“In truth, we don’t know why we won when the other two Democrats running similar campaigns against similar opponents lost in the same district, but it’s hard not to ascribe it to us spending 10 times more on Facebook and Instagram ads than our fellow Democrats did.”
— Rep. Sharon Shewmake
When Dr. Sharon Shewmake decided to run against a four-term incumbent for a state legislature seat, she knew she’d have to do something different than previous challengers. So when Shewmake and her team decided to make Facebook a central part of her campaign, they turned to ActionSprout to help them turn social impact into real-world votes.
Shewmake won an upset victory, flipping a key seat in the Washington legislature and achieving an impressive 12% improvement over the previous challenger — and she says her team’s effective leveraging of ActionSprout and Facebook were a key part of that win.
Here’s how they did it — and how you can learn from their success.
Serve the content your voters want
In the hustle of a campaign, it’s tempting to fill your Facebook page with the things you’re thinking about all day long: upcoming events, volunteer recruitment needs, or this month’s fundraising goals. But these are your priorities — not your voters’.
To engage people with stories that really affect them, it’s best to repost content from news sources and other Facebook pages. By framing the post with a little information about your stance on the topics in the story, you can educate people about your platform and show that you’re engaged with the issues at play in your community while also delivering a post your constituents genuinely care about.
Shewmake’s campaign used ActionSprout to identify and post one to three relevant news stories each day. Many stories were from local newspapers or radio stations, but just as often, they took a national story — the Kavanaugh confirmation or the gun safety debate — and successfully drew a connection to Shewmake’s district and how she would address that issue if elected.
This strategy ensured that stories were timely, relevant to voters, and centered around real issues, as opposed to self-promotion. Naturally, you can still post about fundraisers and events periodically, but when you tip the scales heavily toward news, you’ll have a bigger, more responsive audience for your calls to action when you do make them.
Harness the power of Facebook ads
Two-thirds of Facebook users say they get news from the platform — and much of that news is paid content. Facebook ads provide an unparalleled (and highly economical!) opportunity to reach voters with your message, whether for persuasion or GOTV.
Instead of publishing specific messages at predefined points in the campaign, Shewmake in 2018 opted for a flexible, responsive ad strategy backed by ActionSprout. And instead of sinking production dollars into making a few expensive political ads, the campaign used small amounts of spend to boost many posts that were already showing organic strength.
When an organic post — whether it was a reposted story, a selfie with a voter, or video from the campaign trail — showed good performance after 24 hours, Shewmake’s team would use $10 to $50 to boost its reach. Based on the nature of the content, they’d select one or more of a dozen Facebook audiences to promote it to. And if an ad was a hit with one audience, the team would often push it out to others.
By finding out which content was resonant with voters before allocating ad spend, the campaign was able to find and promote more messages that worked with more groups of voters — all while maintaining lower than average ad costs.
Furthermore, by reallocating funds from far more expensive traditional advertising channels to Facebook ads, the campaign maximized the number of contacts with individual voters, hitting each target with an average of 12 tailored messages.
Increase the impact of canvassing
“[ActionSprout] is the reason why so many folks know about Sharon when we knock on their doors. The ‘I’ve seen her on Facebook!’ is very common while canvassing!”
— Holly Knutson, campaign manager
Perhaps the biggest surprise for the Shewmake team was how much ActionSprout could support their doorbell efforts.
In the week before a canvassing push, the campaign specifically targeted the neighborhoods they planned to visit with Facebook content introducing Shewmake and what she stands for. The campaign and its volunteers saw a big effect. The ads softened the ground for doorbellers, who found that many voters were already familiar with (and friendly to) the campaign. Instead of having to start from scratch, they were able to reinforce name recognition and get deeper into Shewmake’s platform.
For candidates looking to get the maximum impact out of every volunteer hour and fundraising dollar, this is an essential tactic. Nothing tops in-person contact to get your message out, and ActionSprout can help you get the biggest impact from that crucial moment.
Foster a community
When you consistently share stories that speak to your voters, your campaign becomes about more than just you. It becomes a campaign about your community — and that’s a winning story. With its savvy social strategy, the Shewmake campaign pulled off an impressive victory and saw surprising results, such as lifelong Republicans approaching Shewmake with messages of support at events after seeing her Facebook content.
The campaign’s commitment to relevant stories encouraged real discussion (sometimes messy but almost always productive). Shewmake herself often used Facebook to respond directly to the concerns and questions that voters voiced in comments on the campaign’s posts. This let her meet those voters where they were — and, in many cases, bring them along and persuade them.
Even when an exchange may not have convinced an individual commenter, the conversation gave others a chance to see Shewmake’s approach to the interaction, her ability to listen and empathize, and her thought process. These person-to-person discussions allowed the candidate to show who she really is in a way that a traditional ad couldn’t have.
Reap the benefits long after Election Day
The end result of Shewmake’s digital strategy with ActionSprout was a healthy Facebook page that remains a valuable communications channel for Shewmake today. The page currently maintains excellent organic and viral distribution without ongoing paid promotion. Shewmake continues to use it as a way to speak directly with her constituents, and the page now provides a connection between her district and the work being done in the capital.
And when Shewmake runs for reelection as the incumbent in 2020, her network will be ready and waiting to rally behind her again.
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