As new communications tools emerge it is inevitable that humans will look to use them to our advantage – whether for good or for bad.
Paid social media advertising is no different and arguably more dangerous than what has come before.
In 2015, the Conservative Party won a general election in the UK after spending 10 times more than Labour on Facebook advertising! With no restrictions to online advertising they reached 80.65% of all users in targeted constituencies – and they won the election.
In 2016 the Trump campaign ran up to 60,000 Facebook ads per day. Their aim? To discredit Hilary Clinton and to discourage Black voters from voting – they too won the election.
At the same time the Kremlin linked Internet Research Agency reached an estimated 10 million people using 470 Facebook accounts with messages designed to “provoke and amplify political and social discord in the United States”.
In the same year, the Vote Leave campaign in the UK spent almost its entire budget (£2.7 million) on Facebook advertising designed by Canadian company Aggregate AIQ, which it later turned out had connections with Cambridge Analytica and even John Bolton, who later became Donald Trump’s national security adviser.
The Vote Leave ads were designed to make people angry and, just like the Trump campaign, divide communities – to ‘them and us’ Europe and the UK – and encourage highly targeted people to vote to leave the EU. And guess what? They succeeded!
Over 140 ads made this claim.
The ads were designed to make us angry.
At the time Mark Zuckerberg refused to believe there was a problem, stating of the US election “I think the idea that fake news on Facebook influenced the election in any way, I think is a pretty crazy idea.”
Just two short years later however, in 2018, good ol’ Zucks finally realised there was a problem with fake news, highly targeted advertising and a lack of transparency around who was delivering that advertising. This led Facebook (now Meta) to introduce a number of measures that continue to evolve to this day.
It is of course human nature to try to convince people into our way of thinking, especially when power and influence are involved. So why was this way of influencing and convincing people so different to every other form of communication we’ve used over the years? Some would argue it isn’t, and in fact TV and radio was just as bad, until restrictions were in place, but the micro-targeting abilities and almost no regulation has made paid social advertising extra dangerous.
This, along with how to navigate the restrictions now in place, was the subject of my talk at the Paid Social Show, a fringe event of Brighton SEO, in April 2023.
To learn more, the steps you need to take to become verified, and how to run successful political and social issue campaigns on Meta download the slides from the talk below.
While the highly targeted nature of political and social issue advertising on Meta is an ever changing beast, making broader audiences increasingly more fruitful, it is clear the use of Facebook and Instagram (and yes even WhatsApp soon) for this kind of messaging isn’t going away. Understanding the history, restrictions and your responsibilities are vital.
Would you or your team find training in running these kinds of campaigns useful?
Photo by Rosemary Ketchum from Pexels.
James is a strategic and analytical thinker with a creative flair and love for the psychology of social media. He's been working in marketing and communications since 2012 and specialised in social media when launching Social Firefly in 2018. He's an ever struggling piano player, a fair weather sea kayaker and a travel lover.