The odds are good that you are reading this article because you clicked through a link on Facebook. On Sunday, for example, a day you should be spending time with family/reading Post articles, a third of all traffic to The Fix's top five posts came through the social networking site.
The odds of your having gotten to this article from Facebook are much better the younger you are, given that this article deals with politics. "Among Millennials," a new report from Pew Research reads, referring to people born between 1981 and 1996, "Facebook is far and away the most common source for news about government and politics." Far and away meaning that 61 percent of that group got news about politics or government from the site — about the same percentage as that of baby boomers (1946-1964) got from their local news. And vice-versa: Only 37 percent of millennials got political information from local news, compared to 60 percent of boomers.
There are a few things at play here. The first is that more young people use Facebook. In 2014, Pew found, 87 percent of those ages 18 to 29 used the site, compared with 56 percent of those over 65 — though that was up 11 percent from the previous year.
The second is that younger people are more likely to consume news from online sources in general. We took Pew's graph of the most common sources for news for each age group and highlighted the online-centric ones in yellow. Three of the top 10 for millennials are online, two for Gen X, and one — Facebook — for boomers.
That sound you hear is Mark Zuckerberg salivating. Facebook has been aware of its increasingly strong position in news distribution for some time. Last month, the site announced a streamlined news presentation platform aimed at keeping users inside its blue-tinged walls so that they don't have to ever visit a news organization's site.
From the standpoint of politics, the company's moves have been quieter. Any media consultant worth his or her salt will see the second graph above and start thinking about what it means in terms of contacting voters. Boomers vote far more frequently than millennials, which in part explains why billions still pour into local news stations during campaigns. Other factors for that investment include: Tradition/inertia, scale (ability to hit many voters) and targeting (ability to hit specific voters). But Facebook allows much more precise targeting and, in some cases, just as much scale, if not more. The company has a very specific strategy to let campaigns target voters with specialized TV ads that it clearly hopes will vacuum up business that has long gone to local television stations.
The new Pew data suggest that such a strategy makes sense for campaigns that want to market to young voters. They're already getting their political news online from Facebook; why not throw your "Martin O'Malley 2016" spot right into the mix? Facebook is shifting to video as a broad strategy, so fitting a brief political spot in among those other brief political ads only makes sense. Millennials in particular are used to seeing political content on Facebook: 90 percent said they'd seen political content on the site (versus 80 percent for boomers).
(An aside: In 10 years, it could be some other site that serves as a new generation's gateway, just as Facebook replaced the local news. The loyalty is likely to online more than Facebook. But did you notice what much-discussed social platform didn't make the list as a political news source? Maybe Pew didn't ask, but Snapchat's ascent seems not to have vaulted it into the top tier on this topic.)
O'Malley shouldn't burn his entire budget (such as it is) on Facebook video just yet, however. Millennials aren't yet voting as heavily as their parents/older aunts and uncles. And they are less likely to pay attention to politics than their elders, though as Pew points out, that's always true of younger people.
We've got a very large group of young people that is comfortable consuming political news online, particularly at Facebook, and which, over time, will start voting more and more heavily. Facebook saw this wave coming and is ready to work with campaigns to help them take advantage of it. Facebook's online dominance hasn't yet translated into it being critical to a candidate's chances, but it could provide an edge to a candidate in a close race.
Just as your sharing this article on Facebook would likely help significantly boost its readership, for which I thank you.