Coming out of a busy business or political campaign year, it pays to get some insight into what worked and what didn’t work. While many businesses, candidates and teams feel they’ve ‘made it’, ‘failed’, or ‘have the right strategy for next campaign’, it is critical to review past successful strategies and take a closer look at the continuously developing area of organizational data-targeted online communications. There is often too much conjecture and ‘expert opinion’ and not enough real data to support suppositions.
From 2014 through 2015, the Buzz Machine Media Team worked on corporate, local and federal election campaigns which required a concerted online communications effort. Our team handled all aspects of campaign communications from initial planning, campaign messaging and strategies, websites, social media engagement, media comms (including formal media releases), media outreach, speech writing, blog-writing, and video & audio content creation (including TV and radio spots). We also engaged a concerted data analysis effort to ensure we were utilizing the correct message and targeting the correct audience.
While detailed strategies are far more complex than can be shared in a single blog post, we can certainly share certain general ideas and thoughts stemming from our successes. The strategies we employed were focused on real engagement growth over a longer term. A good campaign (for your business, or political client) needs a good 6 to 9 months to establish itself. Sure, there are a lot of people out there who will tell you they can magically get you up and running in a few days, or weeks. Unless they can create viral content on demand (and no-one can), they are basically feeding you a line. To really engage your contacts and build an organic, sustained, and effective long-term campaign (particularly online) you need to give yourself at least 3-6 months, and 6-9 months for an effective political e-campaign.
Our early campaigns begin with identifying strengths and weaknesses, opportunities and threats. Our SWOT analysis is composed partly of discussions with campaign teams, and in part data analysis from the broader communities, and analysis of existing social media accounts. We also took into consideration conversations with local media with an eye on the community. From the initial SWOT we were able to define our objectives, determine our targets, and generate our campaign theme or ’story’. We were then able to carefully select our channels for communication.
Of course, a big part of the early consideration was budget. With many small business and political operatives used to having their “cousin’s teenage kid” managing an online campaign, they often feel these services, when delivered by a professional team, should cost next to nothing. This is particularly true in the world of online communications and Social Media, where everyone thinks they (or their ‘cousin’s teenage kid’) are ‘experts’. Just because you have 1000 Facebook ‘friends’ and are active online does NOT make you an expert online marketer (or even social media expert). It simply says you are a power-user. These business owners or campaign managers often have no idea what type of work it takes to create successful original content that appeals to customers/voters, or don’t recognize how important that is.
In our experience we came across individuals who simply re-shared political party content 95% of the time, posted irrelevant information, posted information not entirely beneficial to the candidate, or committed what we like to call the ‘hashtag sin’: Randomly creating multiple hashtags like #ILikeToCreateRandomHashtags and adding more than 2 or 3 to single posts. We can clearly say these folks struggled with the concept of what a well-thought out hashtag can do, and had not even thought to use existing popular trending hashtags to ensure their message actually does potentially reach 1000s.
Another other big part of an online campaign is getting ‘buy-in’. The business owner or political operative that’s been at it for 20 years (or more) isn’t likely to immediately buy into the idea that instead of spending $5000/month on local newspaper and bus bench ads, they can get far greater mileage from $1000/month of online ad buys. We have to work hard to explain the value proposition. Quite often we have to reach into our existing body of work to demonstrate what we could do with a given budget. It pays to have an existing body of work, and if the agency you are dealing with cannot show you samples of successful campaigns, you should really find one that can. If you are a new agency, build up a body of work by providing your services on the cheap for family and friends… build up your online ‘credibility’.
Even as recently as 2015 we had to listen to experienced vets in the political marketing world say “that’s just one little Facebook group (an online group of 2000 members that was more plugged into Canadian politics than any average user)”, or not fully buying into the value of a monthly online campaign budget. Others felt their online political database was ‘big data’ (when all it really was is a glorified spreadsheet). Getting buy-in from these stakeholders was a constant give and take: We encouraged them to take it a month at a time, and let the results speak for themselves – everything is quantifiable. We showed steady growth of social channels, and which types of content worked best – and how that plugged into our strategy proposal. When you see posts reach and get engagement numbers in the 1000s, when it had been in the 100s previously, you know you’ll get the buy-in.
What worked best? It all depends on your target audience. Sure, there are new social channels popping up all the time which have many youth engaged, but when you want to reach decision-makers, opinion-makers, influencers, and actual consumers, you really come back to a couple of key channels. Depending on the size of the community or campaign, it could be just one channel. That channel is Facebook.
We realized well over a decade ago how essential Facebook is to perhaps our key core group of influencers and decision makers: women between 25-45. Even back in 2005/2006 this group was the fastest growing on Facebook. Today the big shift on Facebook are seniors. Seniors are the fastest growing online demographic group. Both these groups are family decision makers, and have the funds to make active buying decisions. In the last federal election our marketing/targeting efforts focused on these groups, as well as various ethnic groups, to overwhelming success. The most consistently able buying/voting groups fell well within those categories. We accessed the Facebook/Twitter integration abilities of NationBuilder to tap into a very involved youth political world as well (in the past Canadian federal election). While Facebook may not be the first social choice of youth online, those who want to be ‘connected’ to broader society do have accounts, and engage issues online, particularly in the political sphere.
Twitter, for the most part, became our ‘media relations’ channel. Want a great local blog to notice your new restaurant? Live-tweet your launch party, and tie into early Yelp and Urban Spoon reviews. Want to carefully release news-worthy information from your political campaign? Tweet it, and even in the smallest of markets the local media will be listening (sometimes more so than in larger markets). The key with Twitter – particularly in the political sphere – was to keep tweets focused on the news, and engage local media, while avoiding and ignoring trolls. Political campaigns in particular are a very charged atmosphere, and when users have to say their piece in a couple of short sentences the conversation can quickly get ‘heated’ (or appear that way to outside observers). Stay above the fray, and simply share your message, while engaging where there are likely positive outcomes (even in areas of disagreement).
Data is a part of every social post whether you realize it or not. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc., all gather data points on every single aspect of a post: social reaction (likes, shares, retweets, views, etc.). When you’re sharing original content like blog posts or videos, you’re tags help users find your message. The keywords you utilize for those tags (and throughout your posts, in titles, image files, etc.), if well-researched from existing recent data, can help you connect to a greater number of users.
Over the years we have found utilizing online data sources, as well as our own algorithms for data collection, helped us hone in on very specific target audiences. Why message every reader in the city when you can hone your message to reach ‘women between 35-45 who like to visit Starbucks and are concerned about pipelines in BC’? In political campaigns we were able to take it further by engaging those who had commented on our stories (or simply ‘liked’ them), by reaching out and asking if they’d like to volunteer or donate. In the business world we were able to engage people reviewing local restaurants, or commenting on local issues of interest to the business, by targeting our conversation to groups more open to taking part in it.
Getting your own set of data is really helpful. Your own email lists and followers help define your most loyal customer (or voter) base. Your own followers and list members are people who have bought into your messaging, and will be open to receiving further marketing content. In Q3 of 2013 2.53% of online sales were generated by emails, while sales via social networks were around 0.25% (but growing yearly). The ROI (return on investment) from sales emails? An estimated 4300%! Soliciting buy-in, votes, or sales from committed customers and supporters, who have opted in to your email list is an astoundingly effective means of maximizing ROI. Adding your content to data you’ve analyzed and integrated from other sources makes your own data far more accurate. Integrating and constantly updating your data set with current information gained from proper email communications grows this accuracy and improves your ‘sell rate’. The more data points you have, the more accurate your information.
When we engage in content creation we use multiple data sets to identify a clear picture of what is going on with a particular demographic of interest. We work that common data INTO our actual content. Our success spoke for itself: We had data-targeted video ads which were actually viewed by 30,000 viewers (one ad!), and several that had 10,000, 12,000, or 15,000 views. Blog posts with carefully targeted images regularly reached 2000+ targeted users. This was not a chance happening – our process involved careful targeting of the content, and it brought results.
The whole purpose of our campaigns is to generate ‘social proof’ for a business or political campaign. Social Proof is that ‘group buy-in’ from friends of your target audience that encourages them to join in on the fun. When you see your friends ‘like’ a particular business or political figure on a promoted Facebook ad, you are far more likely to have a careful look at it. You’re more likely to click on the link, and far more likely to ‘buy’ the message (business or political) since your friends approve. We will discuss ‘social proof’ further in subsequent posts.
If you’d like more information on how you can get more ROI on your advertising dollar, please contact us for a free business assessment and analysis.