The Tories spending £100,000 a month on Facebook should not come as a surprise
When the Today programme this morning covered the story that the Conservatives were paying £100,000 a month to Facebook, there was a definite sense of incredulity on the part of the presenters. My take? I was incredulous at this incredulity.
In a way, it's a typical traditional media response to a digital story. With the official start of the election campaign looming, this was just the opening salvo of what is sure to be a barrage of stories about the potential of social to affect the outcome – all likely to be tinged with a sense of surprise, but little delight.
But this really is nothing new. At the time of the last election, the Tories had 100,000 fans on Facebook, while the fact that the Liberal Democrats had almost as many (90,000) was testament to the Lib Dems' effective use of the platform – particularly following the leadership debates.
However, contrast that with the US, where Barack Obama had more than 2 million digital friends when he was first elected President in 2008. So was it a coincidence that one of his campaign strategists was 24-year-old Chris Hughes – who happened to be a Harvard roommate (and then a business partner) of Mark Zuckerberg?
Four years later, the Obama campaign spent $47m on digital – and there shouldn’t be any surprise about that at all, because it’s incredibly effective.
Elections have always been about targeting specific people – Mondeo Men for Tony Blair, Soccer Moms for Bill Clinton – and the more cost-effectively you can do that, the better. They are won and lost in the margins. There’s no point in appealing to everyone – many people will never vote for you, whatever you say; you just need to talk to the people who might.
What social channels offer campaigners is a level of precision never seen before. With the reams of data available to the likes of Facebook, the scope to target a campaign, to tailor a message to tiny segments of the electorate is immense. You can quite literally target men who drive Ford Mondeos, or mothers whose sons play football on Saturday mornings.
And, yes, this type of precise targeting costs money. But the £100,000 the Tory party are spending each month on Facebook is a drop in the ocean when compared to its entire campaign budget.
This is likely to be the year that spend on digital advertising outstrips that on traditional, so surely the bigger story and righteous indignation should be about the staggering sums that will be spent on outdoor or TV advertising over the next 90 days.
Jon Davie is UK CEO of digital agency Zone. He tweets @JonDavie