According to data on Facebook users in Bulgaria, the platform is used by 4.6 million people. In view of this, it is not surprising that parties increasingly rely on promotion on this social network during election campaigns. This type of advertising has several advantages. First of all, it provides a very good opportunity to target messages to specific groups of voters. In this way, the efficiency of the spent funds increases. Also, this ad often requires a much smaller team of experts to execute. The effect of promoted content continues beyond the paid period through follower shares and comments, reaching more likers.
In addition, advertising in social networks lacks a “mediator” between the candidates and the potential users of the content. This allows for immediate feedback from users. On the other hand, however, various international studies show that precisely because of the lack of a critical intermediary (what role would journalists should have) between parties and the general public, this type of paid communication is preferred by populist formations.
Facebook Advertising Data
The data included in the publication covers the period from 09.08.2023 to 06.11.2023. This is the period in which the organization of the elections and the actual election campaign took place, including and for the second place round.
Facebook’s functionalities do not allow more specific refinement of dates. In this period, there were a total of 532 pages in Bulgaria that invested amounts of 100 and more euros to advertise content related to elections, politics or social topics.
The Institute for the Development of the Public Environment separated only the political advertising, focusing on the organizations and individuals who made the payment. Those of them who have spent more than 1,000 euros in the specified period have been checked. Summary information on the 10 political entities that spent the most is presented in the graph.
The total amount of funds seized by the Institute amounts to 605,801 euros. “Continuing the Change – Democratic Bulgaria” (PP-DB) allocated the most for advertising their candidates in social media – 271,783 euros. The representatives of GERB-SDS followed with 105,567 euros and the SBOR party, which spent 65,126 euros.
“It is important to note that in the cases in which an advertisement was paid for on behalf of one of the parties from the “Continuing the Change – Democratic Bulgaria” coalition, our team combined the amounts. For example, the advertisement on the page of Vasil Terziev, who won the mayor’s seat in Sofia, was realized on behalf of “Yes, Bulgaria”, but all the funds were included in the total amount of the coalition. In this total amount, the advertisement of “Save Sofia” and the candidates related to it were added, since it was part of local coalition together with PP-DB in the capital. Similarly, our team has combined the sums of the GERB-SDS coalition”, the Institute presents.
Asen Angelov from the SBOR party, who participated in the elections for mayor of Sofia, is an example of how some candidates publish advertisements in their own name without specifying which political formation is behind them. This practice has also been used by other candidates for local government in different parts of the country.
Peculiarities of advertising on Facebook
It is clear from the data that political advertising on social networks is increasingly used in election campaigns in our country. Some parties and candidates spend significant amounts of money on Facebook advertising, almost comparable to the cost of national television coverage.
Communicating the messages in the social network gives a greater chance for small parties and new candidates who do not have sufficient resources for paid materials in traditional media. Facebook is also an easy and effective channel for conveying messages to voters.
Determining the final amounts invested in political advertising on the social network is still very difficult, despite the rules introduced in recent years for increased transparency. Among the reasons for this is the fact that a number of candidates fund their Facebook posts on their own behalf without being able to identify the party/coalition that promoted them. There are also cases of party activists who did not participate in the local elections, but sponsored advertisements for the campaigns of candidates in localities.
Information on the final expenditure of local election participants will be available when their campaign reports are published. However, they also do not have a separate column in which to report the funds for advertising in social media.