We had an important local issue in my town that required some civic activism. The gas collection system at the county landfill at the edge of town failed, resulting in the release of hydrogen sulfide gas. While most of the issues have been repaired, the mayor was holding a town hall about it.
I wanted to raise awareness of this issue and get people to come and ask questions. As an educational experience, I went through the process of running a political issue ad on Facebook. Here is what I learned.
Setup a page and create an advertiser account
First, you set up a page for your cause. You will also need an ad account. It helps to have a website with a domain name.
Get your advertiser account authorized to run political issue ads
Here is where things get interesting. It used to be that anyone could run anonymous and potentially misleading political ads without identifying themselves. Various foreign actors such as Russian intelligence took advantage of this and spread disinformation about the 2016 election.
Things are more complicated now.
All political ads on Facebook identify who paid for them. Furthermore, Facebook has machine learning to flag potentially misleading and dangerous political ads. Facebook has created a reasonably reliable process to verify the identity and location of advertisers behind the political commercials.
You will need to provide Facebook with a scan of your US driver license or passport. Facebook performs some image recognition to extract identity information from the scan. Then, they ask you additional questions about your identity that only you can answer like how banks do it when approving credit. If all things match, you get a temporary authorization, and you can run your ad.
The ads will say “Paid for by…” and include either your name or the name of your company. In the case of the ad I ran, I used my own name. The reason for that was because I wanted the target audience of my ad to be assured that I am their neighbor and not some nebulous entity.
Meanwhile, Facebook will send you a postcard to the address you provided. When you receive the letter, you have to enter the code on the card. That completes your authorization process.
Running the ad and results
The issue in my ad was a very local issue. It impacted neighborhoods within 3-5 mile radius from the landfill. I did not need to run a statewide or even countywide ad.
For $20 over four days I was able to reach almost 7000 people within specific zip codes most impacted by the pollution from the landfill malfunction. So many people showed up for the town hall hearing that many had to stand.
Some final thoughts
The ability to reach a targeted audience at a meager cost on Facebook is impressive. Your ads get placed across all Facebook products including Instagram, so you end up reaching folks who don’t use the main Facebook platform.
I am happy to see Facebook solidify and tighten their advertiser vetting process. The lack of anonymity and identity verification makes it harder to spread fake news and propaganda with impunity.