The Fresno Metropolitan Flood Control District reminds residents each season that runoff from our yards can end up in flood basins and eventually the water table. Photo by Breanna Hardy
Written by Breanna Hardy
Social media has been the choice marketing medium for years now. It’s free and the reach is unmatched. But due to a Facebook restriction in social movement ads since October, the Fresno Metropolitan Flood Control District had to advocate its “Keep It Clear” campaign the old fashioned way.
“You may see some banners around town that are on basins. We had to go a little bit more grassroots,” said Jessica Blanchfield, owner and president of the Archer and Hound marketing firm in Fresno.
Though digital marketing is more economical, the firm had to pivot to get the message of its client across. They pivoted to a grassroots marketing campaign with 24-foot banners on most basins around Fresno, capitalizing on the real estate owned by the Fresno Metropolitan Flood Control District.
Since before the election, Facebook has not allowed public sector advertising.
“We’ve had to sort of navigate those waters,” Blanchfield said.
A few years ago, Facebook changed their standards and required certain accounts to be tagged as potential political content.
She said one example was the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District.
“A few years ago, they had to be tagged as such. We had to get licensed as such to market them on social media accordingly,” Blanchfield said.
Fast forward to the ban on Facebook, and it’s presenting problems.
“Well because their account is tagged and they have AI capabilities, they shut them down obviously before the election because they are in the category of political content, even though it’s not political at all,” Blanchfield said.
That ban was still in effect until March 4, and it’s affected how they market.
One of the Valley Air District’s largest campaigns is “Check Before You Burn,” which educates the public about prohibiting burning through fireplaces on certain days of the winter months.
“A lot of that messaging goes out digitally on our end, or has in years past. We’ve had to completely revamp how we send that message out,” Blanchfield said.
Kylie Insco, media buyer and analyst at Archer and Hound, said the firm dedicates a large portion of its marketing budget toward social media for the Flood Control District’s PIE campaign – public information education – for local basins.
“The targeting capabilities are unmatched to any other medium, and so if we’re wanting to educate certain areas about certain pollutants in their basin, we can geotarget certain things on Facebook,” she said. “We couldn’t use any of those dollars; they were frozen dollars.”
There’s not as much of a direct impact because the concrete numbers of social media engagement aren’t there with a banner. That makes it harder to measure results.
“It was strange because our normal metrics are not the same. Normally we can see how many people viewed it, and how many people clicked it, and how many people interacted with it,” Insco said.
The message is important and timely during wet winter season. Blanchfield said not a lot of people understand where the gutters go.
“Those lead to the ponding basins and those ponding basins hold water, and that water eventually drips down into our groundwater and becomes the water that we drink. So it’s really important for people to understand the connection there,” Blanchfield said.
Pollutants such as motor oil or pesticides are often disposed of down gutters — sometimes unintentionally when it runs off from lawns.
“We’re trying to educate the public to help with these sort of ideas without social media,” Blanchfield said.
Insco said the ban extended from Oct. 27, 2020 to March 4.
“Being a digital media buyer, you’re in the back end of Facebook every single day, and things change very frequently,” Insco said.
Though used to daily change, two weeks before the presidential election, Facebook announced on Oct. 27, people could no longer create a new ad for social issues.
“If you are deemed a social issue, under your page transparency on Facebook you have to put certain information so that anyone could look up where an advertisement is coming from,” she said.
The page disclaimer is to prevent scamming and fraud.
“So any account who was deemed a social issue with a page disclaimer on Oct. 27 — you had to have all of your campaigns already pre-approved and created moving forward, because Nov. 3 was going to be a blackout, and we weren’t going to be able to create new ads,” Insco said.
She assumed the blackout would be about a week because of political controversy and mitigating false information.
“There would be these updates, so I would think, ‘Okay cool, I can do stuff now,’ and then it would get rejected,” she said.
Because the ban first began in October, they weren’t under the impression that they’d have to pivot a January campaign.
“Nothing like this has ever happened before. And if you even Google this blackout, there’s really no information. It’s made you feel like you’re the only one dealing with this problem even though it’s happening across the board,” said Insco.
The firm is at a level of service that designates an individual Facebook representative to Insco. Marketing firms have to be vetted for the Facebook Marketing Partnership to meet specific standards.
“I’m on the phone with a rep every other week and they did not know what was happening and had zero information. It was like it didn’t exist for them,” Insco said. “So for December, January, February, March — I mean, I’m talking to them weekly and there would be no news.”
Insco left her desk for a mere 45 minutes March 4, and returned to see that the Facebook ban was lifted. The firm could start circulating ads for the Flood Control District on social media. But Valley Air District wasn’t as lucky — their campaign shifted completely in the middle of winter.
Valley Air District’s campaign was from the end of November to early January, which was mid-ban. Archer and Hound pivoted to a Google Search Engine Marketing campaign because their fireplace incentive program was something people were sure to Google.
But the flood campaign is going to make significant social media impressions because the money isn’t spread out over weeks at a time. It’s condensed.
“While our reach will probably be the same, our impression count is going to go through the roof, which is a tactic on its own. You don’t want to bombard someone to where they get annoyed by your content. But if it’s popping up on their timeline every single day for weeks, they’re going to remember it,” Insco said.
Paige Moretto, environmental analyst at Fresno Metropolitan Flood Control District, said that campaign is designed to coincide with the rainy season.
“During the storm season, everything that’s accumulated on the roads — that’s all being flushed down,” Moretto said.
The Flood Control District discourages using pesticides and herbicides during the wet weather season because the harmful chemicals travel to the gutters, which ultimately lead to groundwater and then to basins. Some pollutants even get trapped in dirt that runs off from construction sites.
“As our name implies, we’re in the business of flood control. But because Fresno handles flood control primarily through basins, we’re also in the business of groundwater recharge,” Moretto said.
Although social media campaigns were impacted, radio, television, and mail advertisements were not. Some banners around town were impacted by theft or vandalism.
“Perhaps if people knew what the fiscal cost was to pollution in the storm water system and basins, then they would’ve been maybe more upset that this message wasn’t going out in a timely manner,” Moretto said.