How Are Politicians Using Facebook to Engage With Audiences?

May 4, 2016

Written by NewsWhip

We compared the Facebook strategy of leading politicians in the US, Canada, Australia and the UK. Here’s how they’re engaging audiences on social.
Our analyses of US Election 2016 on social turned up some surprising insights. Engagement around the candidates was phenomenal, reflecting heated coverage of the race since day one.
We were interested in seeing how this compares to elected officials’ use of Facebook. Many leading politicians across the globe are active on social, but how does their use of it line up with what we’ve seen so far?
We took a look at the Facebook pages of elected leaders in the US, Canada, Australia, and the UK to get some insights. For the purposes of this blog, we looked at content posted in the month of April only.
Here’s an overview of data for the month.
Chart showing total Facebook engagement for four politicians' pages in April 2016
Note: we looked at the official page for the relevant office in each country. In the US and UK, that means The White House (for the President) and 10 Downing Street (for the Prime Minister). In Australia and Canada, the official page for the Prime Minister is named for each of the current incumbents (Malcolm Turnbull and Justin Trudeau, respectively).
In his final year in office, US President Barack Obama’s popularity on social shows no sign of waning. Both The White House’s official page and Obama’s own profile draw millions of followers, with each posting a steady stream of diverse content.
In April, The White House’s page elicited nearly 2 million interactions on social. This was generated by a total of 93 posts, and places the White House about 500,000 interactions ahead of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s official Facebook. Trudeau – something of an emerging viral star in his own right – drove just under 1.5 million interactions from 67 posts.
Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull also showed strong activity on Facebook, with a total of 57 posts this period. These yielded 168,542 interactions in total. While this is much lower than figures for The White House and Trudeau, it does suggest that Turnbull’s 282,000 followers are highly active on the page. The UK Prime Minister’s official page, 10 Downing Street, was the least active during this period. The page posted 29 times and generated a total of 42,694 interactions.

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Overall, the four pages took a broad approach in terms of tone. The White House is well-known for posting a mixture of serious and more light-hearted content and April was no exception. Both formal updates and humorous posts tended to elicit equally strong responses.
Some of the biggest posts for this period reflected an ever-popular theme on social: President Obama with kids. Images of a baby visiting the Oval Office and Obama’s meeting with 2-year-old Prince George generated over 448,000 interactions between them.
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Obama’s popularity with the young (and very young) is evident in multiple posts to the White House page. A video featuring NBA star Steph Curry – a social media behemoth in his own right – mixes humour with a serious message to raise awareness of the “My Brother’s Keeper” mentoring programme. This earned just under 74,000 engagements.
However, Obama would seem to have a rival for social popularity these days. Justin Trudeau’s page earned six of the ten biggest posts for this period. All bar one of these were images. A photo from a gym session – replete with the caption “always in your corner” – notched up 138,163 interactions. Trudeau also took a leaf out of Obama’s book by posting a photo with one of his children, earning over 84,500 engagements.
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It wasn’t all light-hearted content however – images marking major events also drew an enthusiastic response. In particular, a photo honouring the British Queen on her birthday and a celebration of the Sikh festival of Vaisakhi generated a combined 186,319 engagements. In addition, Trudeau’s posts were usually multilingual, reflecting the two official languages of Canada.
Elsewhere, formal updates were preferred by the Australian and UK Prime Ministers on Facebook. The biggest post to Malcolm Turnbull’s page focused on a serious subject – violence against women – and brought in 31,539 engagements. The page also posted images marking Anzac Day on April 25th, generating a combined 20,000 total engagements.
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10 Downing Street took a similar approach. Its most popular post was a recorded message from Prime Minister David Cameron for the Queen’s birthday, which elicited just over 6,100 interactions. Another video was uploaded to mark St. George’s Day and generated 4,087 engagements in total.
The varied tone of these posts indicates that these politicians are aware of Facebook’s wide user base. Compared to other social platforms, Facebook’s user base tends to be older and the mixture of formal and informal content ensures politicians reach as diverse an audience as possible. Posts marking major festivals and historical events provide a forum for user discussion, while lighter content shows a different side to elected officials as well as the leadership process.

Content Format

The vast majority of content posted by these four pages was native, i.e. images and video. This suggests that politicians are keen to tailor messages and updates to the platform.
Here’s a breakdown of content posted by the four pages during this period.
Pie chart showing the breakdown of content formats posted by politician pages on Facebook, April 2016
Images were the most common content format used, accounting for 48% of all posts during this period. They also tended to elicit the most engagement, with eight images figuring in the ten biggest posts for this period.
The White House’s video of Obama’s final White House Science Fair was the most popular video, with nearly 104,000 interactions. Justin Trudeau’s page took a quirkier approach with its biggest video. After the page hit 2 million followers, it uploaded a colourful video breaking down those 2 million users. The video was short but colourful, listing the various countries of and languages spoken by followers – including English (Pirate), one of the kookier Facebook language options.
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This video helped highlight the page’s growing profile, earning a total of 85,756 interactions in April.

Types of Engagement

Here’s an interesting note: the four most-commented posts for this period were all Facebook Live videos. While images seemed to generate more engagements overall, videos dominated sharing and comments, underlining the significance of the medium to Facebook.
President Obama’s talk at the University of Chicago’s Law School brought in 13,366 comments, just under a third of the post’s total engagements (40,833). Given the current controversy over attempts to nominate a new Supreme Court judge, the talk’s theme – the Supreme Court – made it particularly ripe for engagement. That said, Obama’s live update from the White House Science Fair also generated plenty of discussion, with 13,310 comments in total. A livestream of a Q&A posted to Justin Trudeau’s page brought in 6,953 comments.
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With live video the medium du jour at Facebook, the level of activity on these posts is noteworthy. There are obvious advantages for politicians in using live video – as evidenced by these posts, it provides a means of broadcasting major events to a wider audience and allows users who aren’t physically present to engage. Where shorter videos can only capture a snippet or summary of an event, live streams allow virtual audiences to participate in an event as it unfolds.
The most-shared posts for this period were also mainly videos – albeit not live ones. Interestingly, the anti-domestic violence video posted by Malcolm Turner’s page was one of the most widely shared for this period. Despite generating only 31,539 interactions overall, 51% of that engagement came from shares – a total of 16,095. This makes it the fourth most widely-shared post for this period, and suggests that message-based campaigning can have a significant impact on Facebook.
Overall, our analysis shows a diversity of approach among politicians on Facebook. The White House and Trudeau’s pages benefit from the incumbents’ greater international recognisability, but clever use of images and video have created a strong community on Turnbull and 10 Downing Street’s pages.
Next, we’ll take a look at these officials’ use of Instagram.

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