Social Media on the Campaign Trail

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The 2016 presidential election has been a global phenomenon, a spectacle on a scale that has never been seen before. From talk of Game of Thrones-esque walls being built across the border to tear countries apart, to supposed death threats aimed at other candidates, the world has been left in awe of the events erupting from the U.S.

Social media is a huge part of our lives, as well as having a massive impact on everyday culture, and the campaign trail is no exception. This year has been a record-setter for social media in politics.

The 2012 election’s total advertising budget was an estimated $6 billion, with $78 million of that being spent on online advertising – mostly by Obama. This year there has been a tremendous budget increase, predicted to reach as high as $11.4 billion with the digital marketing budget leaping to $1 billion.

2012 Presidential Election Spend

Image: The Wire

Social media has opened up a plethora of new opportunities and tactics for the candidates to use, as well as creating a whole new dimension in self promotion. It provides more opportunities to speak about their agenda, express personal opinion and comment on current issues as they happen.

But there is a downside to this constant exposure.

The presidential hopefuls are now tasked with dealing with scrutiny and criticism at any time, while the rest of the world sits staring at their computer screens waiting for their next move.

Social media is a great indicator of trends and public opinion. Trump’s new campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway, told The Guardian the reason why traditional opinion polls have been showing that Trump is down is because of the “social stigma” that comes with admitting you support him.

The results online have shown a different story, however, as people aren’t faced with a real person when asked the question so they feel like they can say what they truly think. This was a similar story when it came to the Brexit vote, where opinion polls falsely predicted that Remain would be the clear winner. Even if it is not the case right now, it seems almost safe to assume that social media will play a greater role in predicting the outcome of future elections.

The two remaining candidates haven’t just stuck to traditional forms of social media, like Facebook and Twitter. They have also started their own apps. Clinton’s app, “Hillary 2016”, encourages users to attend meets and get involved in organising rallies. It also incentivises her followers by offering signed merchandise directly from the lady herself. Trump’s app also offers the latest campaign news, though it is admittedly harder to find for all the spoof apps on the market.

90% of Americans aged 18-29 are currently on social media. (tweet this)

Candidates gain most appreciation from the young adult demographic on social media. 90% of Americans aged 18-29 are currently on social media. That’s 90% of an estimated 53.7 million people! This just shows what the payoff can be if you have a strong social media strategy.

Candidates are trying to appeal to this generation with “tit-for-tat” style bickering and well aimed digs. When commenting on Trump’s recent string of different campaign managers Hillary wrote:

Screenshot 2016-08-31 at 15.22.40

The informality of social media offers opportunities for the candidates to make digs at their competitors, without appearing unprofessional. It’s personal remarks like this that make Hillary more congenial to her followers and gain their respect. This particular tweet gained more attention, in terms of likes and retweets, than her regular political tweets.
And it’s not just the candidates cracking the jokes. One of the greatest political social media phenomenons has to be the “Bernie Sanders’ Dank Meme Stash” Facebook group. This gold mine is a great example of how getting social savvy followers doesn’t only mean more votes, it also gives you free user-generated content. Such as this masterpiece:

Screenshot 2016-08-31 at 17.00.09

Image: Bernie Sanders’ Dank Meme Stash

Of course, not every follower will vote for either politician or even agree with what they say. They just want to be there when someone makes the next controversial post that causes an uproar and a monumental nationwide argument. With this in mind, the best thing a politician can do is make themselves at least likeable.

With the whole world watching, every post on social media could be the next triumph or disaster. It is these high stakes that make the candidate’s updates so thrilling to their followers and worth the risk to the candidates; Donald Trump has made his name with his divisive posts making him an almost constant topic in the news.

As the public migrate to social media to upload their social lives, more and more money is being pumped into digital marketing. And, as with all marketing, the main aim is to give the people what they want. Ahead of the election, the most important thing the presidential candidates can do is continue to reach out to their followers and social media is the world’s forum.
If you’re going to run for president, you’d better know what a hashtag is…

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About Tom Dutson

Tom is currently learning as much as possible about Links and SEO as the resident OVG apprentice. He is a huge fan of Hunter S Thompson, loves playing guitar and you can probably find him at one of Manchester’s bars at any given time (out of work hours).

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