How Election Meddling Saved Digital Marketing

Donald Trump

It’s the Blueprint

BlueprintDigital marketers owe Russia a big thank you, no really, I mean it. If any questions remain about the validity of social media as a means of digital marketing, the recent inquiries into the ads displayed on multiple platforms have clearly illustrated one point – digital marketing works. You see, I work in digital marketing, and I’ve always had to deal with skepticism regarding the effectiveness of the products and services that I sell through Facebook, Google, and other digital platforms, but the recent election scandal related to the 2016 Presidential Election has illuminated some hard to ignore statistics.

Honestly, I couldn’t have run a better campaign than Russia did, it’s almost like they had someone assisting them with how digital algorithms work [Ed Snowden], explaining that both the strength and weakness of digital marketing is that there are no gatekeepers. Some figurative campaign manager was asking everyone all the right questions.

Who is there to validate your intentions when a platform is entirely automated?

Who is there to review the content of ads when they don’t use trademarks?

Who is there to make sure you’re not an adversarial nation running ads to influence political outcomes?

The answer to all of those questions is no one, and you really can’t place the blame on Facebook, Google, and Twitter for that answer, as their platforms precisely delivered what they promised to advertisers. They built an effective, trackable, inexpensive way to reach millions of people, that only has theoretical limits on the number of impressions a single piece of viral content can achieve.

Advertisers have been clamoring for these kinds of tools for years, and if takes a bit of election meddling to get people to stand up and pay attention to the most influential mass communication platforms to ever exist, maybe the resulting discussions will lead us to using them in a more productive way than posting photos of our food.

The Actual Blueprint

Let’s take a look at how a foreign power used digital marketing to run the perfect advertising campaign.

– 1. Find Something People are Passionate About – A lot of companies are on social media because it fills a series of modern-day marketing tool checkboxes that somehow make an organization feel validated as “contemporary.” In the age of Millenials, organizations avoid being grouped with traditional advertising platforms that most of the younger generation think are prehistoric, but the key to a significant social media presence is proximity to subjects that naturally promote discussion, or as Twitter users know it, trolling.

In the case of the “alleged” Russian campaign meddling, the passionate topic is obvious – politics. It’s safe to assume anything that shouldn’t be discussed at work, or at a bar, will generate a vast amount of discussion on social media, so before companies dump a large amount of effort into posting videos, photos, or GIFs, they should make sure their content contains something to be social about.

– 2. Know Your Audience – Thanks to some conveniently placed public voting demographic information, the campaign knew exactly who they were targeting, and used the sophisticated tools offered by social media platforms to hit their targets. Often, the biggest mistake made in digital marketing is something outside of the marketers’ control, the client doesn’t understand their target demographic well enough to achieve the kind of conversions they’re seeking, resulting in a less than optimal impact.

Unlike traditional marketing platforms, which are the metaphorical equivalent to a bullhorn, digital platforms target potential customers with surgical precision, but that precision can only be achieved through the availability of accurate demographic data (you should have analytics installed by now). If an organization has failed to gather a vast amount of reliable data, even the best marketing company will fail to produce the desired results.

– 3. Leverage Organic and Paid Channels – It’s great to be able to pay to get your content in front of potential customers, but the number one rule of advertising still hasn’t changed, “word of mouth is the best advertising.” While the Russian campaign boasts a whopping ~29 million impressions with paid ads on Facebook, it’s the 126 million organic impressions that should floor you.

Social media is the digital version of word of mouth, and when combined with point #1, you can see the effect a passionate group of people can have on digital reach. Users are more receptive to information that appears in their feed if it originates from a friend’s account, so if the content is sporting the “sponsored” moniker, users are less likely to pay attention to what’s on-screen.

–4. Timing is Everything – It’s not enough to sloppily throw ads on the net and expect some big return on investment; great campaigns are run within a particular window for a reason, and proper planning regarding the times and dates they appear makes all the difference. Regarding the timing of this campaign, the “when” is a bit obvious; the ads have to run before election day. Therefore, there was a clearly defined window of opportunity for the effort to be completed.

All too often businesses run ads in windows without statistically backed justification, resulting in minimal impact on their business objectives. Executing a digital campaign isn’t any different than planning a traditional one, so businesses should expect to display ads related to specific events that provide marketing opportunities, like back-to-school, or Christmas.

What We Learned as Marketers

LearningBusinesses aren’t the only entities that should have learned something from the election meddling revelations. Marketers should have gleaned some congressionally mandated insight into each platform and used it to understand the effectiveness of each channel better. Even if you aren’t into the gritty details of each platform, the representatives of those platforms were forced to explain their own data capabilities when testifying, and that was worth a couple of hours of having to watch C-SPAN in and of itself.

If you’re looking to pair with a digital marketing agency who can deliver insights like these to your organization, RTR Digital offers a variety of digital marketing services here.