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Be My Friend? D.C. Campaigns Take To Advertising On Social Media

D.C.'s mayoral candidates are making their way onto Facebook.

The District's mayoral candidates have plenty of campaign signs and newspaper ads, but many of the top contenders are also putting money into reaching new residents where they are most likely to be: on social media.

Mayoral contenders Jack Evans, Muriel Bowser, Tommy Wells, Andy Shallal, and Mayor Vincent Gray have all purchased ads on Facebook, as has Libertarian mayoral candidate Bruce Majors, D.C. Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), Ward 1 challenger Brianne Nadeau, and Democratic State Committee candidate Mike Panetta.

And while more candidates are now pushing their message on Facebook, the ad buys have generally been modest: Shallal has spent just over $250, for one.

The big outliers are Gray, who has put $30,000 into Facebook ads, and Evans, who has put over $6,700 into expanding his sponsored presence on the social network.

"Our social media program targets younger voters and explains the critical role Jack Evans has played in making D.C. the attractive destination it has become for young residents," says Jermaine House, Evans' campaign spokesman.

The move towards social media advertising is new in D.C. politics: in 2010 none of the mayoral candidates advertised on Facebook, and the most aggressive push came with Elissa Silverman's 2013 At-Large campaign. She says that advertising on Facebook provided a cost-effective way to reach new voters.

"Facebook was an opportunity to reach voters for less expense," she says. Mailers were effective for reliable voters, but expensive; Facebook allowed her to target residents who didn't vote regularly, as well as let supporters share content and drum up her candidacy. She narrowly lost a special election to incumbent Council member Anita Bonds (D-At Large).

Wells and Evans have also purchased ads with Google, and Gray has placed campaign ads on YouTube videos, which is owned by Google. His re-election campaign also purchased ads on Google searches for Bowser, his principal competitor, which place a sponsored link to a website criticizing her for not having enough experience.

Wells is the only candidate to have purchased ads on Twitter, spending $50 to advertise on the micro-blogging site.

Correction: A prior version of this story said Gray only spent $500 on Facebook ads, but that was directly from his campaign. The majority of the ads were bought by a consultant.

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