How a Senator used Facebook ads to influence employees in a single D.C. building

This image was removed due to legal reasons.

For a glimpse into just how precise Facebook ad targeting is getting, look to Washington, D.C. Specifically look to 1849 C Street, N.W., a few blocks from the White House, where you'll find the headquarters for the Department of the Interior, the federal agency tasked with managing national parks, federal land and natural resources.

Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski has been trying for years to convince the Interior Department to allow Alaska to build a 11-mile road through a wildlife refuge to make two remote towns in the state more easily accessible. But the Interior Department has balked, citing environmental concerns; the area is a habitat for migratory birds.

In order to convince Department officials to change their minds, Murkowski recently targeted them—and only them—with a video ad on Facebook, reports Alaska Dispatch News:

Murkowski’s re-election campaign posted an advertisement on Facebook urging action on [the road] that was geotargeted toward Interior Department officials doing lunchtime browsing. As of 4 p.m. in Washington, D.C., the video appeared in newsfeeds 7,000 times at Interior Department headquarters, and Facebookers clicked on the video to watch it 2,402 times, according to Murkowski’s campaign.


The video, embedded below, said that, without the road, people in medical distress in these remote towns can't be reached in time by emergency workers.

I checked in with Facebook to ask about this degree of precision in geotargeting. Is it really possible to target ads at particular employees in a single building?

Well, it depends on how big the building is. A spokesperson from Facebook directed me to a help page explaining how to target people in a specific location (which it can determine from GPS coordinates off their smartphone or, less reliably, from the IP address of their computer). The most granular option is targeting a location with a radius of one kilometer, or a little over half a mile.

So if you were targeting a workplace with a one-mile long campus, like Facebook itself, you could be guaranteed to show an ad only to people in its buildings. But the Department of Interior takes up just one city block. So when Murkowski targeted the Interior Department's address, she was actually targeting not just that building, but all the people and buildings in a half-mile radius, or this whole area:

This image was removed due to legal reasons.

Regardless, getting over 2,000 people to watch the video is impressive. It's just not guaranteed that they all did so while eating lunch at the Interior Department.

And it's not clear whether it was effective. For now, the Interior Department still opposes the road.

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