Social media ready to cash in on 2016 election

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Tech firms are courting campaigns ahead of the 2016 presidential election, where budgets for digital advertising are expected to reach new highs.

The election will be tweeted, googled, snapped, liked on Facebook, and shared on numerous other social media platforms. And Silicon Valley is hoping to turn that engagement into big profits.

{mosads}While billions will be spent on political advertising over the next year, television remains the prime mover and budgets for digital ads trail traditional media.

But even by one recent estimate from Borrell Associates, 9.5 percent of political media budgets could go towards digital media — a total of $1 billion.

Observers predict platforms like Facebook will remain dominant in 2016 with a user base that makes up nearly three quarters of online adults in the United States. And search advertising will remain key.

Insurgent companies like Snapchat though are catching advertising buzz with offerings geared specifically to young people.

Here’s a rundown of how digital firms hope to bring in ad dollars from both sides of the aisle, up and down the ballot.



One factor makes Facebook distinctive in the race for political ad dollars: its massive audience. The company says it can offer campaigns the ability to reach a broad swath of the American public — around 190 million people in the country use the platform every month — and hone in on particular groups of voters.

“Campaigns are designing paid marketing strategies to reach and mobilize all the supporters and voters that they need to win elections,” said Eric Laurence, the company’s head of U.S. Industry for Politics and Government, “and those voters are on Facebook.”

Campaigns can upload their voter data directly into Facebook’s platform and use the company’s features to target their ads.

Operatives can target ads to potential voters who are interested in certain issues, like gun control or the economy, or based on demographic characteristics.

Facebook has a robust set of data about its users. Users tell the platform about their likes and dislikes and are controversially required by the social network to keep the name they “use in real life.”

The company’s growing video business also extends to politics. Laurence touted the over four billion video views the service gets every day, and noted that the company did not have video ad products during the 2012 election.

Facebook is taking the political ad market seriously, with a team of “roughly 10” people working to sell ads to national and statewide campaigns, according to Laurence, and more employees working on smaller races.



Google has an election team of 10 to 12 who are pushing presidential campaigns to adopt the advertising tools that made the search engine a multi-billion dollar powerhouse.

Those include the three traditional drivers of its advertising revenue — sponsored links in Google searches, YouTube video advertising and so-called programmatic advertising, where the tech company provides ads to millions of online publishers like The New York Times or HGTV that can be targeted for specific content.

Lee Dunn, Google’s head of elections, said this cycle more campaigns are coming with their own data about specific voting groups and working with Google to determine which websites would be the best place to target them.

Especially in the early stages of the campaign, Dunn said Google’s search advertising is key when voters are still learning about a candidate and looking for information online.

For example, the first link in a search for “Hillary Clinton” is a sponsored link to her website and links to pages where you can volunteer, donate or help “fight GOP attacks.”

Google’s search ads are an open market subject to auction, meaning no candidate is guaranteed to win ad placement for their name.

Dunn noted that the Obama campaign used search adds effectively last cycle to target Mitt Romney’s record at Bain Capital, with sponsored links connected to a search for “Romney” and “Bain.”

On YouTube, candidates can use ads to target demographics including age, gender, location and interest. Dunn said specific ads can target users who might speak a different language, such as Spanish.



Twitter has positioned itself as the destination for campaigns looking to engage in real time — a reputation bolstered by the numerous political operatives and reporters who use the platform obsessively.

The company pitched political strategists and advertisers on the platform in July during a breakfast event at The Hamilton restaurant in Washington. There, attendees heard from company executives, two members of Congress and strategists about how Twitter has proved useful to campaigns in the past. Guests also took home socks emblazoned with Twitter’s distinctive bird logo.

The primary vehicle for advertising on Twitter is through promoted tweets, or messages that a campaign or company pays to place in the feeds of certain users. Campaigns can also pay to promote hashtags.

They can also direct those messages at specific audiences using targeting features. Strategists can aim their ads at people within a certain town or use their own lists or website data to build an audience for promoted tweets.

The company also offers the ability to target users in real-time who are talking about a specific event. Twitter said that several campaigns used that feature during the first Republican primary debate.

Sometimes, the target audience isn’t even voters. Sen. Rand Paul’s (R-Ky.) chief digital strategist said at Twitter’s event in July that the campaign will sometimes target promoted tweets at specific reporters in order to get the campaign’s message across. At the event, he said that “reaching influencers on Twitter is why it’s so powerful.” 



Snapchat is still in its advertising infancy compared to more established social media companies and 2016 will be the first election cycle to test out political ads on the platform. 

Snapchat is pitching its video ads — no longer than 10 seconds — as more analogous to traditional TV and targeted at young voters who have cut the cord.

The company says its ads are geared towards persuading voters to align with a candidate. One criticism is that its videos, unlike some digital ads, do now allow people to click through to reach a candidate’s website where they would be encouraged to donate or volunteer.

Besides video ads, candidates can also purchase filters touting their campaign, which users can add to their photos and videos. The company recently hired Rob Saliterman to lead political ad sales. He previously helped lead the politics team at Google and served in the George W. Bush administration.

Snapchat ads are so new — and rare — at this point, that they tend to make news. An outside group supporting Rand Paul was credited in June for producing the first Snapchat ad for a presidential candidate. Scott Walker and John Kasich became the first candidates to run ads, which they inserted into a live story in July about Iowa campaign stops.

Snapchat touts nearly 100 million people using the platform daily, a sizable number, but one dwarfed by Facebook’s 1 billion daily users.

And campaigns are limited in who they can target on the platform. Snapchat is almost exclusively used by people under the age of 34, and more than a quarter of users are younger than 18 and ineligible to vote.

Tags Facebook Google Hillary Clinton Rand Paul Snapchat Twitter

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