There is no doubt that social media is playing a huge role in this year’s U.S. presidential election. For proof of this, you just have to log on to YouTube to find footage of either of the candidates making a speech, sleeping on an airplane or just grabbing a bite to eat.
And anyone with a Facebook account knows the level of rancor that is happening on that social media site between people favoring one candidate or the other. Even if you don’t have a computer, the nightly news bombards you with tweets from the candidates and anyone who has an opinion about the candidates.
According to a survey of 3,760 U.S. adults by the Pew Research Center, 35 percent of people 18 to 29 years old say social media is the most helpful source of information on the 2016 presidential election. Census data show that baby boomers and seniors ages 45 and older represent about 60 percent of voters in national races (judging by the 2008 presidential race). Nearly one out of two voters is 50 or older.
Those pieces of information are not counter to each other, however, because according to a study conducted by DMN3, “an overwhelming 82.3 percent of Boomers belong to at least once social networking site,” with Facebook being the number one. Eighty-two percent of the 1,000 boomers surveyed say they use Facebook the most.
Can all of this actually impact an election?
A piece on feedforall.com outlines three areas in which social media can seriously impact a political campaign: when used for fundraising, for engaging the constituency, and in accountability. For the purposes of this article, we’ll cover how social media can be used for political engagement.
Spreading the Word
In a post on The Brooking Institute’s website, Darrell M. West says, “One of the most worrisome developments in the contemporary period is the massive citizen disengagement from politics and feeling of alienation on the part of voters. Social media offers ways to re-connect citizens and leaders, and create more of a sense of public responsiveness.”
This responsiveness can, as with most anything, be both good and bad. During the 2004 U.S. presidential campaign, Howard Dean went from being a long-shot candidate to a frontrunner in a few short months, due to his innovative embrace of the Internet for fundraising. However, the same social media he used for fundraising contributed to what is widely considered to be his downfall – the viral video of him screaming a message to his constituency in response to his disappointing showing at the Iowa Caucus. That outburst, known in political jargon as the "Dean Scream,” became a YouTube staple.
That an entire campaign could be derailed by something like a video is sad, but it seems to be the nature of the social media beast.
The Good and the Bad
Social media is a proven tool for those who want to get the word out on issues that are hot buttons in elections. The main instances of this phenomenon in America have been Occupy Wall Street in 2011 and, more recently, Black Lives Matter. But it also “brings out the darker side of digital introverts and often amplifies slanted views or political biases. With the 2016 presidential election weeks away, social could not be more powerful or dangerous,” according to CIO’s Matt Kapko.
While social media gives a place for people to voice their opinions, it also amplifies hostility and slants information. “Social media acts as glue for like-minded people, and it can reinforce their confirmation biases,” says Kapko.
While doubtful that one good meme is going to change anyone’s mind about their candidate, the proliferation of slanted information can result in people unwittingly using misinformation to make a choice in the election. While anyone with a photo editing program can create a meme and populate it with false information, the mere fact that such memes are on the Internet adds underserved credence.
The Candidates and Social Media
The candidates themselves have wholeheartedly embraced social media, particularly Twitter. The feedforall.com article says, “Technology has given self-proclaimed political pundits a pulpit from which they can spread their message. How much these political pundits will be able to influence political campaigns and election results is still unclear.”
To put this in perspective, Donald Trump has 12.1 million Twitter followers and, according to The Economist, the number is rising by about 50,000 every day. “Moreover, since each of his tweets is re-tweeted thousands of times and often quoted in mainstream media, his real audience is much bigger.” (Hillary Clinton currently has about 9.3 million Twitter followers.)
The two candidates know the value of a tweet because they (or their staffers) seem to send one what every three seconds. And those tweets are shared a thousand times over. It’s a much easier, and cheaper, alternative to the whistle stop tour.
Klout is a website that uses analytics to rank the online social influence of its users. The score can be between one and 100. In other words, your Klout score represents your social influence.
Hillary Clinton’s Klout score as 95, according to William Arruda, writing for Forbes, with the topics she’s most often associated with as “are activism, Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, children, Donald Trump, economics, elections, government, Hillary Clinton, history, human rights, immigration, LGBT issues, politics, Republican party, September 11 attacks, the White House, U.S. First Ladies, U.S. Senate and Washington.”
Trump’s Clout score is six points lower – 89 – and his topics are “Affordable Care Act, Benghazi, Bill Clinton, border security, CNBC, CNN, conservative politics, Donald Trump, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Fox News, government, Hillary Clinton, immigration, police, Politico, politics, Republican party, the White House and Twitter.”
The article explores how the candidates rank in using specific social media websites like Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram.
According to adweek, “Even the fairly new entrants like Snapchat are proffering filters and 10-second video ads catered to political campaigns. The first few candidates to run ads on this platform were John Kasich, Rand Paul and Scott Walker. Snapchat even hired ex-Google leader Rob Saliterman, who led political ad sales during the George W. Bush administration.”
Social media is becoming increasingly important in any kind of marketing strategy, and getting elected is the biggest marketing strategy of them all. The people who have grown up with technology may not be old enough yet to care about political campaigns. But they will be. That’s something future politicians need to realize and embrace. In fact, anyone with a brand to promote, whether it be a politician or a business, needs to keep this in mind.
Toni Bowers is a veteran technology reporter and editor. She currently writes the SMB blog for IT Business Edge, which advises small businesses on how to get the most out of tech on a small budget.