Pandora chief executive Joe Kennedy hinted as much in the company's second quarter earnings on Aug. 29, noting that after a modest impact on earnings over the summer, he expects a greater third quarter earnings benefit from campaign ads. Kennedy cautioned political spending is unlikely to be a key earnings driver in the near-term, but acknowledged it could reveal the network's relevance to advertisers.
"It's not an insignificant amount, but it's not a huge amount either," Kennedy said of an earnings boost. "The fact that we enable the ability to target geographically and demographically is highly attractive to political advertisers just as it is to virtually every other form of advertising," Kennedy told analysts.
Among the hurdles are whether social networks can prove that their data, user feedback and easily targeted audiences are a differentiating factor from traditional broadcast. The mobile presence of Facebook, Pandora and Twitter give them location-based advertising vehicles coveted by political campaigns trying to win battleground states or congressional districts, which may be borne out this election and prove relevant to corporate advertisers.
"Every two years you have some fairly large election season in terms of ad spending. The general trend I would expect is for social media to be in the limelight," says Martin Pyykkonen, a senior research analyst at Wedge Partners. In rough and tumble politics, Pyykkonen highlights Twitter as best positioned to draw campaign ad dollars because users consume policy substance on the 140 million user social network. In contrast, politics can be awkward subject mater on Facebook, which is less "newsy" and more of a way to keep in touch with friends and family, adds Pyykkonen.
Pachter of Wedbush also highlights privately-held Twitter as the platform best positioned to capture political ad dollars. Recent Obama and Romney-promoted tweets filtering through Twitter streams may be an indication that the platform can bridge paid-politics with social networking, without alienating users. Twitter's recently rolled out "promoted tweets" -- where a campaign or company sends out a tweet to selected users -- earns Twitter between $2.50 to $4.00 in revenue per new follower to the promoted tweet, according to Pachter's estimates.
Election season may also grab the attention of corporate advertisers. For instance, Pyykkonen says Facebook needs to prove to advertisers it can deliver packaged ad solutions. Google, he says, proved its mettle early on with successful packages for the likes of
Procter & Gamble
that made its appeal to corporate accounts apparent.
In a review of second quarter earnings, Nomura analyst Brian Nowak noted that sponsored pages on Facebook drove revenue per user growth. "Sponsored stories are a small but rapidly growing part of FB's business... This is encouraging as it implies sponsored stories would represent 9% of total ad [revenue] in the third quarter," wrote Nowak in a note to clients.
If social networks can demonstrate consumers acting on "likes" and "tweets" of ads, Pachter of Wedbush says Twitter and Facebook could eventually implement a charge to corporations with, for example, 1 million likes or followers, creating predictable revenue without disturbing ordinary users.
Earlier in September, Twitter chief executive Dick Costolo
Charlie Rose that the platform is now a must for candidates in the heat of an election. "It's no longer the case that the campaign can analyze tonight's debates, go out and poll, and then issue a press release tomorrow. They have to do that right away because people are on Twitter reacting to it as it happens," said Costolo.