Trump spent $44 million on Facebook advertising during the last five months of the 2016 race, or around $2 million a week, according to an internal Facebook report obtained in 2018 by Bloomberg News. And for his re-election, he chose as his 2020 campaign manager Brad Parscale, the person who ran his internet operation four years ago.
In a sense, Trump has a four-year head start on the Democrats, and his style sometimes seems like a natural fit for social media.
“Part of the reason I think Trump has been successful on Facebook is he knows how to engage and entertain users. He knows how to use humor and drama in ways that a lot of traditional politicians struggle with,” said Tim Cameron, a Republican political consultant who’s not involved on the presidential level this year.
“You have to elicit some sort of emotion — whether that’s laughter or sadness, anger or elation — to really have people engage with your content on social media,” he said.
By contrast, Bloomberg tends to play things safe, Cameron said, even if he did build a media company and get elected mayor three times. “All these things can’t be discounted,” he said.
While Bloomberg has already shown a willingness to spend big on television, his campaign staffing has made clear that the online world is a priority for him. Bloomberg’s digital operation, Hawkfish, is stacked with Silicon Valley veterans, including longtime Facebook chief marketing officer Gary Briggs and Jeff Glueck, former CEO of location-tracking firm Foursquare. On Monday, Bloomberg’s campaign asked hundreds of tech leaders on a conference call to send him even more of their colleagues, Recode reported.
The scale of what the Bloomberg campaign is doing on Facebook already bests that of some Fortune 100 companies, said Nick Venezia, managing director of Social Outlier, a marketing agency in Los Angeles that specializes in data-driven campaigns.
Venezia said that the amount of money Bloomberg is spending can have an impact on the Trump campaign.
“He’s going to be taking eyeballs away from Trump. He’s making it so that he’s pushing him out of the auction,” he said. Ads on Facebook are sold in real-time auctions, with the winner chosen based on several factors including bid and what a Facebook user wants to see.
The goal with online ads isn’t always to win people’s hearts and minds, experts said. Sometimes it’s to raise money, find volunteers, gather email addresses or give existing supporters the ammunition to talk up their candidate to friends and family.
Bloomberg jumped into the race in November, so he’s had less time than his Democratic rivals to do all those things before Super Tuesday.
But he’s got a shot at catching up because Facebook, despite its problems, is still a place where most Americans spend time. And he has the cash to buy a lot of ads there.
“Most campaigns are a series of difficult decisions on resource allocation and making very strategic decisions about what you’re going to strengthen and what your weaknesses are going to be,” Cameron said. “Bloomberg doesn’t have to make those decisions.”
It remains to be seen how the buttoned-up former New York City mayor will fare on social media, an arena that favors unscripted moments, outrage and inside jokes and memes.
Facebook ads barely existed the last time Bloomberg ran for office — his third mayoral run in 2009. Ads didn’t come to the Facebook news feed until 2012.
And his biggest internet moment so far this election may have been one he didn’t intend: Bloomberg greeting a dog by the snout.
“Trump will be more aggressive and more cutthroat with his campaigns. Bloomberg’s going to come more from a good place and not be as dirty,” Venezia said.
On Facebook, he added, “It’s a lot easier to get people to jump behind a negative message than a positive one.”
Joe Murphy contributed.