One common response to the news that a Kremlin-linked online operation in Russia bought $100,000 worth of Facebook ads during the 2016 election campaign has been that the money is a drop in the bucket relative to the more than $1 billion spent on ads during the cycle, or the $27 billion in revenue earned by Facebook last year. But as one of a handful of Americans who managed the digital operations of a 2016 presidential campaign, I think $100,000 smartly spent on Facebook could have a much larger reach than you may realize. And more importantly, nobody — not the political pros, or the advertising gurus — truly knows how far a message spreads when Facebook is paid to promote it. The social network still contains many mysteries, even to those pouring millions into it. What I do know, from managing the digital operations for Gov. John Kasich’s campaign, is how the game was played in 2016. So how much impact would $100,000 of advertising have on Facebook during the cycle? The short answer is…that completely depends on how large the targeted audience was, and how long the campaigns were running.
Let’s make some very conservative estimates, for argument’s sake. For a nationally targeted campaign, assume the Russians paid $0.50 per click, and they were the deploying the kind of super click-bait ads that are specifically designed to catch people’s attention on Facebook. I can see that kind of campaign producing roughly 10 million impressions — meaning the number of times it could have been seen in somebody’s Facebook timeline — and 200,000 clicks, using another conservative estimate of a 2% click-through-rate.
Those 200,000 clicks could mean a number of things: either sharing the content, commenting on it, clicking through to a new website — maybe a “news” site loaded with more hyper-clicky headlines, each designed to cause emotional reactions and in some instances, outright mislead voters (remember when #FakeNews was really about fake news?).