5 Tips for Reaching Voters in the Social Stream


John Manoogian III is the founder and CTO of 140 Proof, the leading social ad platform for Twitter and Facebook. John created the 140 Proof brand and co-led development of its API and ad-targeting architecture.

Every election year breaks records for ad spending. The total spend leading up to the 2008 election in TV alone was over $450 million. But in 2012, where does social advertising fit in to the political advertising landscape?

Political advertising hasn’t fully embraced digital, but the tide is turning.  Much like government agencies, political marketing teams are lagging behind brand advertisers in adopting digital and social initiatives. Political agencies are only now beginning to hire “new media directors” to manage online outreach channels like Twitterand Facebook.

However, the online momentum of the 2004 and the 2008 presidential elections shows the growing value of digital advertising in general and the massive potential of social advertising in particular. With the triumph of Barack Obama in 2008 and, before that, the unexpected fundraising success of Howard Dean in 2004, more advertisers are paying attention to social as a channel, both for earned and paid media programs.  MediaVest, in a report to its clients, stated that political activity in social campaigns has increased “exponentially.”

Will the race of 2012 ultimately be decided in social?  It’s too soon to tell, but for candidates who want to get a jump on their opponents, here are five tips for using paid media to reach voters in the social stream.

1. For a Great Campaign, Start With Polls

Campaign managers identify challenges and opportunities through polls. Polls don’t just predict winners, but they also show the demographics of who loves a candidate, who hates one, and who’s still on the fence. A candidate may enjoy broad support from working-class New Englanders, but if Latinos in the Southwest have yet to join the bandwagon, polls can help identify those voters’ core concerns.

By using polls to identify audiences, you can then address these audiences with targeted campaigns. Don’t just stick to the tried-and-true categories such as “soccer moms.” With social and interest graph data now available to campaigns, you can target audiences of all stripes, from Moderates to Green Traditionals to Tea Party Teens.

2. Be Quick on the Draw

After Joe Wilson, U.S. Representative for South Carolina’s 2nd district shouted “You lie!” during the September 2009 presidential address, both Wilson and his opponent Rob Miller enjoyed a boost in fundraising efforts. In the week following the incident, Wilson had raised $1.8 million and Miller had raised $1.6 million (3 times his 2008 campaign budget). For events like Wilson’s outburst, moving quickly right afterward yields the biggest benefit.

In social advertising, we’ve seen the advantage of acting fast. And while media buyers don’t usually need to create campaigns on the spot, be ready to launch big initiatives on the same day you realized they’re needed. To get the word out and tip public opinion regarding an incident like Wilson’s outburst, I recommend extending the current broadcast strategy: Use the candidate’s Twitter account as the mouthpiece and social stream ads as the megaphone, extending the candidate’s reach beyond his followers for the duration of the desired social campaign.

3. Power Your Campaign with Influencers and Crowds

Political campaign managers know the value of influence and crowds.  If a medium can reach influencers who sway the opinions of others, or if it can reach large groups, or community organizers — like the church group grandma who may pledge only $5 per cycle but is active in the community and can bring 25 volunteers to the local rally – then it’s valuable for the political campaign manager.

With two-thirds of online U.S. adults using social feeds, campaign managers can use paid social advertising to reach large numbers of voters. And they can also zero in on influencers by targeting people with a high number of followers or users who demonstrate thought leadership on key issues.

4. Find the Marketable Message in Every News Story

Campaign managers create messages tailored for their key audiences. And smart players will even capitalize on blunders. For example, the recent fracas between Arizona Governor Jan Brewer and President Barack Obama made headlines nationwide. Jan Brewer’s supporters in Arizona will be sure to spin the incident during her reelection bid. (To reach this audience, Brewer’s PAC should target Arizona residents following GOP accounts like @SenJohnMcCain and @JeffFlake.)

And, on the flip side, Obama’s team could use the story to craft a message alleging Republicans are refusing to reach across the aisle. To reach audiences of moderates and independent voters with this message, I’d recommend reaching beyond the already-outsized and committed following of @BarackObama, instead focusing on the audiences of more independent influencers like @fivethirtyeight and The Washington Post’s@mentionmachine.

5. Write for the Stream

Finally, don’t forget to write for the medium you’re advertising in.  Here are some best practices for writing for the social stream:

  • Be brief, keep it light, and fit your tone to the context. More people pass along upbeat, personal, or humorous messages.
  • Social stream ads allow you to refresh early and often, so change creative every two weeks to satisfy the fast-paced, real-time audience you’re targeting in the social stream.
  • Focus your call to action. Separate the invitations to learn more from each one, and optimize for what works best.
  • Spark conversation.  For example, a successful social stream campaign for Best Buy asked: “Do you know anyone who’s ashamed of their old phone?” Thousands of people named their friends, passing along Best Buy’s link to the “Phone Shame Eliminator.”
John Manoogian III