Facebook Helps South Dakota Mayor Win Race

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Last June, relatively unknown politician Sam Kooiker decided to run for Mayor of Rapid City, SD. The two-term incumbent mayor of the town of 70,000 was already a household name, and had quite a bit more campaign funds than Kooiker did - but in the end, this didn't matter, as Kooiker won regardless. And his use of Facebook and a targeted advertising strategy are what did it.

Kooiker couldn't afford a TV ad run, so he'd hired a local company called Straightforward Interactive to devise a different strategy. Statistics had shown that the majority of adult residents of Rapid City were on Facebook, as well as their demographics. Straightforward's Josh Barsch advised Kooiker that the best way to reach potential voters was through a custom-tailored social network strategy. Barsch and Kooiker were then able to pick out 30 different demographics within their town, and advertise to each with a specific web advertisement.

Potential voters were first identified and isolated by age, with ads specific to 18-year-olds, then 19-year-olds, and so on. Ads were directed at local law enforcement, then toward a radio station group followed by the Native American community in the area. An ad concerning the hardships senior citizens face was sent off to Facebook users 60 and over, and ads concerning environmental protection were geared towards those users indicating they like the outdoors. "Instead of talking at people as political campaigns often do, we engaged with them through Facebook with adverts that were humorous and spoke to them," Kooiker said.

Kooiker adds, "the results were earth shaking. It's the difference between the telegraph and the cell phone." Kooiker spent about $80K on his campaign altogether, about $40K less than his opponent, Alan Hanks, who'd opted for tradition TV advertising. When the results came in, Kooiker was ahead by 400 votes, proving that relatively unknown citizens who are are unversed in the seedy world of politics could have a hand in democracy. Barsch claims the targeted Facebook campaign cost roughly $3K, but asserts that it turned the tide in the election. This is likely true, as Kooiker's online campaign ads garnered almost 9 million web impressions.

Barsch went on to say, "targeted social media campaigns are going to happen everywhere, even at a very local level, even in a small town in the hinterland of the United States."