BIA Kelsey, a financial consulting firm in media and telecommunications, predicted in a study released Tuesday that social media ad spending will grow from $3.8 billion in 2011 to $9.8 billion by 2016, with the majority spent on display ads. Display ads target social media audiences on platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Hulu and Pandora. With less than six months left until the election, Obama’s campaign ads are everywhere on these platforms, tapping into information provided by users to target demographics including age, location and sometimes gender.
Online advertising is still a tiny fraction of what presidential campaigns spend on advertising overall, even though as a percentage of total campaign advertising, spending on social media has doubled since the last presidential cycle. A report on 2012 political advertising from Borrell Associates found that campaigns put the majority of their online resources into paid search advertising (this strategy is tied to results on Google and other search engines, directing casual searchers to where the campaign most wants them to go), followed by targeted display ads, streaming video, then static site display and email spending.
Obama has ramped up his online spending in all five main areas, according to ClickZ: Display ads, paid search, audio, video and email. So far, according to comScore, no Republican candidate has kept up with Obama in these areas. Rick Santorum heavily out-spent his GOP rivals in December 2011 on paid search advertising in an attempt to solve the infamous “Google problem” caused by his last name. And the survey found that Ron Paul has leveraged the viral capabilities of social networks better than any of the other presidential contenders, including Obama, “getting more than twice as many free exposures than the number he paid for” through friends sharing content with other friends (known as “earned media”).
But comScore concluded from its study that Obama’s campaign has a “well-oiled machine when it comes to digital campaign strategy,” giving him the home court advantage.
"Comparing the Obama campaign — who haven't gone through a primary — with 750 staffers, versus Romney, with 87, is comparing apples and hamburgers," Moffatt told NPR on Monday. Moffatt has shared in multiple interviews recently that Romney's campaign plans to ramp up their social media presence heading into the general election, and the campaign has been hiring for Web-based positions.
ComScore credited Obama’s 2008 campaign for setting “a new standard” for online engagement, especially when it comes to fundraising, but added that it was the Republican candidates in 2010 “who took the lead with Twitter and showed how that tool could be used effectively.” The GOP took the majority in the House in that election, a victory credited largely to the grassroots activism of the Tea Party.
Moffatt also credited the Tea Party for helping advance social media use during campaigns, telling NPR “they understand online organizing."