Not for nothing has Barack Obama been called our first social media president. During his 2012 presidential run, his campaign spent $47 million on digital campaigning (10 times more than Mitt Romney’s $4.7 million).
That huge investment turned out to be worth it—he won.
Thanks to him, today’s presidential candidates can’t ignore the power of social media. Headlines around the country shout that the 2016 election will be duked out over Instagram, or Snapchat or Twitter.
But while candidates may be hoping that social-media followers translate to votes, a vibrant social media presence won’t be enough to sway millennials this time around.
For the 2016 elections, shrewd candidates will turn to a new configuration of an old formula: personalized, data-driven digital ads.
More brands than ever are using social media to promote themselves, but users are learning to ignore their messages. Over the past year, interaction with branded Instagram posts fell from 4.2% of a brand’s followers to 2.2%. On Pinterest, interactions fell from 0.1% to 0.04%. Social media continues to gain more and more users, but its brand equity is weak.
That’s also true of politicians.
Say Hillary Clinton posts to Facebook. Even if she pays to promote that post, only a small percentage of her almost 2 million followers will see it, much less interact with it. Then there are the limitations of the form. Twitter’s 140-character limit makes it difficult to convey any sort of nuanced stance on an issue, while the tiny square that is an Instagram post is more suited to brunch shots than political statements.
Of course, a well-maintained social media presence is great, even necessary—but it’s not going to win anyone the election like it did in 2012.
Granted, digital ads haven’t quite shed their reputation as flat, boring, and easily dismissed. The stats are grim: More than 80% go ignored, and 63$ of millennials use software to block them. But much has changed over the last four years, and new ads technologies are now perfectly primed to catch the attention of jaded millennial voters.
For example, Creative Management Platforms (CMPs) let candidates not only use data for precise targeting but also enable them to personalize the message and content of each ad to make it hyper-relevant to the user.
For instance, a candidate could run an ad where the content reflects a voter’s interests and opinions, based on the news articles they read or polls they took online. Or an ad with multiple tabs that held live-streams of the candidate’s tweets, Instagram feed, and latest media mentions.
Come election day, ads could showcase nearby polling places, adjusted for each user’s location, or pull in polling data to target particularly important areas of the country and encourage those populations to vote. All these options would allow for more nuance and depth than a social media post, but still presented in a digestible form.
Why haven’t we seen this happening yet?
Unfortunately, digital ads are still fighting a bad public perception. Users think they’re ugly, invasive, and inconvenient, despite the leaps made in the digital advertising field. And when candidates take out ads, they gravitate toward more official-seeming areas of media: print and TV. In fact, the Television Bureau of Advertising recently started a campaign of their own to get candidates to advertise on broadcast television, using the slogan “We Get Voters.”
But candidates ignore digital advertising at their own risk. Not only do online ads have the potential for ever-increasing creativity and the ability to send out the sort of personal, hyper-targeted messages that actually reach millennials, but digital advertising is a gigantic market, and it’s only getting bigger. In the 2016 election, online political advertising is anticipated to quadruple to almost $1 billion.
In 2008 and 2012, Obama’s team knew that social media held the secret to success. For today’s candidates, the secret is held within the dynamic online advertising that CMPs can provide.
With contribution by Tori Telfer.