Campaigns and Elections magazine honors Sen. Toomey’s savvy use of social media ads

 U.S. Senator Pat Toomey beat out Democratic challenger Katie McGinty in what was the most expensive Senate race ever. (Lindsay Lazarski/WHYY)

U.S. Senator Pat Toomey beat out Democratic challenger Katie McGinty in what was the most expensive Senate race ever. (Lindsay Lazarski/WHYY)

Remember when Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign broke new ground for its online voter outreach efforts?

Now, the campaign of Republican Pennsylvania U.S. Senator Pat Toomey is being recognized for its digital strategy in Toomey’s narrow re-election win last year.

Every year the trade magazine Campaigns and Elections hands out the equivalent of Oscars for political messaging, and Toomey’s online and social media efforts just won three awards:

Best Use of Social Media for Statewide Campaign
Best Use of Online Targeting for Statewide Campaign
Best Online Advertising Campaign

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Mark Harris, a partner in the firm Cold Spark Media and a consultant to the Toomey campaign, told me the team starting working on a digital strategy nearly two years before the re-election campaign.

“We committed a lot of resources to building the advertising online database infrastructure we needed to run a program that could talk to individual voters about issues that mattered to them,” he said.

Social media can permit advertisers to pitch very targeted messages to computer users if the advertisers can figure out what the individual users care about.

Harris said they built a database on the profiles and views of swing voters, then targeted content that would appear on their Facebook, Instagram, or Snapchat screens in the closing months of the campaign.

“You know, a lot of campaigns will just take their TV ads and run them online,” Harris said. “But we developed hundreds and hundreds of pieces of content.”

“So someone who cares about animal welfare issues might see, over the course of that three months 10, 12, 14 pieces of different content promoting the senator’s position on that issue,” Harris said.

The campaign spent about $2.8 million on digital advertising, and more in staff time implementing the program, according to Harris. 

“The research that we did afterward showed that it was a very effective way for us to cut through the clutter and reach voters,” he said.

Toomey beat Democrat Katie McGinty by a little less than 1.5 percentage points.

After the election, Facebook cited the effectiveness of the Toomey campaign’s efforts in promoting its advertising products.

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