The 2016 Presidential Election has become one for the record books; not only because it has the first woman candidate, or a business tycoon leading in the polls, but also because the candidates have increased their use of social media to interact with their audience.
The first election to really utilize social media was 2008, when Obama ran against John McCain. Many experts suggest that Obama’s victory was due in part to his involvement on social media; he won almost 70% of votes from Americans under the age of 25, affectionately referred to as the “Facebook Effect.” At the time, Facebook only had 100 Million active monthly users. To put that statistic into perspective, it grew to just shy of 1 Billion users at the time of the 2012 election, and current research suggests it now has over 1.5 Billion active monthly users; over ten times as many in only eight years.
Social media channels such as Facebook and Twitter have become the primary news source for many people, due in large part to the nature of the beast. The ability to follow pages and share content provides a limitless canvas to reach an audience. Unlike campaigning in the past, tapping into that medium not only gives the candidates the ability to interact directly with constituents, but more importantly, to do so for free.
Social media management system SocialFlow estimates that if Donald Trump had paid for advertising equivalent to the amount of attention he’s garnering on social media, it would have cost him nearly $400 million. While all of that attention isn’t necessarily positive, that same research shows that in the past year, the country has spent more than 1,200 years reading about him on social media, collectively. This organic reach he has established also made him the most talked about person on the planet in January, which argues the point CNN contributor Van Jones made in October: “In every generation, the triumphant politician is the one who first masters his era’s media tools.”
The inclusion of social media in an electoral process is cyclical; a candidate can say something at a rally, which can be quoted on social media within seconds, and shared just as quickly. These postings can demonstrate the candidate’s stance on issues, which brings more supporters to rallies, who then hear the candidate say something, and the entire process starts all over again. This gives the candidates the ability to reach a broader audience, because – as anyone who is a regular social media user knows – election season changes your news feed into a virtual soapbox for friends and family, so while you may not agree with a candidate, you are still inundated with their politics, even if you don’t follow them.
Each candidate also has their own hashtag, or some variation thereof. Bernie Sanders followers #FeelTheBern, Hillary Clinton supporters can voice that #ImWithHer, Ted Cruz fans are part of the #CruzCrew, and Donald Trump advocates can cast their vote for #Trump2016. This gives users another way to “connect” with not only the candidate, but also fellow like-minded individuals by linking their posts to the campaign, as hashtags are designed to connect relatable content. This gives users a feeling of being involved in the campaign itself, fueling the aforementioned cyclical process.
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