Twitter and Google are touting the effectiveness of their products as users and investors are questioning the power and reach of online advertising.
Google said recently that paid clicks from its own websites and others that use the company’s technology were up 26 percent last quarter, while the cost per click (what advertisers pay for the traffic) was down 9 percent. Despite double digit growth and $3.5 billion in income, the company’s stock dropped almost four percent after the news broke last month.
Meanwhile, online marketing firms such as ReachLocal and Yodle, which companies and campaigns pay to get their ads in front of Google’s users, are under scrutiny.
Small business owners complained to the Wall Street Journal that the ads they were sold were ineffective. “I paid for three months, and I didn’t even get one customer,” Marcos Quinones, a psychotherapist based in New York, told the paper. “I got calls from people who didn’t even know that you have to pay for psychotherapy.”
There hasn’t been a turn away from digital – yet. Social media companies like Twitter, though, are working to promote the effectiveness of their products, lest the current grumblings turn into something more.
The company, whose stock has lost more than half its value in 2014, recently published a case study on the McAuliffe campaign and Bully Pulpit Interactive’s use of its services during last year’s Virginia gubernatorial race. It was noteworthy, says Jenna Golden, senior digital strategist for political campaigns at Twitter, how McAuliffe’s campaign used the site’s tailored audiences CRM (customer relationship management) approach in the last two weeks to focus on GOTV efforts.
Tailored audiences, a broad feature Twitter offers to advertisers of various types, defines and organizes groups of potential contacts. For a campaign, the approach uses a voter file email list to find supporters already on Twitter, and targets them with either a promoted account advertisement or a promoted tweet from an individual user.
A promoted account is displayed in the timeline of someone who may be interested in following it. For instance, if an individual Twitter account follows @BarackObama, @FLOTUS and @WhiteHouse, a user may be recommended to follow @VP because Twitter would determine that the user has similar interests to others who follow that account. Promoted accounts pay Twitter per follower gained through the service, making it somewhat affordable for a down-ballot campaign.
Promoted tweets, like promoted accounts, are targeted at a list of users who would be considered likely to interact with a particular tweet. The 2013 McAuliffe campaign was one of the pioneers of the tailored audiences CRM approach in the political sphere, according to Golden.
To use the tool on the campaign level, the voter file data would be sent to an approved third-party vendor to code the information. The vendor then sends it to Twitter. By using a third party, Twitter does not actually touch the campaign’s raw data.
In addition to tailored audiences, the McAuliffe campaign also used white listing, which allows a campaign to enlist the help of other users to reinforce a message.
With white listing, a campaign can promote another account’s tweet with the user’s permission. The McAuliffe camp utilized this feature with actor and activist Kerry Washington, of ABC’s “Scandal.”
On Nov. 3, Washington tweeted that she was in Virginia to support McAuliffe. For targeted users, the tweet would appear in their timeline and look like any other tweet that Washington would send, but near the bottom of the tweet, it said “Promoted by Terry McAuliffe.”
“What’s powerful about this is that it allows the candidate to bring in another voice,” Golden says.
The campaign also used keyword targeting to reach potential supporters. By bidding on and taking advantage of Throwback Thursday (#tbt), which trends weekly on Twitter across the world, the campaign was able to narrow their range of the tweets containing the hashtag to within the Commonwealth of Virginia through geo-targeting. “It allowed them to tap into a conversation that was already happening on Twitter,” Golden says.
Moreover, McAuliffe’s Twitter outreach extended beyond Northern Virginia. “We’ve seen great success on all sides of the state,” Golden says.
Consultants and investors are watching to see if that success extends beyond Virginia.