case, that means getting down to the one-on-one: give the supporters the tools, and if they’re motivated enough, they’ll do the job for you.” It seems that our Belgian politicians had better visit the site to read up on Delany’s detailed plan of action before considering integrating Facebook into their election campaign.

    Aagje Verbogen

    Comment by Aagje Verbogen — March 23, 2009 @ 4:07 pm

  2. I think Facebook is a bit overestimated. This new medium is indeed immensely popular, but nothing proved that it is a good medium to advertise or to spread propaganda. As Aagje mentioned, Facebook connects people with the same view, but will it convince others with opposite views? Moreover, it’s true that the social network is growing, but many of these users hardly ever visit the site and are not inclined to join groups, play quizzes and comment on pictures all the time. What’s more, it is interesting how long the hype will last: the netgenners are very fickle and might soon grow tired of the Facebook, switching to other networks…

    Comment by Hannelore Blomme — April 4, 2009 @ 12:10 pm

  3. Two days ago, I saw a report about this on Terzake. Turns out that over 200 of our politicians are already a member of Facebook. This is about half of all our Flemish politicians, whereas only 1 in 6 Belgians use Facebook.

    At this point, Open VLD and SPA seem to take the lead, but CD&V and the other parties have really started to catch up. The reason for this is that no politician wants to stay behind. As you already pointed out, Facebook has really become a powerful tool for election campaigns. Fientje Moerman (Open VLD), for instance, recently asked her Facebook friends to help her spread her campaign posters. After only a day, she already had many people who were willing to help her out!

    To me, however, one question still remains: Does the voter also benefit from this? Does the voter really need to know all of these personal things about a politician? Personally, I think not. And I think that, as a politician, showing that much of your private life could also potentially be dangerous and compromising. That being said, I do believe in the power of Facebook as a tool for campaigns.

    If you would like to see the report or hear more about it, go to:

    Comment by Nina Vermaesen — April 10, 2009 @ 8:44 am

  4. There’s no problem with politicians using the Internet and Web 2.0 applications such as Facebook as a campaign strategy. Even my local mayor has recently invited me to be online friends. I must admit that I didn’t accept. Who he’s friends with and what people write on his wall, I’m sorry, but that doesn’t really affect me.

    As Nina mentioned before, politicians have to be careful with the type of information they publish on their pages. I don’t think people are that much interested in what Belgian politicians do in their personal life. Maybe they should consider building up two Facebook pages. One for personal use and one for their campaign.

    Today, the Flemish newspaper De Morgen published a list of personal stuff about politicians that were found on Facebook. Personally I don’t care that Joris Vandenbroucke drives a Honda or Peter Vanvelthove went for a beer in Sergio’s new bar. Els Keytsman even publicly wondered if her Arafat scarf would be a problem for the Jewish community.

    Nice and cheap campaign tool, Facebook. But they still have to be careful, or it could get really cheap!

    Comment by Laura Moerman — April 10, 2009 @ 10:01 am

  5. @ Laura Moerman. I am not (or no longer) a politician – I immediately contacted De Morgen to explain them (again) the situation. Sloppy journalists! I use FB to connect with old friends and collegues. Besided this I do not believe FB is a goodcampaign tool, as I already argumented on… FB.

    Comment by ELs Keytsman — April 20, 2009 @ 5:51 pm

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