In 2017, with the British election looming, an article in Marketing Week by Mark Ritson advised How to win an election in 7 complex steps.

The article detailed the perfect tool for an election victory – a strategic Facebook campaign.

Two years later, it’s Australia’s turn to head to the polls and a scroll through my newsfeed confirms that all sides of politics are employing a big budget social campaign.

wake me up when it’s over

Ritson’s seven-step guide to using Facebook for the election, with some slight adjustments, actually serves as a solid manual for the performance or conversion layer of a social campaign where the objective is to drive direct action – whether that be a vote, a download or a purchase.

  1. Spend it all on Facebook one platform

For campaigns with smaller budgets in particular, it’s best to pick one main platform to get the most out of your money. Choosing the best social media channel should primarily be based on the target audience and objective. For the election, the choice is clearly Facebook for it’s reach, relatively low cost and detailed targeting. For b2b white paper downloads, the choice might be LinkedIn for it’s professional targeting and qualified lead generation.

  1. Geo-targeting

Available on most platforms in varying degrees, geo-targeting is perfect for an election. Parties can target voters in swing seats with personalised messaging relevant to the issues in their electorate.

The same practice can be applied to other challenges influenced by location such as event awareness, sports team memorabilia sales or recruitment.

It should also be considered when targeting a wide audience spread over large areas. Can you make your copy or creative more relevant with different geographical ad sets? How much more effective will it be? Is the outcome worth the extra time involved?

spot the difference

  1. Micro-timing

The 2016 Australian election campaign went for 73 long days. Luckily, this year’s is a lot shorter. Luckier still, Ritson recommends a digital election campaign begin only 20 days before the ballot boxes open, to persuade those voters yet to decide who is the lesser of two evils.

Social media micro-timing is great for influencing these short-term decisions, some of which are only one click away. It could be a vote for Palmer or Pauline, a ticket to a gig this weekend or an app download to take advantage of a limited time deal. Micro-timing is a valuable asset for these shorter campaigns and for reactive content during larger campaigns as well.

  1. Segmentation

Facebook’s depth of audience data is one of its biggest advantages and increasingly, one of its biggest issues. When combined with your own audience research, the segmentation capabilities are extensive.

Other social media channels can offer brands exclusive options for audience segmentation based on their user data. LinkedIn, for example, allows subdivision based on job titles, industry or company name.

  1. Targeting

In his 2017 article, Ritson explores the idea of political parties predominantly targeting undecided voters on Facebook, often with negative ‘dark’ ads against their opponents.

Thankfully, Facebook has since shone a light on dark ads. With the introduction of the ‘info and ads’ tab, everyone can now see what ads any page may be running at that time.

While it certainly hasn’t stopped negative political ads, for challenger brands wanting to target their competitors, transparency is best.

  1. Messaging

The advantage of dark ads for political parties and organisations alike is the ability to serve specific messaging to different audience segments. A broader brush should be used for the hero content that’s seen on the ‘front page’ of social media accounts. While every ad served to a different target audience can have copy and creative that speaks to them specifically.

  1. Misdirect in victory?  Shout it from the rooftop (or soapbox)

Political parties want the public to think they voted based on fact, reason and their goddamn national duty to make their country great again. Not because of the social media efforts employed behind the scenes.

However, for anyone working in digital marketing and their clients, this step does not often apply. If good results are achieved, you better believe we’ll be telling anyone and everyone about it. A quick look at most award submission hype reels with claims of ‘23 billion social engagements’ will attest to this.

Of course, it would be remiss of me to leverage a Ritson article without noting that for long-term brand building (and in fact for all objectives) a wider marketing mix should be considered. While most brands can’t rely on Rupert Murdoch’s influence, the ABC’s bias or having a leader with the perfect face for billboards, mass media still has a valuable role to play.

If Ritson had been a betting man, he would have lost a few quid gambling on the Tories gaining a majority (although they did win) in 2017. Not because his guide was wrong, but because everyone is using it. Including your competitors. So what does this mean for marketers? Follow the guide and get it right, while still focusing on what will set you apart – the brand, the product, the strategy and the content.

And for political parties – maybe, just maybe, focus on the policies!

Michael Waddups

Michael Waddups

Associate Planner at Red Engine SCC

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