Social media giants are rushing to overhaul their platforms after facing tough questions from lawmakers, former employees, and investors last fall. As campaigns begin building their digital programs, Facebook has proven to be the best way to engage the maximum number of voters online and push them to the polls: while only 29% of American adults use Twitter every day, 79% use Facebook.
Here’s what campaigns need to know as Facebook rolls out their new policies — and how The Tuesday Company can help campaigns navigate the new digital landscape ahead of the 2018 midterms:
1) Prioritize videos and digital media that drive social interactions
Facebook announced last month it’s shifting the News Feed algorithm to prioritize “meaningful interactions,” encourage friend-to-friend engagement, and curb passive consumption of digital content on their platform. This means campaigns will need to focus on making interactive content that inspires discussion between friends. Campaigns should continue to focus on video production and consider taking advantage of Facebook’s live video feature: digital marketing researchers point to videos as the most engaging content on Facebook, and users watch live videos for at least 3x longer on average than they watch videos in other formats.
Facebook — which makes most of its money from online ads — has emphasized the past few years that it is betting on video and video ads in the long term. Low-production cost videos of candidates and volunteers perform strongly on the platform compared to other kinds of content. As Mark Zuckerberg said to investors in 2016, “we see a world where video is first, with video at the heart of all of our apps and services.” Campaigns should be sure to follow suit and encourage their volunteers to share short, low-budget videos on their timelines.
2) Digital ads should be tailored — but not alienating
Facebook recently announced it’s making all ads public and verifying advertisers before they can purchase ads on the platform. Facebook will not only put pop-up banners on political ads to inform users who paid for them, but each advertiser will have their purchased ads aggregated on a page visible to everyone — not just the users targeted by each specific ads. This page will even provide information on the money and metrics behind each ad, showing users the total dollars spent and demographic details used to target specific users. Facebook hopes these new policies will change the way viewers approach advertisements and bolster public scrutiny to promote accountability.
Still, others aren’t so sure the spotlight will help. Ben Scott, a senior advisor at New America and fellow at the Brookfield Institute, said the new policies are “useless.” But the overhaul does mean the age of “dark ads” — so-called because they have been, up until now, visible only to the intended viewers — may be over.. That doesn’t mean campaigns should stop targeting their advertisements, or gathering data to inform outreach. The key is that ads optimized to precise audiences shouldn’t be alienating to others who might see it. Campaigns should remember that even if users aren’t scrutinizing every ad, journalists and other watch dogs might be.
3) Build an army of real volunteers — not an army of bots
Facebook and Twitter also announced they will take steps to inform users exposed to Russian troll accounts leading up to the 2016 election that they may have been targeted. Facebook will unveil a portal users can visit to check their exposure after top executives revealed such content may have reached up to 126 million people in the United States, while Twitter will directly inform users who interacted with fake Russian and bot accounts. Still, amplification bots and mass networks of fake accounts aren’t going anywhere soon, especially because hunting down bots as of now operates more like a game of whack-a-mole than a catch-all solution.
And bots keep showing up in all corners of the internet, from over a million fake comments about net neutrality to a flood of divisive hashtags after the Parkland shooting. Campaigns can expect to continue confronting waves of fake accounts and should focus on building coalitions of real volunteers to combat the tide: it’s more important than ever to build effective infrastructure that can activate volunteers on social media. You don’t need an army of bots when you have an army of volunteers, and campaigns can use Team to coordinate volunteer tasks and create distributed networks of real, passionate supporters that share their message online.
The takeaway? Campaigns should focus on reaching voters with engaging content, making low-budget video content they can always stand behind, and leading armies of real volunteers to share those videos. And though Facebook is changing, an emphasis on digital is not: the Campaign Media Analysis Group (CMAG) estimates roughly $600 million will be spent on digital advertising in 2018 alone. With an RNC slated to go “all-in on digital” ahead of this year’s midterms, progressive campaigns will need to build robust digital coalition to meet voters where they are in 2018.
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