The Digital Marketing Strategy That Made the Russian Ads so Effective

Anna Colibri
6 min readNov 9, 2017

We know firsthand the kinds of successful results digital marketing can produce. In fact, we were contacted by CBS Local News for an interview about the Russian FB and other social media advertising that impacted the US 2016 election. Right now, the issue of foreign interference and cyber warfare is one that is causing everyone from Facebook executives to members of congress to ask tough questions about how to protect free speech, manage new media technologies, and protect our democracy.

CBS Local News did a Google search for a digital marketing agency and found Colibri Digital Marketing. We’re proud of this, of course, and it also highlights once again the power of social media — especially when powerful countries like Russia or wealthy companies bring their considerable resources to making an impact. What we know is that every powerful tool can be used for good or for less than altruistic motives such as personal gain or interfering with elections.

CBS found us because we came up on the first page of search engine results. Getting found online takes time, resources, and expertise. Colibri Digital Marketing’s role is to ensure our clients are findable online, so that they can increase their customer and client base, and therefore their revenue. We know our SEO and other traffic-driving methods and digital marketing best practices work, because they work for us!

Check out our interview in the news clip below:

At this point, it’s been confirmed that there was Russian influence during the 2016 American Election. The majority of the influence came from social media advertisements, particularly on Facebook. The ads contained fake news and propaganda created with aspirations of tipping the election against Hillary Clinton and in favor of Donald Trump.

According to Representative Jackie Speier, a California Democrat who sits on the House committee, the influence of social media advertising can have severe consequences: “We basically have the brightest minds of our tech community here and Russia was able to weaponize your platforms to divide us, to dupe us and to discredit democracy.”

According to Social Media Examiner, 97% of marketers are currently participating in social media marketing. The benefits of social media advertising include tracking results in real time, interaction with viewers, the ability to have multiple components (video, photos, text, etc.), and the chance for ads to go viral — increasing an ads reach beyond what could ever be achieved with print advertising.

Social media advertising is powerful and effective. This is even more true when the ads are paired with good content. As a top San Francisco digital marketing agency, we’ve seen firsthand the impressive results our clients have received from having quality content on their websites.

We believe that good content — long form blog posts, important topics, search engine optimized — is the foundation of digital marketing. We’ve achieved results for our clients and for ourselves by always including this vital component in our digital marketing services.

But there is a dark side to this. The problem with something being so effective is that people will want to use it for the wrong reasons. Many of the Russian ads that were placed on social media platforms linked to web pages that contained elaborate content, much of which was fake news and propaganda.

When Good Content Turns Bad

We saw the rise of fake news during the 2016 Election. Fake and misleading news stories were shared across numerous social media networks. For example, the fake news story with the headline “FBI Agent Suspected In Hillary Email Leaks Found Dead In Apparent Murder-Suicide” was shared on Facebook over half a million times.

Fake news, social media ads that are outright lies, and posts containing propaganda are not just issues isolated to the Russian social media ad scandal. Average citizens, multiple foreign entities, and hate organizations all take advantage of the power of social media advertising and the influence of compelling content.

Originally designed for the digital marketing of businesses, social media advertising and content marketing are now being abused. Part of the reason is that these areas are highly unregulated. Anyone can publish a blog post. Anyone can have a Facebook account. But just like in the real world, the digital world needs to prevent the rise of crime and abuse.

Regulating Fake News and Propaganda

In the wake of foreign interference from Russian social media ads, Facebook recently proposed new action to take a stand against such abuse of its site. On their page, the company states:

We are committed to protecting legitimate political discussion within our community and fighting foreign interference in elections. That’s why we are taking steps to increase Facebook’s transparency and security.

Facebook plans to increase transparency, strengthen enforcement, and make updates that will reduce clickbait and spammers. However, we believe that more action is required. The CEOs of Facebook, Google, Twitter, and other tech giants have very powerful influence and control of the digital world. So much concentrated power in the hands of a few — and we’ve all seen in the real world how that dynamic plays out. Oligarchies are dangerous, whether they be in the physical world or the digital one.

The ability of a foreign country to infiltrate and influence the outcomes of another country’s elections is preposterous and all too real.

How to Create a Positive Digital World

The first step in creating a more positive digital landscape is to understand that we each have a part to play. Do your research, get your news from reputable sources, and support companies that have high ethical standards.

How do you tell the good companies from the bad? One way is to look for the B Corp certification. In order for companies to get certified as a Benefit Corporation, they have to create several important protocols, practices, and standards that elevate their company to a certain ethical standard. Colibri Digital Marketing itself is a proud B Corp member. This certification holds companies to rigorous ethical standards and values. There are plenty of examples of large B Corp companies that are using their power for good, including big digital influencers like Kickstarter.

Colibri Digital Marketing is an agency that offers digital marketing services in San Francisco and internationally. We have a virtual office, making our environmental footprint small. We are a woman-owned, LGBTBE-certified, and B Corp-certified agency.

In addition to our stringent values and a focus on the triple bottom line of people, planet, and profit, we are able to achieve successful results for our clients. We have a team of digital marketing specialists covering all aspects of digital marketing — from SEO to social media management, to lead capture campaigns and content marketing, we have all the skills necessary to fulfill the digital marketing needs of almost any business.

Check us out for yourself! We offer a free digital strategy session that allows us to get to know your company and provides you with actionable steps for growing your business.

Click the button below and let’s get started.

COO at Colibri Digital Marketing

An award winning writer, Jasmine has worked for media groups, magazines, and newspapers, gaining substantial experience in digital marketing. Her educational background in history, international development, and communications provides her with robust research and analytical skills, while her passion for social justice provides her with an integrity that is reflected in her digital marketing practices. Jasmine founded Green Bamboo Publishing as a way to combine her passion for writing with her goal of raising funds for animal charities.

Originally published at on November 9, 2017.



Anna Colibri

I work to make the web a more beautiful, accessible, and functional place. I use dreams as a form of planning. And I play because it’s fun.