The 2014 election could mark the first where voters spend more time per day online using their laptops, tablets and smartphones than they will spend watching traditional television.
Corporate advertisers already got this message—many now spend 30 percent of their ad budget online. Corporate clients are less interested in congressional districts and state lines, so the “spill-over” in their ad spending means less than it does for a political campaign; their broadcast ads in the Philadelphia media market are still efficient because people in Delaware and New Jersey still drink Coke.
So the question of whether or not your campaign is going to communicate online has been answered. You are. How you are going to do it effectively is still a question many candidates and campaign managers struggle with. What follows are five tips for campaign managers to effectively communicate online.
1. Toss the conventional wisdom aside and go big
The old adage of capping online advertising at 3 to 7 percent of your paid advertising budget should be cast out. The electorate has changed. Make sure your budget isn’t years out of date. The corporate world quickly understood it needed online communication to reach the millions of people who were not enthusiastic supporters of their product or service.
The corporate world also understood it had to pay for this, and began adjusting advertising budgets to include as much as 30 percent for online advertising. Campaign advertising budgets need to follow suit or get left behind.
So how much should you spend? To plan that, know who you need to reach—who are your turnout and persuasion targets? A good rule of thumb: use free social media tools to engage your most enthusiastic base, but don’t be fooled; your reach is going to be limited and you are not persuading any undecided voters.
To persuade those voters you have to invest in data-driven online campaigns such as voter file-based cookie targeted, pre-roll video and banner display ads. These ads allow you to reach specific groups of voters and to ignore other groups you know cannot be persuaded.
The bottom line is you need a paid online presence and you should be spending anywhere between 15-25 percent of your total paid communication budget here. If your race falls in a cost prohibitive or inefficient media market, or if you can’t reach your individual level targets effectively with mail or phones (think of transient voters with only mobile phones), your race should be on the higher end of that scale.
Whatever percentage you pitch, keep this in mind: if the average 2014 voter spends more time online than watching TV, your budget must reflect that if you really expect to compete.
2. Invest in paid supporter acquisition. We all need it.
Even the highest profile campaigns invest heavily in paid advertising to boost their online presence. Driving traffic to your campaign’s Facebook page, website or to the Twitter account takes considerable effort, both free and paid.
Paid acquisition advertising serves two purposes. First, it allows your campaign to grow your lists faster and boost name ID at the same time. The key to paid supporter acquisition is to have a strong call to action. You should never expect a petition to change opinion, but they are data acquisition gold. Collect these names now—you can engage these folks to contribute or volunteer later.
So think of acquisition as the first step with a mind toward targeting these voters with advertising down the road. This is where remarketing comes in.
By using the Google Display Ad network, you can generate a tracking pixel that will place a cookie on the browser of those who visit your website. This will allow you to send ads to those folks, keep them engaged in your campaign, and ask them to take an action on your behalf. It will take time to turn a petition signer into a more involved activist, so set realistic expectations and start slow.
Clever creative, accurate targeting and consistent messaging will get your campaign the supporters it needs come Election Day.
3. Invest in online persuasion advertising and budget this as its own budget line item
Campaign persuasion has been limited to television, radio, print advertising, direct mail, field and phones, with the last three being the only ways to reach individual voters. Digital advertising is poised to change that. It is now possible to target voters online for just a fraction of what it costs to advertise on television or with direct mail.
We’re talking about a relatively new kind of individual voter level advertising called targeted cookie-based advertising. This kind of advertising is only as good as the data behind it; good firms offering this product match cookies to an actual voter file. Targeted online pre-roll video ads allow you to have the richness of a television ad, the targeting capability of direct mail, combined with the interactivity of online.
Other types of persuasion advertising online include display ads, which can give you several impressions per viewer for less money and help boost name recognition. Others include promoted posts on Facebook, and the Google display ad network. When deciding on online advertising for persuasion, figure out who your voters are first, and then target them online. Younger voters tend to be online significantly more than they watch television, and many don’t have a TV at all anymore; older voters watch more TV and are more easily reached there.
4. Invest in paid social media
Facebook and Twitter will take the majority of your time, but smaller social networks shouldn’t be ignored. Take the step of thinking about the voters you may want to reach and what social networks can best reach them—invest a small amount of time (and resources) into those.
As you launch your program, you need two things: quality content and quality frequency. To do this, your digital team should develop a weekly plan that lays out proposed posts. You need to map and budget this out early and evaluate it weekly.
Ask for a weekly, numbers-driven report that includes info on reach (both to your followers and to the general public). And remember the advice above—you’ll want to use paid social media advertising funds for both persuasion and acquisition.
5. Employ tactics that amplify your television and direct mail programs
We didn’t include percentages on how much to invest in social media versus acquisition versus persuasion, because these will vary depending on the type of race and your path to winning. But here are some things to think about:
We all need to invest in acquisition—no campaign has hit the limit of its online reach. Know that you’ll need to turn out presidential year-only partisan voters in your 2014 race? Why not invest in acquisition ads early to start communicating with them later.
Also, consider tactics to amplify your TV and mail. With every mail piece and TV ad that you send, consider how your online program will amplify it. Most campaigns are comfortable posting ads or mail pieces online and promoting via email and social media, but 2014 voters are ready for you to go further. Target cookie based advertising to the same targets that are receiving the mail or need to be reached on TV. Utilize paid persuasion ads that target environmental voters on your new environmental plan.
Be careful when choosing a cookie-targeted vendor. Online ads aren’t just a tool to use in the final push. Strong online programs can make the difference in a campaign. Knowing that you can build online programs to communicate earlier with the strongest voters and opinion makers may mean you need to research, poll, and produce communication materials (think photo shoots and design, and video shots and production) earlier. All of this has to start with a good plan on who you need to reach to win (targets) and what you need to say (message).
All of this can sound daunting if you’re just getting into online campaigning. Know the right questions to ask your vendors. How long have they been in the digital advertising business? What are your past successes from 2012 that you can talk about? And then get specific; ask where the data comes from, how often it is updated, and how your ads will be served.
You want someone who’s experienced enough with the new mediums of communications yet new enough to know the old ways are ineffective. Be wary of the Johnny-come-latelies and the dinosaurs.
Christopher Massicotte is the Chief Operating Officer of DSPolitical, the first progressive digital advertising network, and a former campaign finance director for several campaigns. Dan Kelly is a campaign manager and political operative who has managed, led field operations, or consulted on over 40 campaigns in 11 states and five countries.