Retargeter Blog

Campaigning in the Age of Obama: Twitter Advertising Enters the Fray

This is the first post of an ongoing series about digital marketing in the 2012 election.

 There’s no doubt that the 2008 election changed political campaigning forever. A young unknown harnessed the power of the internet to inexpensively raise money, build a massive following, defeat the party favorite in the primary, and go on to win the general election by a landslide. But while Obama’s focus on digital outreach was revolutionary three years ago, it’s par for the course today. All candidates will have to step up to the social plate if they’re serious about 2012.

Reuters projects that political candidates will spend a combined $6 billion in 2012, and that approximately half of that will be spent on advertising. While television advertising will remain the primary form of outreach, candidates are beginning to take paid online media seriously.

Michael Beach, a Republican strategist, told the Miami Herald that by his estimate, campaigns are spending a quarter of their total budgets on online strategy. That means that something like $1.5 billion will be spent on digital marketing.

Twitter, recognizing the massive opportunity, began offering political advertising in the form of promoted tweets, accounts and trends. They announced the launch in September and even brought on a new political sales director to take charge of the effort.

Twitter’s advertising platform is relatively young, and even brands with strong online presences are just beginning to navigate the new space, making the entrance of generally late-adopting politicians particularly noteworthy. (For those not familiar with twitter advertising, a brand, or in this case a political candidate, can pay to have one of their tweets show up in the timelines of relevant users or in a search result. This is a promoted tweet. Companies can also promote their account, meaning their account will appear prominently in twitter users’ sidebars under ‘Who To Follow.’ Promoted hashtags appear first in the list of trending topics and are a great way to start a conversation about a relevant topic).

Thus far, of all the Republican candidates, only Mitt Romney and Rick Perry are using promoted tweets (although Herman Cain did use promoted tweets prior to dropping out of the race in November). The Perry campaign been actively monitoring their promoted tweets and updating their content frequently, for example, serving up new promoted tweets during debates to engage with users in real time. Romney’s campaign has taken a slightly different tack, keeping promoted tweets constant throughout a debate, but purchasing debate-related hashtags to keep conversations going. A few days ago I noticed that he had also employed a promoted account.

As we approach the general election, it will be interesting to see how the Obama campaign fights back. After all, the White House is still arguably the leader when it comes to social media. Just last week they launched a broad social media campaign to drum up popular support for the proposed extension to the payroll tax holiday. The tax holiday would save taxpayers approximately $1000 annually, or $40 per week. Using this benchmark, the White House posed the question ‘What does $40 mean to you?’ on their website, asking people to respond via Twitter using the hashtag #40dollars, on Facebook, or by posting a video to YouTube.  I can’t wait to see what they’ll do in 2012.

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