Rand Paul's campaign targeting reporters with Twitter ads

Rand Paul's campaign targeting reporters with Twitter ads
© Francis Rivera

Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulSecond senator tests positive for coronavirus antibodies Senate Democrats pump brakes on new stimulus checks Tim Kaine tests positive for COVID-19 antibodies MORE’s (R-Ky.) 2016 presidential campaign uses Twitter’s advertising tools to directly target messages at certain journalists, an aide said Tuesday.

“If something’s breaking and we really need to get it out there, we’ve created a list that we’ve uploaded into Twitter’s ad platform of journalists,” Chief Digital Strategist Vincent Harris said at an event put on by Twitter for political advertisers and operatives.

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“I know there’s some journalists in the room. It is not a coincidence,” he said, mentioning a nearby reporter by name, “when you’re seeing Rand Paul’s ads, we are targeting you directly.”

Twitter has a relatively small reach, with just over 300 million active users compared with more than 1.4 billion at Facebook. But its popularity in political circles has made it a potent tool for campaigns to reach out to individuals they view as disproportionately influential.

“We have even created lists of journalists in early primary states, working with the communications team,” Harris said. “And it’s a really good cheap, effective, targeted way to get a piece of content out there in front of people that you want to see it — journalists who are going to help with their megaphone push a piece of content out further.”

That isn't an an entirely new strategy. President Obama’s reelection campaign viewed Twitter has a way to shape the conversation among political junkies and journalists.

“We had goals for underlying conversions,” Obama 2012 Digital Director Teddy Goff told a researcher last year. “But that is something hard to really know the correct answer too and certainly when it comes to measuring something like ‘have we won the afternoon on Twitter?’ I mean the only thing that we can really go by is your own perception of ‘is this what reporters are talking about or not’ and that is how we did measure it.”

Harris said that "reaching influencers on Twitter is why it’s so powerful."

Twitter’s limited user base and slow growth is seen as a liability by some investors. Those concerns have been intensified this year by what observers saw as disappointing ad revenue.

CEO Dick Costolo, who took the company public in late 2013, stepped down at the end of last month. He’s been replaced on an interim basis by co-founder Jack Dorsey.

The company is expected to make efforts to make the service more accessible in the near future. That will include a platform on which users will be able to see content related to news events, curated by human editors rather than arranged by an algorithm.

The event on Tuesday allowed company executives and representatives to speak with influential consultants and organizations that might buy ads on Twitter. In addition to Harris's conversation, which also featured a strategist for Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), the crowd heard from Sen. Chris Murphey (D-Conn.) and Rep. Will Hurd (R-Texas).

Two Twitter executives also talked about the platform's benefits to advertisers, including the options for targeting users.