Candidates, PACs, and issue advocacy organizations are in a state of limbo as Facebook and Google continue to prohibit political advertising on their platforms, a core function of digital campaigning.
The “pause” was announced shortly before Election Day in October 2020. Facebook and Google both alluded to the fact the ban was to prevent candidates from prematurely or erroneously claiming victory.
Facebook and Google briefly resumed political ads during the Georgia Senate Runoffs, but paused them again after polls had closed. Since January 5, 2021, Facebook has not permitted any advertising about “politics issues of national importance.” Google has similarly reinstituted its prohibition.
The platforms’ restrictions on political advertising are overly broad. Not only are candidates and PACs prohibited from paid promotion on these sites, but so are non profits and issue advocacy groups.
This means candidates – including those in states with elections this year – cannot pay to promote list building, online fundraising, persuasion, or awareness. And the internet is practically off limits for groups advocating for or against policies during the crucial first 100 days of the Biden administration.
As of this writing, there is no known deadline for the resumption of ads.
Will They Return?
Both Republicans and Democrats rely heavily on paid advertising on Facebook and Google for building their campaigns and reaching voters. The longer the tech giants hold out on reactivating the ads, the more unwanted attention they will bring to the fact that, combined, the two companies account for 60% of all online advertising dollars spent globally.
Similarly, both companies will face pressure from shareholders to capture profits from the multi-billion dollar political advertising industry. However, there remain concerns that the “pause” will turn into a permanent ban, completely altering campaigns’ digital strategies.
Though timing is uncertain, it’s possible that political ads are part of forthcoming changes to Facebook’s Pages product.
Alternatives to Paid Ads
Of course this game of ‘wait and see’ doesn’t help candidates and their campaigns, so what should you do in the meantime?
- Remain active on Facebook, including with list building posts. Voters are still using the platform heavily, but some estimates suggest organic reach is limited to just 5.2% of a Page’s followers. Facebook’s recent decision to de-prioritize political content in news feeds may negatively impact this further.
This means you’ll need to post more frequently to appear more often. Aim for posting at least 5 times a day with 2 list building posts included.
- Divert list building budget to peer to peer (P2P) texting. Waiting until Facebook resumes political advertising means missing out on early fundraising and time spent nurturing your list.
Use money you would have otherwise spent on Facebook advertising to get SMS and email opt-ins from voters in your area with P2P texting.
- Invest time (and resources if needed) in organic search engine optimization (SEO). 57% of persuadable voters rely on search engines like Google to get information about candidates and elections, but without paid search ads, you still need to ensure your site appears on the first page.
For websites built with WordPress, Yoast offers an excellent plugin to improve your search results and rankings.
We don’t know when or if political ads on Facebook or Google will resume but these platforms remain crucial to digital campaigning.