The 2016 US presidential election season was one that saw social media use as a marketing tool oftentimes questioned by citizens. However, while the numerous tweets and pictures made it seem as though the candidates were setting new trends in politics, social media was also utilized successfully in both the 2008 and 2012 elections.
Previously, campaigns like that of the 2012 presidential election saw candidates embracing social media. A look by the NY Times at the various online accounts of Mitt Romney and Barack Obama showed that not only were Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram being updated on a regular basis, but that each candidate also had profiles on Pinterest and Youtube, as well as music playlists on Spotify.
Perhaps Obama’s best social media strategy of the 2012 election was his ultra-popular AMA (Ask Me Anything) thread on the social news aggregation and content sharing site Reddit.
2016 Presidential Campaign
In 2015, the candidates for the 2016 presidential election found themselves spending a lot of energy on their digital marketing strategy. They constantly looked for new tactics to stay ahead of the political social media curve as they raced against the initial five other democratic and 17 other republican candidates.
The candidates built their brand online in an effort to gain followers and votes, as the campaigns’ digital marketers strived to find balance between serious, informative posts and more relatable, often-humorous content.
The importance of this is noted in a Participatory Politics study that found: “20 percent of young people indicate they have circulated funny videos or cartoons, or something artistic related to a political candidate, campaign or issue.”
The study goes on to explain that far fewer spent time reading more serious content or even contributing their own articles, opinion pieces or artwork to online news sites, proving that involvement requiring more time and energy repeatedly results in lower participation.
Social Media and the Bottom Line
In an April, 2016 article, Marissa Lang stated that, “candidates have discovered the quickest way to make news is to put out a statement or comment in a social media post and avoid paying for ad space.”
While candidates’ use of these digital tools pushed the boundaries of attention-grabbing at times and often sent their staff into damage control mode, this use of free publicity proved to be a game changer in the performance of digital campaign marketing.
Every four years, the US finds itself in the midst of a new multi-billion dollar race for the White House. In March of 2016, The Economist predicted that the parties, candidates and outside groups would double that of the 2012 presidential campaign and spend a whopping $5 billion on the 2016 US election.
Of that, as of Nov 2, 2016, Clinton and Trump had spent $211.4 million and $74.0 million respectively — not including money spent by Super-PAC and other outside groups — on general election TV advertising alone.
With that in mind, deciding not to use the free (for now) and powerful social media to advertise would be detrimental not only to the amount of voters one can reach but also to the bottom line of a campaign’s marketing budget.
As has been demonstrated, it is not enough that candidates nowadays are out shaking hands, kissing babies and visiting small-town diners. To reach the broadest range of potential voters, campaigns must actively market themselves on the popular microblogging, social networking and picture-sharing sites, focusing their content-driven digital advertising at connecting with citizens who expect to be met in their social media realms.