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This episode has been featured in the Financial Times.
Matthew Oczkowski, Head of Product at Cambridge Analytica, joins the show to discuss his experience heading digital strategy for the Scott Walker primary campaign and Donald Trump general election. We discuss how the candidates used Snapchat and other social media, the differences between primary and general election campaigning in terms of digital strategy and marketing, and we also discuss how microtargeting works in practice. You can follow Matt on Twitter @MattOczkowski.
The following shownotes are taken from a blog post about the podcast by American Majority, written by Nick McIntyre.
"2016 was the first year in which we saw candidates really start to use Snapchat as a platform for not only reaching voters with unique content, but also for limited information-capturing purposes. Snapchat is a social media platform that allows users to send/post photos and videos that disappear after a short period of time. This platform is especially popular amongst younger generations who use Snapchat as a more private social experience than Facebook or Twitter and can enjoy it with their peers only. The private and mobile aspect of Snapchat poses a challenge for political campaigns, who often rely on Google searches to drive traffic to their websites and other social media platforms.
Governor Scott Walker, an avid social media user, enjoyed using Snapchat in his brief presidential campaign to reach voters with different content than other platforms. Oczkowski noted that Walker was extremely authentic, and posted content “like your father” would, as opposed to artistic graphics and edited work. Voters valued authenticity highly in this last election, and Snapchat is a good visual platform for “raw” content. Likewise, the Trump campaign used Snapchat to show behind-the-scenes shots of campaign rallies to portray to magnitude of the “MAGA” movement.
Oczkowski used the term “platform agnostic” to describe his preferences on social media for campaigns. All this means is that campaigns will go to whichever platform the voters are on, and message to the demographic appropriately. In Snapchat’s case, this means reaching college age students and those under 35 – a demographic that conservatives have struggled to reach (and convince to vote) at times. New media is giving campaigns a way to capture information as well. One of the advantages of using Snapchat’s advertising feature is that it’s the only straightforward way to measure metrics from Snapchat, due to its private nature. By placing ads on Snapchat, you can track how many people you are reaching, and also give users the option to swipe up and submit their email addresses to the campaign. According to Oczkowski, both Walker and Trump collected tens and hundreds of thousands of emails from Snapchat alone. As Snapchat continues to implement revenue sources into the platform (like Facebook did), it will be interesting to see how they further incorporate advertising into the user experience. It poses an opportunity for future campaigns if offered better targeting and information-capturing, in addition to being a unique content platform.
On Targeting Microtargeting has been a part of campaigns for a long time, and even digital microtargeting has been around for close to a decade. However, as more information regarding individuals and their preferences have become available on the open market, tech integration has become more widespread. In 2012, Harper Reed and his team at Obama For America even developed an in-house platform called Narwhal, which integrated voter data from all of their digital information pieces. Companies now possess thousands of data points on individual voters, and campaigns purchase this information so that they can target their message to an individual voter more effectively. While this doesn’t replace the value of door-knocking and live voter contacts, it does give campaigns another avenue to message on certain issues. To paraphrase Oczkowski, gone are the days of “madmen” style advertising, where men would identify an issue or product and sit in a room to come up with an ad targeting a wide sect of the population. On information privacy, Oczkowski, a self-proclaimed libertarian-leaning conservative, noted that most citizens will choose convenience over privacy. The steps necessary to protect some personal information isn’t worth the cost for most consumers. Because U.S. data law is among the least-restrictive in the world, companies can legally collect and sell most basic consumer info.
One of the most interesting insights about Trump’s microtargeting was his travel schedule, which was based on algorithms and messaging. Many pundits critiqued Trump’s hectic rally schedule, but it was actually targeted. There was a “Cities to Visit” calculator that ranked possible destinations based on the density of persuadable voters and those with a high percentage of core supporters so that value at rallies would be maximized. This put Trump in areas like the suburbs of Pittsburgh, and states Ohio and Florida. It often put him in suburbs instead of large cities – a strategy some decried but proved effective in multiple Rust Belt states.
“Tech can’t fix bad candidates” Above all, a good campaign must combine good messaging with data. “Tech can’t fix bad candidates”, as Oczkowski pointed out. Hillary Clinton ran into this problem. The Clinton campaign tried to copy Obama’s team instead of coming up with a messaging strategy unique to Hillary Clinton. Regardless of how good your tech is, it won’t inspire people to vote for you if the message doesn’t resonate – it is merely gasoline for the fire. Trump had a campaign message that persuaded the right voters that he needed to win the electoral college.
The future for campaign targeting and social media is ever-changing. Facebook and Google still dominate the digital ad scene. Trump spent more on Facebook ads than any other digital platform. In addition, TV and traditional advertising still play a large role because it is still a way to reach high-propensity voters. As more of the electorate consumes news online, data collection and targeting will become even more important. Oczkowski is among a new generation of political operatives who specialize in data. “Nerds rule the world” has never been more true on campaigns, where traditionalist political consultants are being replaced by individuals who can prove their worth through actual metrics that lead to more votes directly. This market is still relatively new for everyone, and the campaigns that innovate and message most effectively will win elections, regardless of the platforms used."