US president Barack Obama’s main Facebook page is by far the biggest success with 46,615,754 Likes, followed by the account of Indian prime minister Narendra Modi at 31,919,042 Likes. British prime minister David Cameron doesn’t even manage a million, clocking in at 944,741 Likes.
While the use of ‘Likes’ makes it a more loaded act than simply following a Twitter feed, Facebook followers don’t necessarily like the person or organisation behind the page. Anyone with an interest in politics may wish to subscribe to their country’s leader’s Facebook feed, regardless of their political affiliation.
It remains to be seen whether Facebook popularity translates to any indication of future political success. For those keeping track of America’s long-running electoral process, Donald Trump has so far attracted 5,349,305 Likes, compared to Bernie Sanders’ 2,368,268, Hilary Clinton’s 2,247,180 and Ted Cruz’s 1,797,896.
Here in the UK, opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn has 471,424 Facebook followers, while UKIP’s Nigel Farage has pulled in an audience of 292,975.
Although they receive plenty of comments, most world leaders’ and governments’ Facebook pages act as news and PR feeds, rather than giving their followers a direct line of communication to the world’s most influential politicians.
For example, although US President Barack Obama’s main page says it is “a place where you can hear directly from me, and share your own thoughts and stories”, the page responds to just 0.89 percent of reader comments, although the White House’s official page clocks up a 7.05 percent response rating that puts it in the top ten for reader engagement.
Burson-Marsteller’s report observes that “much like any other Facebook user, world leaders share their private lives on the platform: Celebrating birthdays, sharing pictures of their children, celebrating their latest offspring or grieving the passing of their parents. And these personal posts are generally the most popular.”
This is perhaps the strangest aspect of Facebook’s unusually personal kind of political PR: many followers appear more interested in world leaders as celebrities than politicians. For figureheads such as the British Monarchy (2,506,481 Likes) this celebrity is understandable, but for the national leaders social networks offer a world away from politics.