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Clinton, Sanders fine tune social media as primary arrives

A post on Hillary Clinton's facebook page.
Source: Hillary Clinton | Facebook
A post on Hillary Clinton's facebook page.

As politicians scrambled to get last-minute votes during the New Hampshire primary, they looked to digital media to help turn politically interested online users into committed campaign supporters. The state's voters are notorious for making 11th-hour decisions.

Bernie Sanders hoped that Snapchat filters, effects that can be put over photos, would compel millennials to get out and vote. The campaign bought regional-based filters for nine days in Iowa and five days in New Hampshire. Sources say the pricey ads can run five figures a day, with a full campaign buy running around $200,000 to $300,000.

"Bernie has had a great message for the time that we're in right now. It resonates a lot with millennials and others. We're just trying to make sure that people are seeing that message," said Keegan Goudiss, partner and head of advertising at Revolution Messaging, which is leading Sanders' digital efforts.

According to research firm Borrell Associates, digital media ad spending during the 2016 political election is expected to exceed $1 billion, a 5,000 percent increase from 2008.

When it comes to reaching the masses, Facebook is still the best social tool. Goudiss said out of the major platforms, Facebook excelled at helping Sanders identify which users cared about the same issues he was campaigning for, and then helping him post advertising that those people would see.

"I believe that one of the fastest growing demographics on Facebook are people 55 and up," Goudiss said. "We're trying to reach out to everybody who cares about (Sanders') message, people who care about these issues."

Officials with the Hillary Clinton campaign said their strategy included utilizing platforms like Facebook and Twitter, with a heavier influence on Facebook due to its large user base.

"The most voters by far are on Facebook," a Clinton campaign official said. "In terms of the raw numbers alone, Facebook will be our first preoccupation. Twitter is a much more immediate platform for participating in the day-to-day, often minute-to-minute political dialogue."

As of December, Facebook had 1.04 billion active daily users worldwide, 934 million of whom accessed the platform on mobile each day. In preparation for the 2016 election, the site introduced an ad product that would allow politicians to match voter profiles to Facebook profiles. The company also makes it easy for campaigns interested in Facebook to buy on its other social media platform, Instagram.

The campaigns say Twitter, on the other hand, is made for live conversations during buzzy moments. It allows candidates to reach hand-picked voters and influencers, whether that's people who visited their campaign websites or influential reporters. Presidential hopefuls can then show those specific Twitter users their advertising during important moments.

"Politics unfolds on Twitter, so candidates and PACs can deliver content to the right person at the exact right time," said Jenna Golden, who heads Twitter's political advertising team. "Our targeting capabilities provide candidates the ability to reach someone who is tweeting positively about the candidate live, and convert them into donors or supporters."

Then there's Snapchat, which has the youngest user base of the three main social media platforms being used this election. Candidates can do everything from buying video ads stitched between public user live story content or sponsor photo filters as Sanders has done.

Snapchat also is trying to make its users more politically minded through its own video series Good Luck America, which looks at American politics. The episode release schedule is tied to key political events, like the New Hampshire primary. The show itself is not sponsored, but candidates could have the ability to buy advertising around and during the show in the future.

However, a source with knowledge of Clinton's strategy said her campaign is no longer focused on reaching millennials through social media, conceding them for now as overwhelming Sanders supporters. Part of the reasoning was in some states, millennials made up a minute percentage of voters and were not worth the cost of advertising.

The source added that while Clinton's campaign still found digital media important, ad buys on millennial-focused platforms like Snapchat were no longer prioritized. Not only are Snapchat ads expensive, they have a limited ability to reach specific groups of voters compared with ad offerings from Facebook, Google /YouTube or Twitter. In addition, the campaign feared that Sanders supporters would just use Clinton-sponsored Snapchat filters to make fun of her.

Clinton has had several backfires on social media, notably when she asked her followers to tweet three emojis to describe their feelings about college debt. Twitter users did not respond kindly.

Clinton's campaign did not respond to requests for comment, but explained that their digital strategy is more encompassing than just millennials.

"We don't see social as our kind of millennial channel," said a senior official on the Clinton campaign. "We see it as our way to reach everybody."