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Raila Odinga and William Ruto coalitions splash millions on Facebook campaigns

Raila Odinga and William Ruto campaign billboards. [File, Standard]

Politicians are spending millions of shillings on Facebook direct marketing campaigns, with users in Nairobi, Rift Valley and Central being the top targeted areas.

The social media tool is helping politicians catch the attention of voters as the country gears for the August 9 General Election that will see 16,100 aspirants contest different seats. Data from social networking giant Meta, which owns the Facebook platform, shows that political digital adverts targeting Nairobi region between March 11, 2021, and July 15, 2022, cost Sh3.31 million.

The adverts targeting users in Nairobi, which is home to 2.4 million registered voters, were followed by Rift Valley (Sh1.23 million), Central Kenya (Sh822,932) and Coast (Sh738,745). That of Eastern was Sh562.919.

The spending on digital platforms in the five regions mirrors the physical campaigns, with politicians also having prioritised these regions with political rallies.

Azimio la Umoja presidential candidate Raila Odinga and Kenya Kwanza’s William Ruto have led their coalitions in traversing the country and also using Facebook to reinforce their messages. This will be the third election for Kenya with Facebook platform in existence. The platform became a centre of focus after revelations that it was heavily relied on by Cambridge Analytica in President Uhuru Kenyatta’s 2013 and 2017 campaigns.

Cambridge Analytica was disbanded in 2018 in the wake of data privacy scandals in the US and UK. A senior executive was captured by a secret camera boasting of their exploits in what confirmed that social media campaigns were becoming crucial in swaying the direction of elections.

“The Kenyatta campaign which we ran in 2013 and 2017. We have rebranded the entire party twice, written their manifestos, done two rounds of 50,000 surveys,” a Cambridge Analytica director told undercover reporters posing as potential clients.

“Then we’d write all the speeches and stage the whole thing just about every element of his campaign.”

With 20 days to the elections, politicians are entering the last leg of a grueling campaign season in what has become the most crowded electoral contest in the country’s history.

The vast majority of ads placed by politicians target users of between the ages of 25 and 34 and almost all of them are geo-specific.

Breaking news

Kenya has more than 12 million users of Facebook and the social media platform is ubiquitous in many parts of the country as a source of breaking news and social commentary.  

A total of 16,100 aspirants have been cleared to run for elective seats from the county to the national level out of which 4,526 are seeking to be elected on an independent platform.

As campaign caravans line up streets and shopping centers across the country, politicians have also trained their guns on social media hoping to woe a younger demographic of new voters into their fold.

Meta’s data indicates that politicians and their campaign managers have poured millions of shillings to place highly targeted political ads on Facebook and Instagram.

Between February 2021 and July 2022, more than 535 ads featuring the United Democratic Movement (UDA) or its aspirants were placed on Facebook and Instagram.

On the other hand, ads belonging to the Azimio la Umoja coalition or its political aspirants on the same platforms stood at 130 between September 2021 and July 2022. Raila has been featured in 120 ads since February last year while his rival Ruto appears in more than 220 ads.

The UDA Facebook page which is leading the official social media campaign for Ruto on the platform has spent Sh72,490 on 27 ads that ran on Facebook and Instagram.  

The Azimio La Umoja secretariat page on Facebook on the other hand has spent Sh47,271 to market Mr Odinga through its page.

Varied costs

Facebook ads vary in cost depending on the intended audience size, the number of impressions – number of times the ad comes up in browsers - and link clicks.

An average ad aiming to reach between 827 and 2,400 users who are 18 to 65 years old and living in Kenya starts from Sh150 per day and Sh1,218 for a week including taxes.

Hyper-targeted election campaigns online are not new. In 2017, both Jubilee and the NASA coalitions employed sophisticated digital communication techniques and strategies to drive their messaging on social media.    

This time round, aspiring politicians, their campaign managers and political parties have taken the initiative to deploy their own messaging on social media the way they see fit.

Nakuru governorship hopeful Susan Kihika is by far the leading politician utilising Facebook and Instagram direct messaging in her online campaigns.

Data from Facebook indicates Kihika’s campaign placed more than 200 ads on the platforms since April last year, the vast majority of them bought by Ms Kihika herself.

Incumbent governor Lee Kinyanjui has not placed any ads on Facebook while independent governor candidate Stanley Karanja has 15 ads largely sponsored by a Facebook group bearing his name.   

In terms of money, Adan Keynan Wehliye’s page, associated with the Eldas MP and also one of the members for North Eastern campaign team for Raila leads in spending.

The page has so far incurred Sh637,779 with ads being placed by Yusuf Hashi Duale.

John Mugwe, who is vying for the Kiambu Senatorial seat on an independent ticket, has spent the second highest on Facebook digital ads.

Data from the social networking giant indicates Mr Mugwe has spent Sh301,852 on 33 ads directly targeting users on Facebook and Instagram.

Machel Wakienda, who is also gunning for the same seat on an independent ticket has spent Sh133,312 on 43 ads with close to 40 per cent of them geo-localised to Kiambu County.