Local is fast becoming the biggest part of a company's online social strategy, and politicians are catching on, albeit slowly. The insight led Topix to create forums based on ZIP codes that let visitors share their views on local and state political issues and candidates. Since the destinations launched about two weeks ago, the sites have amassed more than 100,000 comments at the destinations supporting more than 8,500 cities.
Topix, overall, has 125,000 local forums that get just as many comments daily--all based on serving the local community. Topics range from the World Series 2010 to gun control to the marijuana debate to immigration. By entering a ZIP code, site visitors can check to see the political candidate or initiatives on the ballet in favor for their area.
Advertisers realize the one-on-one connection they can form with passionate voters and local residents who care about specific issues, according to Chris Tolles, Topix CEO. "In the past two months, we've seen about a 20% increase in ads," he says. "We hope to keep some of the traffic after the elections and turn some of the energy into consumer interest. The advertising will likely drop for a little while, but we've noticed that the political organizations start to advertise earlier and earlier."
Tolles doesn't believe that political ads will vanish after the elections and people will continue to talk about the issues. The amount of ad spending around the midterm elections is almost the same as the presidential elections a few years ago, he says. So he set out to find a way to provide inventory space that would attract ad networks, which still gain the lion's share of the ad dollars.
Ad research firm Borrell Associates estimates that political spending on digital media should reach $44.5 million this year -- about 1% of total media spending, and double the amount spent on the Web during 2008. "The only reason it's not higher than it is now is because most of the folks advising the politicians don't know how to use online advertising," says Kip Cassino, executive vice president at Borrell Associates. "Anyone watching the Obama campaign should have taken notes and seen how effective good use of online campaign ads can be. The problem is very few did."
The amount spent on advertising campaigns will increase "considerably" as older campaign managers are replaced by the youth who know how to use the Web, Cassino says.
Topix wants a piece of the more than $100 million that Borrell Associates estimates politicians and special interest groups will spend on ad buys promoting campaigns and issues during the 2012 election.
The goal for Topix will become tapping into the interests of site visitors well past the midterm elections to attract political advertisers. The majority of ads still get funneled through ad networks, which the Web site can't control, so the challenge became creating an outlet to attracts political advertisements served up by ad networks based on contextual relevance and demographics.
The idea came to Tolles after data firm Nielsen released results about ads from John McCain's campaign. The findings suggested that more impressions from McCain ads had gone through Topix than any other Google AdSense political campaign. "In June 2008, we were the number one site for the McCain advertising campaign," he says.