If you heard a distant roaring sound on Wednesday, it was probably the collective sigh of relief from every digital political consultant in the United States. Around mid-day, Facebook sent an email to political ad agencies announcing that it was relaxing its ban on political and issue ads starting March 4th (details here).
I’m happy for three reasons. First, my clients and other political actors will be free to promote their campaigns and causes again — functionally, to be able to compete in what amounts to a pay-to-play marketplace of ideas. Second, friends of mine will continue to have jobs. Third, I don’t have to write about Facebook’s damn ad ban any more! For now, at least.
We’ve discussed ad nauseum the damage the ban caused to grassroots advocacy groups, nonprofits and down-ballot campaigns, but it seriously affected the business of digital politics and advocacy, too. Few people will shed tears for a bunch of political consultants, but Facebook ads also support the companies that help nonprofits of all stripes. My own consulting business doesn’t depend on Facebook advertising to survive (though it’s fun work when it comes in), but plenty of others do. Without ads to manage, the industry wouldn’t be able to pay the salaries of as many of the staff who make world of politics and advocacy function in practice.
The result? Delayed advocacy initiatives, slow hiring at some consulting shops and a lot of bad email fundraising practices. Why the latter? Cut off from Facebook lead generation ads, too many campaigns paid for existing lists instead, barraging new “supporters” without even buying them a drink first. With lead-gen ads back, consultants and campaigns have an incentive to sweet-talk potential donors again rather than buying their names in bulk, since someone who chooses to join a list is usually far more likely to give money than someone who ended up on it without their consent. Better lists, better relationships, better content…better politics.
In an ideal world, we wouldn’t have to pay to play at all, of course — good ideas and good candidates would naturally rise to the top. But we live in the world the tech vendors have created, and big budgets always seem to find a way around the limits the little guys have to live with. Now, we at least have a chance to reach people on Facebook and Instagram again, two of the main places Americans choose to spend their digital time. It’s on us to make our work worth their while.