A current campaign from an immigration reform group shows the difficulty Facebook has generating ad revenue from political advertisers that is comparable to other media outlets.
Facebook has become a hotbed of targeted political advertising. Advocacy groups and political campaigns can deliver ads to people based on political persuasion, demographics, and words they include in messages they post on the site. However, a current Facebook campaign from pro-immigration reform group America's Voices is indicative of the hurdles the social network faces when it comes to generating ad revenue from political advertisers that's comparable to what they spend on TV or even other sites.
This month Capitol Hill staffers, CNN employees, and staff members of other media companies have been targeted with Facebook ads from America's Voices. The campaign's goal is to raise money for television advertising. The organization wants to run ads during CNN's "Lou Dobbs Tonight" show that take direct aim at Dobbs, whom America's Voices considers to be an anti-immigrant hatemonger.
"All of the advertising so far has been digital and whatever we raise will go to traditional media," said Jackie Mahendra, director of online communications for America's Voices. The concept of raising money online to spend on television and other traditional outlets is nothing new for political and advocacy advertisers.
The Facebook ads are not exclusively about funding television spots. On Tuesday, people listed on Facebook as employees of media firms including CNN, The New York Times, Politico, and AOL began seeing ads featuring images of the CNN anchor accompanied by eye-popping text. "Hey, Anderson Cooper, What's it like to work with a racist at CNN?" asked some ads, which conclude, "Time to drop Dobbs."
"In this case we were looking to really deliver a message to media professionals, specifically at CNN and other networks," said Mahendra. Indeed, a secondary goal of the campaign is to inspire media coverage of the campaign, and possibly the TV ad itself, which is currently available online.
In addition to targeting by workplace, the organization is also aiming ads at progressives and Latinos. "That targeting is a little bit more sophisticated and based on modeling," said Josh Koster, partner at Chong + Koster, the digital consulting firm handling the display ad component of the campaign. To target progressives or liberals, the firm goes beyond ideological labels people give themselves on their profiles and looks for other indicators, such as posts about Comedy Central's "The Daily Show."
Demographic information such as age is also considered since older people are more likely to donate. Geography matters, too, in terms of likelihood to take action by donating money, clicking an ad, or writing to legislators about an issue. For example, Koster suggested, because there are fewer liberals living in the south, they tend to be more steadfast in their beliefs, and therefore more likely to take action. On the other hand, he suggested, "People in Boston who put 'liberal' on their profile are just people who live in Boston."
Along with the Facebook ads, America's Voice is running display advertising on liberal and Latino blogs such as Firedoglake and Latina Lista. The organization has also enlisted Blue State Digital to handle the paid search component of the campaign. The anti-Dobbs effort is the first America's Voice campaign involving integrated digital formats, said Mahendra.
A recently-run Facebook campaign targeting congressional staff served to complement the Dobbs campaign, but the goal was not to raise money or earn media coverage. Instead, the group wanted to build awareness among Capitol Hill staff regarding an organization that planned to lobby Members of Congress. Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), an immigration-related nonprofit labeled by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a hate group, has had representatives featured on Lou Dobbs Tonight.
"We very inexpensively saturated the space for Hill staffers so they were able to see the ad an average of about 50 times," Mahendra told ClickZ News. In fact, the organization accomplished that by spending less than $1,000. America's Voice plans to spend $10,000 on its new Facebook campaign, in addition to what it is putting towards paid search and blog ads.
For political advertisers specifically, the dominant social networking site encompasses a wealth of data enabling them to pinpoint likely supporters. Yet, despite its broad reach and refined targeting capabilities, Facebook still attracts just a small portion of many political ad budgets, often falling behind Google paid search ads and far behind television and other traditional media. For instance, in 2008, according to ClickZ's own analysis of Federal Election Commission data, Google collected over $7 million from President Obama's election campaign, while Facebook was paid around $640,000.
Koster added that the $10,000 Facebook expenditure is "more than enough" to reach the target audience of media professionals with around five impressions per day.
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Kate Kaye was Managing Editor at ClickZ News until October 2012. As a daily reporter and editor for the original news source, she covered beats including digital political campaigns and government regulation of the online ad industry. Kate is the author of Campaign '08: A Turning Point for Digital Media, the only book focused on the paid digital media efforts of the 2008 presidential campaigns. Kate created ClickZ's Politics & Advocacy section, and is the primary contributor to the one-of-a-kind section. She began reporting on the interactive ad industry in 1999 and has spoken at several events and in interviews for television, radio, print, and digital media outlets. You can follow Kate on Twitter at @LowbrowKate.
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