Will the 2012 Election Be a Hyperlocal Breakthrough?

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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.