The Facebook Ad Library, which makes public information about political ads on the platform, has opened up an element of online campaigning we didn’t have much visibility into before. When it was first introduced, I thought it would be a boon to journalists and advertising agencies.
Certainly the media have been paying lots of attention because it gives them another angle in the “horse race”-style coverage so much in demand in political reporting today, but as I’ve written previously, sometimes an ad is just an ad and reading more into it than that is a mistake.
Unfortunately, we haven’t seen the increase in Facebook spending I initially anticipated – yet. That may come when the campaigns heat up and online ad spending becomes another head-to-head battle like TV.
But as Sean Miller reports at Campaigns & Elections, “Several top GOP Senate campaigns aren’t investing in email prospecting on Facebook, showing how many candidates in targeted races may need to rely on rented lists later in the cycle.”
As I Tweeted in response to the story, I don’t know how else to sound the alarm about the importance of list building to candidates.
If you’re a first-time candidate, challenger, or higher office seeker, building an email list is a critical part of campaign infrastructure. You should be worrying about the size of your email list at least as much as I know you do about yard signs. Not only is it the key to building an online fundraising program, an email list is a reliable way to recruit volunteers and turn out voters.
If you’re an incumbent, you only have two real, structural advantages in the present era: time and early, institutional money. But few, if any, incumbent Republicans are pressing their unfair advantages. Here’s how they should be.
During the two or six years between your elections, you can’t stop list building and online fundraising. It’s a constant, ongoing process of adding more emails to your list. Why can’t you wait until after Labor Day of an election year to start on list building? It takes the average donor 45-60 days between the time they first join your list and when they first donate. If you don’t start that clock until September, Election Day will arrive before you hit that window.
Similarly, 60-70% of your online fundraising dollars will come in the last 45-60 days of the campaign, so if you don’t already have an online fundraising program in place much earlier than that, your hockey stick curve will be stunted.
Early, Institutional Money
Here I’m referring to PAC and lobbyist money. If you’re an incumbent, it usually comes early in the cycle. You could leave this early money in your bank account and hold onto it until after Labor Day, or, you could invest it now in list building and yield a 1.5X-2X return on that investment by Election Day.
Let’s do some math using some easy, round numbers: say you’ve received $5,000 from a PAC in the off year. If you spend that on list building via Facebook ads, let’s keep it simple and estimate a $2 cost per email. That would be 2,500 new email subscribers. Let’s say 5% of those become donors over the course of the cycle: 125 donors. And let’s estimate a $50 average donation and you’ll soon realize that the $5,000 became $6,250. Rinse and repeat.
And the best thing about that email list you built? Unlike TV ads that fade from memory after seven days or mail that gets tossed, you get to keep that email list cycle over cycle.
Republicans can’t afford to squander their advantages when it comes to online fundraising. The best time to start list building was years ago. The second best time is right now.