NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Twenty-four million viewers tuned into the first 2016 Republican debate on Aug. 6, and besides the tight squeeze on the platform and Donald Trump's elaborate comb-over, the only other feature that was hard to miss was the Facebook (FB - Get Report) logo prominently displayed on the monitor.
The social media site partnered with 21st Century Fox's (FOXA) Fox News for the debate, providing data on how the issues were resonating with Facebook users as well as supplying questions for the candidates. During the event, 7.5 million Facebook users generated over 20 million interactions, leaving little doubt that the first debate of the 2016 presidential campaign was the most "Liked" debate ever.
As the race for the presidency gears up, candidates are sensibly following the lead of another presidential hopeful who turned his social-media savvy into an eight-year term in the White House. Barack Obama exploited social media by strategically placing campaign ads on browsers, mining social sites for political demographics and even logging twice as many Facebook "likes" then his 2012 opponent, Mitt Romney. His use of social media and the internet was so exhaustive, his 2008 presidential run was dubbed the "Facebook Election."
Four more years. pic.twitter.com/bAJE6Vom— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) November 7, 2012
Fast-forward to 2016. Campaign managers are eager to use the power of Facebook "likes" in an effort to generate the buzz that word-of-mouth had before the Internet and social media existed.
To lure in those political donations, the candidates will spend as much as $1 billion dollars on social media, according to a study by Borrell Associates. By comparison, candidates spent just $159 million during the 2012 campaign.
Campaigns are seeking to reach those age 18 to 24 via social media. According to a study by the MacArthur Research Network on Youth and Participatory Politics, young people who are politically active online are twice as likely to vote as those who are not. A poll conducted after the 2012 election found that 30% of online users said they were encouraged to vote through social media by family and friends.
Candidates realize that their social media footprints are vital to their campaigns. While Twitter and Facebook's Instragram are important, Facebook demographics are more suited to voters. According to a study from Pew Research, though 87% of 18- to 29-year-olds are on Facebook, a sizable 63% of those in the 50 to 64 age bracket are also on the site, as are 56% of those 65 and up.
According to a survey by the Census Department, in the 2012 presidential election more than 63% of adults between the age of 45 to 64 years old voted, and almost 70% of those 65 and older voted. By comparison, only 38% of voters aged 18 to 24 voted. Twitter, meanwhile, is used by only 22% of people age 50 and up.
It's especially important for candidates to get access to Facebook's huge audience, which has surpassed 1.4 billion monthly active users worldwide as of the end of the second quarter.
Facebook users are more affluent that those on Twitter or Instagram, with 72% making more than $75,000 a year, vs. just 27% hitting that mark on Twitter and 26% on Instagram, according to the Pew Research study.
Facebook's presence on the 2016 debate stage may not translate into a higher stock valuation, but it gives the networking site credibility and exposure that is hard to quantify. What was once a social platform -- used to post vacation pictures and clever memes -- is becoming one of the most vital tools in the most important political race in the world.