Political advertising in national and statewide races has historically been dominated by large media buys on television. Of the billions spent on election ads, a small percentage has been spent on social media advertising, but that is about to change. Voters have gone off the grid.
In election 2012, over 40% of likely voters preferred other video sources to live TV, including laptop or PC and streaming devices such as DVD and DVR. The majority of live TV watching was sports related. The average time spent watching video was still high at almost 20 hours a week, but nearly half of that time was not spent on live TV. Also, nearly half of likely voters owned a smartphone and 32% of likely voters owned a tablet.
We are moving to a new advertising paradigm in politics, and social advertising is a key part of it. With candidates using Twitter and Facebook to stay connected with voters, keep up on news and contrast themselves with opponents, paid social is a natural fit for politicians. Social advertising is powerful as voters spend on average 10 hours per week on social apps and interest graph targeting helps candidates zero in on key voters. In the time that it takes to create 1 political 30-second spot, 15 paid social campaigns can be launched. These social ads can be created from breaking news and events in real time.
Facebook messages have been shown to be an effective tool in get-out-the-vote efforts. In the prestigious journal, Nature, political scientist Dr. James Fowler found that a single get-out-the-vote message could produce a 2.2 % bump in voter turnout. More importantly, 80% of the impact came from friends sharing the message with others. This is the first definitive proof that social networks, as opposed to television or radio, have uniquely powerful political benefits. As Facebook bleeds into older demographics, campaign messages could have a much larger impact than the study found. Another key finding of the study was that candidates need users to voluntarily share the ads and messages with their friends for maximum effectiveness.
Many campaigns initially used basic Facebook Marketplace type ads, with a 25 character title, and a 90 character body, a 100 x 72 pixel image, which are the least ideal message delivery vehicles on Facebook. However a growing number of campaigns have found greater success at using ad units such as “Like” ads and sponsored stories, which encourage both current and potential fans to interact with page content. Facebook has also recently allowed ads to be placed directly into Newsfeed which has resulted in better results.
Mitt Romney’s campaign for President utilized Facebook mobile ads last election cycle. These ads, which showed up in a Facebook user’s news feed, linked to Governor Romney’s page and indicated which friends were fans of the candidate. Zac Moffatt, digital director of Governor Romney’s campaign, claimed a remarkable click rate of 10% among people who viewed the ads.
Twitter ads have been proven effective to drive get-out-the-vote messages and target voters. Political campaigns are spending on the “promoted tweet,” which looks like a regular Twitter post and which advertisers pay to have show up at the top of a stream of tweets, or to people who might not see the tweet otherwise. Other political Twitter ads that may be placed are for Promoted Accounts and Promoted Trends. Like business ads on Twitter, political ads are clearly labeled as promoted with a purple promoted icon and information about who has purchased the ad. Based on demand from political campaigns, Twitter has allowed advertisers to tailor paid messages to people by state or region.
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, who faced Milwaukee’s Mayor Tom Barrett in an historic recall election in 2012, used Twitter political ads successfully. Governor Walker’s campaign utilized Promoted Tweets and Promoted Accounts to drive a get-out-the-vote message to targeted voters and influencers. The Walker campaign’s use of Promoted Tweets drove voters to landing pages with details on the Governor’s stance on key issues and strong calls to action to pledge to vote. A week before the election, Governor Walker’s campaign also used Promoted Accounts to grow followers among targeted influencers who could help spread the campaign message through retweets. Governor Walker’s Promoted Tweets campaign garnered an average engagement rate of 6%. In addition, the Governor increased his followers from 16,600 to over 23,000 with his Promoted Accounts campaign. Overall his Twitter ad campaign reached 946,000 potential voters. Governor Walker’s effective use of social advertising was a key component in mobilizing voters in his defeat of a recall.
The use of social advertising by political campaigns will continue to increase. Social ads are an attractive selling point to campaigns looking for a way to maximize their impact for little cost. However, these ads should only be run as a part of a larger digital strategy that promotes great content such as a video, an image or interactive experience. Great content and socials ads to promote it is a winning combination for candidates that have a need to get their message out in a cost effective way.