Editors' pick: Originally published April 27.Mark Zuckerberg and Donald Trump are great for one another, even if it's something neither wants to acknowledge. Both Zuckerberg and Trump are benefiting from the latter's unexpected run at the Republican nomination; and Facebook's positive first-quarter results support the theory.
The Facebook (FB - Get Report) CEO and GOP frontrunner have traded barbs in recent months. Zuckerberg took a thinly-vailed swipe at Trump at Facebook's F8 developer conference in April, referencing his Mexico border wall campaign promise and telling the audience, "Instead of building walls, we can help build bridges." Facebook employees have reportedly floated a poll internally to ask Zuckerberg whether they should stop the real estate magnate from reaching the White House. Trump, for his part, calls out Zuckerberg by name in his immigration plan in his proposal to curb the H-1B visa program, of which the Facebook founder is a major proponent. He refers to dropout Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio as Zuckerberg's "personal senator."
But despite the hoopla, Zuckerberg and Trump are a match made in heaven. The fervor Trump has brought to this political season is driving engagement, advertising opportunities and, in turn, revenue -- not to mention ad spend from the candidate himself. And Facebook has given Trump a major platform for getting out his message, both free and paid.
The U.S. presidential election was the most talked-about issue on Facebook in 2015, not only in the United States but worldwide -- something that can be attributed, at least in part, to Trump's presidential candidacy and incendiary comments on the campaign trail. As Wired notes, the presidential election didn't even make the top 10 back in 2011.
"Trump helps Facebook insofar as he's a polarizing figure and that drives engagement," said Michael Pachter, analyst at Wedbush. By his estimate, Trump alone is probably bigger than any other single news item, though he likely represents less than 1% of activity.
The company's first-quarter numbers support this idea. Revenue at the social media giant increased 52% versus the same period last year to $5.38 billion. Analysts were expecting $5.25 billion. Perhaps they didn't factor in the Trump effect.
Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg didn't mention Trump directly in the company's fourth quarter earnings call in January; however, she acknowledged that the company is excited about what's happening with the elections this cycle on a local and national stage.
"We've seen candidates for president get on Facebook themselves and interact, taking questions from, you know, their potential voters directly," she said. "And we think that kind of direct engagement, where people can hold their elected officials accountable and elected officials can speak directly to constituents is a really important part of our mission and we're excited about the 2016 election and what's happening there."
Trump has more than 7.1 million followers on Facebook, well ahead of Bernie Sanders, who has 4.0 million, Hillary Clinton, who has 3.3 million, Ted Cruz, who has 2.1 million, and John Kasich, with just under 300,000.
According to data from Socialbakers, the billionaire businessman adds about 22,000 fans each day, and over 30% of his fan base is located outside of the United States.
His engagement levels have continued to rise. According to analytics site Shareablee, Trump surpassed his total engagement on Facebook for 2015 within the first three months of 2016 alone. In other words, he's making an impact.
"It's incremental and...that is probably good for Facebook," Pachter said.
Facebook representatives did not respond to request for comment.
Placing ads and monetizing political discussions like those surrounding Trump is not as easy as, for example, targeting ads to users talking about a new car or vacation, explained Martin Pyykkonen, senior research analyst at Ronsenblatt Securities. However, as Facebook expands its ad inventory, that may change.
"There have been more brand advertisers come on, so even though it has nothing to do with Toyota, Ford, Nike, Coca-Cola, Procter & Gamble, not because of anything that's said in the political discussion, it does just create more ad inventory itself, and then a lot of those brands will look at it and say it's a good spend," he said.
And then there is spending from candidates and political groups themselves.
In the fourth quarter earnings call, Sandberg said that the 2016 election is a "big deal" in terms of ad spend, and Trump is contributing. According to FEC filings, the Trump campaign spent more than $83,000 on Facebook advertising from December through February alone.
A campaign spokeswoman declined to comment on Trump's Facebook spending.
But again, it is not just Facebook that is profiting from Trump -- Trump is getting a boost from Facebook as well.
"Donald Trump's benefited from Facebook and social media in general," said Jan Dawson, chief analyst at Jackdaw Research. "This campaign isn't the first where social media has played a role, but arguably it's the first where one of the major candidates has benefited to the extent that he has from all the free press, essentially, that he gets from people sharing through Facebook."
Trump's official campaign page has the highest engagement levels of any candidate on Facebook by a landslide. According to Shareablee, he has 57% of the shared voice across all contenders from both parties, and among Republican candidates, he dominates with 84% of shared voice. He has a 230% lead on engagement on top Democratic conversation-driver, Senator Sanders.
And the more negative he goes, the better. According to Tracy David, social media expert and chief marketing officer at Shareablee, Trump has seen a drop-off in Facebook engagement in recent weeks because he has been posting more often with thanks to his supporters and endorsers. "We're seeing that he's shifted his tone quite a bit on Facebook," she said. "That has actually affected his engagement."
Trump appears well aware that Facebook is a good thing for him, as well as social media rival Twitter, where Trump has 7.8 million followers. In a Fox News interview responding to the Facebook employee poll on stopping his bid, he was even complementary of the platform.
"I'm very successful on Facebook," he said, touting his social media following in general. "I think Facebook is good, and I can't imagine them doing anything, I'm one of their, I hate to say it at this stage in my life, somebody said I'm one of their great stars, so let's see, I don't think they'll be doing very much. No, no, Facebook is a good way of communicating, and so is Twitter."
Facebook reports earnings after market close Wednesday. TheStreet's Jim Cramer, who owns both Facebook and Twitter in his Action Alerts PLUS portfolio, said he doesn't expect it to have had a good quarter. "They're just going to try to do consistent growth and spend," he said.
Like it or not, Trump, Facebook and Zuckerberg are stuck with one another for a while.