Posting political statements on Facebook is the digital equivalent of preaching to the choir.
Most users have built echo chambers that keep them from being exposed to ideas they don't already agree with. Every time you post a video about why Donald Trump is a cruel human being and why Hillary Clinton is a serial liar, you're only going to reach like-minded folk. Your efforts are limited to your small network of friends and followers. They're being wasted on the ones who already agree with you.
So how can you cut into other people's news feeds?
Do what any good digital media marketer does: Buy social media ads.
"One of the ways to try to get through to those people is to promote your posts," said Craig Agranoff, founder of PoliticalConsulting.com and co-founder of Gripd.com, a digital marketing agency. "This is a great chance for people to stop being armchair activists and start putting their money where their mouths are."
Social networks like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn make it easy for anyone to buy ads and target them to the exact type of people they might want to reach.
After messing around with Twitter's ad-buying software for about five minutes, I was able to craft a campaign targeting independents interested in politics and elections in Florida. Twitter estimated that, with a total budget of $2,700 spent at a clip of $100 per day, I'd be able to reach between 3,000 and 5,000 users daily.
I used $2,700 for my theoretical ad blitz because that's the maximum amount the Federal Election Commission allows an individual to contribute to a specific candidate's campaign.
On social media, however, there's no limit on what you can spend.
Asked about limitations on political social media ads, a spokeswoman for the Federal Election Commission provided a Web brochure and admitted, "We don't have a lot of internet rules."
In some circumstances, there can be. For example, if you coordinate your social media marketing with a candidate, the $2,700 limit will apply. But if you act on your own and make "independent expenditures," as the law calls it, there's nothing to stop you.
And, of course, Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn aren't going to keep you from dialing up their revenue streams. Making an ad on Twitter and LinkedIn is extremely frictionless--just head to their ads' websites. Facebook is a tad more complicated, as it requires that you create a page, rather than use your existing profile, but buying an ad on Facebook--and Instagram--is fairly straightforward after that.
The only speed bump in this process is that the FEC requires that you report your expenditures should you spend more than $250 in a year. You must also file a report within 48 hours if you spend more than $10,000 on this activity or more than $1,000 if it happens within 20 days of November 8, election day. Additionally, you must also include a disclaimer noting that you paid for the ad and that it was not authorized by any candidate's committee.
Other than these, there's pretty much no limit.
"There's nothing to stop independent social media promotion-type of efforts," said Joseph Fishkin, a professor of law at the University of Texas. Fishkin, who is an expert in election law, said that buying an independent political ad on social media is as unrestricted as buying an independent political ad in a newspaper.
"This is just a new wrinkle on the existing and pretty longstanding phenomenon of unrestricted independent expenditures," Fishkin said.
If politically inclined billionaires like Clinton supporter Mark Cuban and Trump supporter Peter Thiel got into this game, "there would be nothing to stop them," said Elliott Suthers, vice president at Highwire PR and the communications and media adviser for the McCain/Palin 2008 presidential campaign.
"Election rules are so far behind technology that I would guess it's going to be years before there's anything out there," Suthers said.
But just because you can go wild with political social media ads doesn't mean you should.
For starters, there's plenty of doubt as to how effective such ads may be. Voters who've made up their mind may not be swayed by a simple social media ad, and if the ad is done in a confrontational manner, it might even backfire.
"If it's extreme negativity rather than a conversation, it's not going to be good. If you're trying to influence an audience, you want to educate them," said John Hall, CEO of Influence & Co., a marketing firm. "If I was marketing Nike, I wouldn't go out and say, 'Screw Adidas! I hate Adidas! Adidas is the worst thing ever!' You draw attention to certain educational things, like why Nike's shoes have this or that."
While many voters have their minds made up, there are signs in this election of an unusual amount of volatility--consider the wild polling swings we've seen within the month, from before the political conventions to now. There may be room for swaying people to jump ship.
Bernie Sanders supporters actively booed throughout the early portions of the Democratic National Convention, for example. Meanwhile, on the Republican side, party stalwarts like Hewlett Packard Enterprise CEO Meg Whitman and retiring New York congressman Richard Hanna have said they will be voting for Clinton. (Whitman, who spent more than $140 million of her own money on her failed Republican gubernatorial bid in California, even promised to fundraise for Clinton.)
"I could, in theory, see a Hillary supporter paying to promote and reach conservatives, not necessarily Trump supporters," said Christopher Barger, a senior vice president at Voce Communications. "I could also see a Trump supporter perhaps reaching out to some of the Sanders supporters who might be disillusioned by how things played out."
Perhaps the most effective way for individuals to use social media marketing will be to simply target like-minded people in battleground states. This provides them a way to play a bigger role in the election by reminding voters like themselves to get out and vote.
"The most powerful aspect about this cycle is that you can target ads down to the battleground states and to the very specific communities in those battleground states," said Johnny Won, founder of Hyperstop, a tech consultancy firm.
Thus far, digital marketing experts have yet to see many average joes take out political ads on social media. But given how the 2016 election has played out so far, it's hardly something they'd be surprised to see.
Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated the minimum dollar amount spent on political advertisements supporting federal candidates and the timeframe for that spending that trigger Federal Election Commission reporting requirements. Ad spending of more than $250 in a year must be reported. Spending of more than $10,000, or more than $1,000 within 20 days of November 8, election day, must be reported within 48 hours. The article has also been clarified to note that such an ad would require a disclaimer.