How Kenya’s politicians can manipulate Facebook, Twitter to win elections

Just about all presidential aspirants in Kenya have embraced social media, ahead of the 2013 elections. Social media can enable targeting ads and pushing messages to the right voters at the right time, with targeted advertising an immensely influential tool that can accumulate followers organically while actively engaging them.

In this article, we look at the advertising potential offered by Facebook and Twitter, two of the most used social networking sites in Kenya.

Current statistics show Kenya has more than 1.9 million active Facebook users, some 5 percent of the country’s population and nearly 48 percent of the country’s Internet users –positioning the nation at 66th in the world ranking of the site’s top users by country.

Facebook flaunts a self-serve ad platform that allows advertisers to target people based on aspects including interest, age or religion. It makes it easy to narrow down the audience to those inclined to be more receptive to the messages.

The profile, however, remains anonymous, with any protected or private info invisible, so that the politician can only see the estimated number of users reached. Facebook suggests targeting groups of not less than 1,000 users, that could require expanding targeting criteria.

The social networking site also allows advertisers to target users based on interests they have included in profiles. In this case, a Kenyan politician could target users who are interested in politics. He could also tailor his target by political identification, for instance people who identify themselves with certain parties, such as PNU, ODM, TNA, ODM Kenya, POA or KNC, would be targeted by those parties.

Additional demographic information such as gender age or marital status are also be crucial aspects that can be applied to target users. By education targeting, people who have attained a certain level of learning can be targeted, or those from certain schools and colleges. Those who have graduated from certain schools in specific years also supply additional criteria for targeting.

Regional targeting has been the popular option in most of the political campaigns. For instance, within the United States, Facebook allows targeting by state, city or zip code. Recently, it added ethnic targeting option.

Politicians can take advantage of the site’s targeting facility to segment their audience into various groups from which they can distribute tailored ads. For instance, single women in Nairobi who identify as university graduates and have children will receive different messages from those sent to single non-college-educated women in Kisumu.

Studies have showed that Twitter users tend to be more inclined towards politics. Further, the social networking site has proved to be more leaning towards political discourse than Facebook.

Head of Twitter’s political sales team Peter Greenberger once told Politico that promoted tweets have proved significantly more successful than the average brand’s promoted tweets.

”For corporate advertisers, between 1 percent and 3 percent of Twitter users will engage with a Promoted Tweet by clicking, retweeting, replying to or marking it as a favorite. But with political Promoted Tweets, that number is as high as 20 percent,” he said.

Twitter’s advertising is a newer territory – comparatively — for brands, only recently has it started serving politicians. The site has limited demographic targeting compared to Facebook. However, politicians can target their ads based on region, search behaviour or device.

The site features three forms of advertising, namely tweets, promoted hashtags and promoted accounts, which the politician can subscribe to, to enable specific tweets to be visible within the Twitter users’ feeds or in search results for the keywords selected – even if the users do not follow him on Twitter.

The politician could probably wager on having the promoted tweets appear within the search results as it makes it easy for people to find his tweet relevant.

By promoting his account, the politician’s Twitter account becomes a follower suggestion for users who Twitter thinks may be interested in following him, as well those who search the keywords he selected. He can as well promote a hashtag to initiate a conversation on a subject of choice. However, it is most likely to miscarry, as it does not engage targeting.

Twitter also permits targeting by region, making it possible to serve promoted tweets to users in certain areas although the service is not as granular as Facebook’s zipcode targeting.

Twitter recently announcedit would be serving ads on mobile in addition to enabling targeting by device. This permits service of ads purposely to mobile devices, laptops, desktops. The politician can as well target by mobile device that serves ads specifically to Android or iOS devices.

While the politician using Twitter may lack Facebook’s rich demographic targeting, the benefits from behavioral targeting that has proved even more powerful. Twitter users who have made searches within the site are said to be in active search of information. This means a user is more likely to be engaged once the promoted tweet proves relevant.

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