Will the 2012 Election Be a Hyperlocal Breakthrough?

Hyperlocal can be “a true tipping point in an election,” said a manager of online political campaigns at the Street Fight Summit in New York on October 26.

With campaigns increasing their targeting efforts, hyperlocal may provide the ultimate context for political messages, especially in swing municipalities and highly contested territory.

“It’s really, really important, because 31 congressional races [in 2010] were won by four points or less. While campaigns can continue to ignore online, they do so at their own peril. There is growing evidence that online can move votes,” said Rich Masterson, chairman of CampaignGrid, an online advertising platform for campaigns, pointing to a recent study his firm conducted with Google that demonstrated online hyperlocal could move polls significantly. “In use of hyperlocal targeting, we moved the polls four points,” he said.

As digital political content rises in popularity, it is starting to rival television as the key source where people get information about candidates and form opinions.

From left: Dumenco, Masterson, Josephson, Finn and Tolles

Masterson participated in a panel discussion on “Hyperlocal and the 2012 Election” that also included Mark Josephson, SVP of revenue at AOL Local; Chris Tolles, CEO of Topix; and Mindy Finn, then a partner at the interactive agency EngageDC, and now the newest member of Twitter’s team; and was moderated by Simon Dumenco from Advertising Age. (Watch the full video at the bottom of this post.)

The panelists discussed the way hyperlocals are gearing up to leverage their content and constituencies, and the political ad market that has already found its way into the hyperlocal market.

“It all of a sudden becomes a place where there’s a lot more inventory — the folks who are buying it are looking for good places for it, so those of us in publishing-land have the opportunity to try to create a good home for that,” said Tolles. Elections are always a high point for the year for his seven-year-old hyperlocal network, he said, generating a huge amount of both ad spending and of consumer interest. And because of the rising demand for space in key districts, elections also tend to raise prices for regular advertisers, according to Tolles.

Finn didn’t think that 2012 would be a “hockey stick moment,” when local would suddenly explode, but she did think the trajectory was headed up, and perhaps 2014 would be the year when local mircotargeting by campaigns would really become dominant.

At AOL’s Patch network of hyperlocals, individual local sites are already seeing ad spend from smaller local campaigns and ballot initiatives, said Josephson. AOL, in turn, has created specific election packages town-by-town to reflect the key issues of the area and draw ad dollars from contentious campaigns.  He noted that AOL has created 30 Patch sites in key swing states in order to take advantage of the national election spend — which will also be used editorially to feed national coverage by Patch’s AOL sibling (or step-parent?) The Huffington Post.

Josephson noted that in a Patch town, four percentage points could equal as few as 500 people: “If you think about winning or losing a congressional seat or ballot initiative by 500 people, can you identify 10,000 people who might be swing voters in a certain region? Yes, you can.” He also suggested that hyperlocal sites were able to spur voter turnout by getting educating people about the issues.

But given the sophistication of today’s ad targeting, hyperlocals that aren’t part of a major network, like AOL, Yahoo or Microsoft, aren’t likely to see dollars specifically directed to their sites by name.

Given the amount of data online, Masterson noted, campaigns are often buying impressions in front of specific, very-highly-targeted individuals who have been identified as swing voters in the correct places, not on a local level at a small neighborhood-level site. “You have to be part of the ecosystem that allows us to use big data to reach a highly targeted audience,” he said.

Below is a full-length video of the panel. (Skip to different sections using the chapter segments on the navigation bar at the bottom.)

Video software provided by FrameSocket.

Click here for more coverage of Street Fight Summit 2011.

  1. November 8, 2011

    When political advertising can target literally down to the precinct level in hyperlocal content that is relevant to a specific community, that is powerful.  This dynamic needs to be offered at scale across the US for it to be efficient from a media buying perspective.  That is what we are building at Local Yokel Media.     

  2. November 8, 2011

    Dick, sorry to have missed you at the conference.  You missed a fun panel!

  3. November 8, 2011

    This country is growing increasingly split down the middle in terms of how we vote Republican or Democrat. Really politicians in many communities are vying for that 5-10 percent who have no affliation.

  4. mikefly1352@netzero.com Mike F
    November 8, 2011

    This is a great article –I’m living what your talking about and it’s great!    It changes the playing field -because now smarth is everything inpolitical targeting.  And if you don’t surround yourself with a guy like me your going to lose.

    Mike Flynn MCM

  5. Anonymous
    November 8, 2011

    At some point hyperlocal content may make a legitimate impact. Currently the influence is very limited because I think we still lacking a good hyperlocal outlet. All credibility for me is lost anytime  the Topix company is involved. Topix has a deserved reputation as a gossip site and bullying site. Just today there was yet another story out of Arkansas this time about vicious bullying going on with Topix. Tons of communities are up in arms about the site and some have even tried to pass ordiances against the company. In my state, our Attorney General has stated he gets more complaints about Topix than any site combined. You have got to do better than that. The majority of Topix users go on that site to bully and nothing else. Topix is the last site I would look to but political discussion because it would be nothing but attacks. When Tolles and company clean up their site, start requiring registration of users, and monitor comments better maybe then people will start using the site for information. Right now it is pure trash and any politican who would knowingly advertise on that type of site would lose my vote and many others in a heartbeat. Read the NY Times article about Topix sometime. 

  6. November 9, 2011

    For me hyperlocal has a place depending on the validity of the site. I really like what AOL is trying to do, but have to concur with another poster, Topix shouldn’t be a part of this article because it is nothing more than than the National Inquirer of the internet and continue to show no desire to have a quality site that backs up its often vile content. To me, if you want in the political game you have to be a site that can be take seriously. The first thing that company ought to do is only allow comments on aggregated legit newsstories and if a citizen wants to post something it get cleared before going out.

  7. November 11, 2011

    @markjosephson:disqus this is definitely going to be a big area in the coming election, and more importantly the trend of citizenry deliberation over election issues online is here to stay.

    @Patch has a big opportunity in this space.

  8. Martil
    December 6, 2011

    For over ten years,
    the veterans at LION New Media have promoted local/hyperlocal online publishing
    as the most effective media through which to “move the needle” with the
    undecided voter.   

    While not “at the
    table,”  LION could have “written the
    book” on this.  If you, or a campaign you
    know of, is aiming at a hyper-local audience, LION is the expert at planning,
    executing and analyzing this strategy….not just through Patch or Topix or
    Examiner sites but also through trusted local TV, newspaper and radio news
    sites.  We have a great track record
    managing  both state and local campaigns
    in communities throughout the US. 

  9. Tell it like it is
    December 27, 2011

    A “breakthrough”? A “true” tipping point? And how is that tipping to be engineered? Topix is loaded with tea party trolls. They are taking advantage of the lax rules, to post racism, hatred and lies, like never before. Real threats of violence are posted, to the president, his family, to other posters. Slander of political figures, is common. Is this what Streetfight is endorsing?  Is this what the political advertisers on Topix are paying for?

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