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Micro-targeting, Facebook Ads, and What Businesses Can Learn from UK Election Campaigns

26.05.2017, 4m


Love it or hate it, Facebook is a powerhouse. That is, of course, no secret. But after seeing what a huge role it played in the US elections in 2016, there’s no doubt that political parties (or rather, the politicians) are going to use Facebook for every advantage they can get and that means the good, the bad, and the ugly (think fake news).

Many political experts and analysts say that social media marketing is easily the most important factor in campaigning today when considering the millions invested into digital campaigning and the strategies employed, such as micro-targeting.

This shouldn’t come to a surprise to anyone these days, especially when marketers and advertisers in almost every industry focus their budgets on digital advertising and slowly shift away from TV. Let’s have a look at how Facebook is being used by politicians around the world and what small businesses can learn from them.

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Social Media

Social media has been prevalent in election cycles for the better part of a decade. In 2008, the Obama campaign realised that over 50% of the voting-age population (in the U.S.) were actively online. President Obama employed Chris Hughes, one of Facebook’s co-founders, as one of his key strategists.

With a far superior digital campaign strategy than his rival, John McCain, Obama took the presidency with a historic number of under-25 voters supporting him. It wasn’t only Facebook that helped him, but Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, MySpace, and viral videos as well.

Basically, all future politicians were going to use Obama’s campaign as a blueprint for their own (if they were smart). Social media is a great way to build trust among your followers.

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As a business owner, the Obama campaign was a great model for spreading a budget around different sources. Having a presence on all (or most) of the major social media platforms is a great way to get in touch with your target audience, depending on your product. Facebook is basically a must for almost every brand. However, producing video content for YouTube or a creating a great image campaign on Instagram is also essential for connecting with your audience.

Campaign Spending

Fast forward to the next decade and we can clearly see social media’s impact on more recent elections. According to the Electoral Commission, the UK’s election watchdog, during the 2015 UK elections, Tories spent about £1.2m on Facebook adverts, while Labour spent £160,000 and the Liberal Democrats spending about £22,000. Since the Conservatives won a majority with 330 seats, Facebook advertising arguably played a huge role in that election.

In the elections coming up on June 8th, the Labour Party is planning to match what the Conservatives did in 2015 by spending over £1m on Facebook adverts. Though the recent polls show the Conservatives holding a strong lead, polls are to be taken with a grain of salt (remember Hillary Clinton’s lead in the polls?).

In any case, there is something to be learned for business owners. Investing in your campaign is vital. Business 101 classes around the globe will teach you that “you have to spend money to make money”. When considering Apple spent 179% more than Samsung on digital ads for products where they compete, it’s no wonder Apple continues to cement itself as “the smartphone” to have.


The factor of micro-targeting has become a major point in elections as well. Micro-targeting is the strategy used to create highly specific advertisements to narrowly-targeted groups. This is a tactic used by many, many industries, but arguably, no one has mastered the art of micro-targeting like politicians have.

This can be carried out easily with Facebook, but with additional big-data companies like Cambridge Analytica providing candidates with even more accurate information on voters, targeted ads can be made even more efficiently. With so much data out there, producing hundreds (or thousands) of different ads targeting anyone from fisherman to housewives can clearly benefit any politician (or business).

micro-targeting.jpgMicro-targeting allows you to pick a very specific "persona" and send your "personalised" ads directly to them. 

With the Electoral Commission recognising the power of social media and digital ads, they have pledged to scrutinise digital spending even more this time around, but considering that parties do not have to disclose how they are spending their digital money, that leaves the rules a bit open to exploitation. More transparency in digital campaign spending is clearly necessary.  

However, advertising spending doesn’t necessarily win elections. Throughout the last decade, the best campaign managers have come to realise that social media isn’t necessarily successful just because millions of people are registered there.It works because of social media’s ability to connect candidates directly to their voters and that in of itself is a force like nothing before it.

That’s also why the biggest brands and the most popular celebrities use social media to connect directly to their audiences as well- it connects influencers to their followers, and therefore strengthens their relationships with their fan-bases and builds loyalty.

No one showed us their love of connecting with their fans more than the current American president and his twitter account. Most brands would love to have his ability of connecting to his supporters.

Micro-targeting is a great tool to use when a product has many target groups. If you sell stylish, durable jeans, perhaps the message you want to send out to mums is different than the message you want to send out to teenagers or young adults, even though they are all potential customers.

Defining your different “customer personas” is always important, but it can also be done very easily through Facebook. Knowing who you want to target by defining them through as many details as possible (e.g. age, gender, race, hobbies, interests) is essential to micro-targeting.


Business owners have been using advertising to reach out to consumers for hundreds of years. Likewise, politicians have been using similar tactics for almost just as long. As marketers have slowly shifted their budgets from TV to digital, new trends and strategies emerge. One sector can always learn something new from the other, and in this case politicians can definitely teach us a thing or two about how to reach the exact markets that we want to.

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