Driven by data; ridden with liberty.
24 million Britons log in to Facebook daily. In the UK, there are over 15m Twitter users, 10m LinkedIn profiles and around 2m people have signed up to Pinterest. Social networking, particularly through Facebook, is unquestionably mainstream. Since these colossal websites cannot be maintained on good will and unbroken dreams, companies and organisations pay for advertising space, often clothed in sheepskin among the user-generated posts and status updates.
According to documents obtained by the BBC, the Conservative Party are spending substantial sums on Facebook, often in excess of £100,000 per month. The largest items on their advertising budget are an email collection campaign, presumably for donation requests, and payments for page likes.
In the world of digital marketing, adverts that fill the vacant spaces on websites are called ‘display’ or ‘banner’ ads. These spaces can be one of many standardised formats. Companies and other groups create ads to fill these digital recesses, either paying the website owners directly or buying through an exchange.
(Video: Google Display Network)
There are multiple types of pricing for these display advertisements. The prototypical charge is for every thousand impressions (cost per mill, or CPM), that is, every thousand times that ad is loaded onto a web page. It should be stated explicitly not every impression is viewed by the user, as these ads may appear below the page’s fold. Organisations can also choose to pay for only every click through to the website (cost per click, or CPC), rather than paying every time the ad itself is shown. Alternately, the buyer can define a deeper interaction within their own website, such as buying a product, obtaining a quote or making a donation, and pay only when these goals are achieved.
Display advertising can be poorly targeted. In conjunction with statistics provided by Nielsen OCR, Facebook make the potent claim:
Most online advertising only reaches 38% of its intended audience. Facebook’s average is 89%.
Social networks provide a ripe opportunity for marketers. Key facts, such as your hobbies and your political inclinations, are willingly provided. Now, organisations can promote their posts or encourage you to like their Facebook page based on your location, your demographic characteristics, your interests, your behaviours and your friends. Described as an “advanced” feature, Facebook proffers to advertise only to those people who are similar to those who have already liked their page, called lookalike targeting.
Digital marketing also allows for sophisticated analysis. Both Facebook and Twitter provide in-house analytics tools, meaning the number of likes (or followers) and different forms of engagement (such as sharing posts and replying to tweets) can be tracked. The efficacy of paid adverts and promoted posts can be measured, meaning further optimisations are possible. Data beats speculation.
It is increasingly clear that the digital frontier will be vital in the coming election. On Facebook, the Conservative Party’s page have over 343,000 likes, which is larger than the equivalent figure for other political parties in Britain. How these new mailing lists translate into political support will be intriguing.