Earlier this month, the media obtained an internal post by Facebook executive Andrew Bosworth praising Donald Trump’s campaign team for their success in 2016 and went on to clear up some common misinformation about the campaign’s use of the platform.
“So was Facebook responsible for Donald Trump getting elected?” asked Bosworth. “I think the answer is yes, but not for the reasons anyone thinks. He didn’t get elected because of Russia or misinformation or Cambridge Analytica. He got elected because he ran the single best digital ad campaign I’ve ever seen from any advertiser. Period.”
How did the Trump team do it? Bosworth continues,
“But Parscale and Trump just did unbelievable work. They weren’t running misinformation or hoaxes. They weren’t microtargeting or saying different things to different people. They just used the tools we had to show the right creative to each person. The use of custom audiences, video, ecommerce, and fresh creative remains the high water mark of digital ad campaigns in my opinion.”
Most of the news stories just stopped at the topline news that Bosworth praised the Trump team for their acumen, but for those interested in learning from the Trump campaign’s success, Bosworth’s post offers some important clues.
Know the Tools
When it came to Facebook advertising, Trump’s digital team didn’t have any unique access to tools or features every other advertiser – including Hillary Clinton’s campaign – also had. One key insight? Facebook’s emphasis on video. At the time, video was driving engagement and time spent on the platform so Facebook rewarded marketers who used video and the Trump campaign cashed in.
Campaigners should know the digital tools they’re using, like Facebook advertising, inside and out. Every feature, setting, and option could provide you an advantage. Especially in politics, you may discover an unknown use case that the product’s developers didn’t think of.
The Trump campaign invested in Facebook advertising early and continues to do so today. There’s a direct correlation between the roughly $40 million the campaign has spent on the platform since 2018 and the $80 million they’ve raised from grassroots donations.
Facebook advertising is the single best tool for campaigns to grow their email lists and, subsequently, their online fundraising program. (By the way, this very basic system of inputs and outputs is the method I teach in my online fundraising course, available here.)
Fresh Creative & Video
As Bosworth notes in his post, the Trump campaign made extensive use of video and unique creative in its advertising. Instead of just recycling TV ad spots online, the team created quickly produced videos that ebbed and flowed with the conversation happening on the platform.
Campaigns that are trying to “drive a message” that isn’t what voters are already discussing online are swimming against the current and wasting resources.
Move Fast and Break Things
The Trump campaign’s digital team embraced Facebook’s former motto, “move fast and break things,” with deadly effect.
Effective Facebook advertising for campaigns is a combination of rapid response and quick turnaround. There’s no room for a cumbersome approvals process here.
Cambridge Analytica Was A Hoax
Bosworth also sets the record straight about Cambridge Analytica, writing,
“In practical terms, Cambridge Analytica is a total non-event. They were snake oil salespeople. The tools they used didn’t work, and the scale they used them at wasn’t meaningful. Every claim they have made about themselves is garbage. Data of the kind they had isn’t that valuable to being with and worse it degrades quickly, so much so as to be effectively useless in 12-18 months.”
The lesson for campaigners here is that if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
The Proper Role of Targeting
There are lots of misconceptions about microtargeting and Bosworth makes clear that the Trump campaign wasn’t trying to slice and dice its advertising so one audience would see one thing and another would see something different. Instead, they built and targeted custom audiences around behavior.
A successful Facebook advertising campaign targets users also on their behavior, not just your data. As I’ve explained previously, if you only rely on data targeting, you risk missing critical voters.
It’s not enough just to copy the Trump campaign’s 2016 playbook on Facebook advertising in 2020. The platform has made significant changes and marketing has evolved, but the lessons learned will benefit campaigns of any size looking to tap into Facebook advertising.