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Sep 24, 2018

By Rory McShane

Facebook strategy has been in flux for campaigns this cycle thanks to continued platform changes. Races on both sides of the aisle are now having to grapple with changing rules over content and targeting.

As campaigns’ tactics are evolving to cope with these changes, the fundamental goal remains the same: Facebook should be where you talk to the people who are likely to vote for you.

Posting your latest fundraising numbers on Facebook is nowhere near as important as persuasion content. Video content is king on Facebook, although not if the video is a clip of your candidate shot with an iPhone, at his or her kitchen table reading off talking points.

The best way to conceive of video content for Facebook is to ask yourself, Is this something a regular person would share with their friends?

If your candidate isn’t taking money from special interests, use video content to reinforce it. Maybe it’s a video showing all the money your opponent has taken from special interests in Monopoly dollars.

If you’re running against an establishment candidate, perhaps it’s a video of your candidate holding a $5 hotdogs-and-hamburgers fundraiser across the street from your opponent’s lavish country club plated dinner.

The best performing video right now being run by one of my clients, in New England, is a video of her young daughter in Red Sox apparel holding a baseball bat asking people to vote for her mom, because like the Red Sox, they’re both winners who bring people together. That video is getting views for less than one cent per view.

As a Republican consultant, one of the things I have to take into account is the possibility of a conservative shift away from Facebook in the coming years. If there is a backlash from the conservative community, it will be an even greater challenge for Republican strategists and their campaigns to reach primary voters, which is already difficult.

Facebook’s custom audiences, allowing you to match your target voter file directly to Facebook accounts, is an incredible tool. But be ready to monitor how many voters you’re actually reaching. Track your targeted voters reached, especially in Republican primaries. If you’re struggling to break 40 percent of targeted voters reached, you should think about moving your money into display.

Facebook allows you to pause any ad campaign, with the money still unspent. At the halfway point in your ad campaign, if you haven’t hit at least 40 percent of target voters reached, reduce your spend and move the money into display ads targeting those primary voter’s cookies and IP addresses.

Persuasion content is nowhere near as effective on display as it is on Facebook, but if you have 60 percent of your target voters not seeing your candidate on Facebook, it just makes more sense to shift that spend.

Under Facebook’s new privacy regulations, the ad platform will no longer tell you how many people in your custom audience you’ve successfully matched, so be ready to regularly check your unique reach numbers.

While some digital consultants will tell you they will match upwards of 80 percent of their voter file on Facebook, that seems wildly inflated. Among conservative primary voters right now, some of my clients are reaching as little as 40 percent of their primary voters on Facebook.

Facebook’s ability to target individual voters also has an inherent pitfall for the inexperienced digital advertiser. The smaller an audience becomes, the less Facebook inventory is available, so you’ll pay more for the same video view, from the same voter.

I’ve watched campaigns blow through their entire digital budget trying to create unique messages for each region, or even each county driving their video views from 4 – 6 cents to upwards of 15 cents or more.

Facebook’s ever evolving regulations, and the limitations of the platform, underscore the need to keep an even closer eye on the performance of your ad campaigns and adjust accordingly.

Rory McShane is a media strategist whose clients have ranged from statewide Constitutional Amendments to members of Congress, non-profits and corporations.