Obama Reaches Out to Black Voters Online

ClickZ_Campaign08_katefinal.jpgThe Obama campaign aims to reach black voters on the Web, and one recipient of its ad dollars is social network publisher Community Connect. The firm runs BlackPlanet.com, along with other ethnic and lifestyle-oriented social networks including Latino-focused MiGente.com and Glee.com, a network for gays, lesbians “and everyone else.”

“We’re kind of talking about new ideas now,” said Community Connect’s VP Ad Operations, Peter Chen, regarding plans for the candidate as the general election season approaches. “I think it’s going to be a combination national buy and still some local,” added Chen. Many of Obama’s ads have been targeted to BlackPlanet members living in specific locales.

This local targeting strategy mirrors what the Obama camp has been doing elsewhere on the Web, whether it be geo-targeting primary voters in North Carolina through ad networks or placing video-enabled ad units on Texas newspaper sites. Keeping with its local approach, the campaign has individual pages dedicated to residents of every state in addition to Obama’s main profile.

Now his campaign is contemplating reaching BlackPlanet users in their travels on other sites, according to Chen. Community Connect has relationships with behavioral targeting networks, allowing advertisers to reach its users who have visited its social sites on other sites in those behavioral networks. According to Hitwise, BlackPlanet is the fifth highest ranked social networking site in terms of traffic. Obama has scored over 490,000 friends on the site.

“There’s the potential for doing more on the behavioral targeting, which I think he’s exploring and he didn’t do before,” said Chen, stressing the campaign is considering the possibility and has not signed on to do behavioral targeting with Community Connect. The Obama campaign did not respond to requests for comment.

“It’s almost like using our sites to qualify the type of user he’s looking for and then retargeting them,” explained Chen.

“They’re making sure African-American voters are actively engaged and come out to vote,” suggested Community Connect President and CEO Benjamin Sun.

Obama’s campaign isn’t just running ads on BlackPlanet, though. Since launching profile pages on all of Community Connect’s social networking sites late last year, his Internet team regularly feeds new information into them. The updates are often of special relevance to the communities catered to by each network. A video posted to his BlackPlanet profile, for instance, features Obama visiting a barbershop in South Carolina.

While the content updates on his profile and state pages serve to “get people informed and interested in him and believing in him,” continued Sun, “the advertising gets them to take action.”

Obama’s presidential campaign has spent over $56,000 with Community Connect this year and much of that money has gone towards paid ads targeted to BlackPlanet members. The bulk of that money was spent in May and June, according to the campaign’s Federal Election Commission reports.

Facebook, the second-largest social network as ranked by Hitwise in June, has received the heftiest chunk of Obama’s social network spending, garnering around $90,000 this year, according to FEC filings. MySpace collected about $11,500 from the campaign in 2008, reports show.

“I am officially a member of BlackPlanet.com! Come and check out my page and join my group,” notes Obama’s “featured profile” promotion on the site’s homepage.

The Obama campaign has “taken a real hands-on engaging [approach], much more so than I’ve even seen with [other] advertisers,” said Sun. “I think his team really gets how to leverage and engage a social networking audience, especially an African-American networking audience.”

Many of the display ads seen on BlackPlanet are the same ones Obama has run throughout the campaign, prompting people to find local polling places or simply sign up to “Join Us.” Obama for America has also made use of bulletin-like ads served to his Community Connect friends.

Advertising with the company’s niche social networks was not necessarily part of the campaign’s original plans. It all started when the camp discovered traffic coming to its official site through a profile of musical act Ahmir on BlackPlanet last September. The group was included in BlackPlanet’s music section as part of a Vibe Magazine program, and because that month’s issue of Vibe featured Obama on the cover, the Ahmir profile linked to BarackObama.com.

“We ended up sending an awful lot traffic to Obama’s Web site,” Tracey Cooper, director of BlackPlanet, told ClickZ News.

Obama’s campaign wanted to know how to tap into that audience. According to Cooper, Obama for America’s Director for External Organizing Scott Goodstein contacted Community Connect and has been her point of contact ever since.

Even before the Illinois Senator’s campaign got in touch with the publisher, it had pitched other presidential primary campaigns, including then-Democratic primary opponent Hillary Clinton’s team. “We actually reached out to [Hillary Clinton’s] campaign,” said Sun, “and the online campaign people just kind of ignored it.”

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