President Barack Obama's visit to Facebook for an online town hall meeting this week represents more than an outreach effort to the public. It signals his continued understanding of the powerful relationship between social media and politics.
The president has scheduled a visit to the Palo Alto headquarters on Wednesday.
Obama has more than 19 million Facebook fans. That's a huge number. In fact, it's more than four times as many of the fans of potential Republican challengers Sarah Palin, Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee, Newt Gingrich, Michele Bachmann, Tim Pawlenty, Haley Barbour and Rick Santorum combined!
Sure, some fans are kids, some live in other countries, some are American adults who didn't vote for him in 2008, and there are some, no doubt, who won't vote for him in 2012.
Take all those millions away -- whatever the number might be -- and Obama still has millions of voters who follow his posts.
More than that, many of those people send his posts to others. What a way to get the message out--consistently, persistently, and at no cost.
Facebook isn't the only way Obama communicates. He gives a weekly message on You Tube, yet another way for the president to connect with people at a time when so many citizens tend to feel disconnected from the political process.
These social media sites will be important tools for the 2012 presidential campaign. While opponents will use these sites as well, Obama has shown an uncanny ability to make the most of his opportunities.
At the end of the 2008 campaign, Obama had four times as many friends on MySpace as Republican opponent John McCain. He had five times as many Facebook fans as McCain.
Obama's 2008 social media efforts made the financial difference in the campaign. His online outreach attracted three million donors who made a total of 6.5 million donations adding up to more than $500 million. And these weren't heavy hitters.
Six million of the donations were for $100 or less, with the average being $80.
No doubt, Republicans won't get caught without a strong online presence in 2012. But Obama has the kind of head start that will be very difficult to overcome. Couple these numbers with the traditional "bundling" solicitations of heavy hitters now underway and you can begin to see that whatever Obama's challenges in 2012, fund raising won't be one of them.
Thanks to Facebook and other social media venues, he has millions of fund raisers ready to go.