Since 1952, presidential candidates have been looking for a more personal way to reach out and touch their voter base.
Dwight D. Eisenhower and his PR team practically invented the political ad that year. Every candidate that has followed him has contributed to the evolution of the televised political ad and campaign videos – then social media happened. Sure, political commercials are still a big deal, but social media and politics have slowly formed a natural partnership that puts the candidates directly in touch with voters.
In 2008, President Barack Obama spearheaded the idea of politics on social media. Not only did he make it easier for politicians to connect to their constituencies by normalizing social media political campaigns, but President Obama’s 2008 campaign also set a record for sheer number of individual supporters, just short of 4 million Americans. All of this was made possible through effective political social media, at a time when social media was in its infancy.
Today’s presidential candidates have even greater opportunities before them in the political social media realm, considering how completely the platform has invaded everyday life for the nearly one billion daily users checking Facebook for news, entertainment and social connections.
Candidates Increasingly Connecting Directly to Users
Unlike in the past, when political campaign commercials were carefully choreographed and groomed by media outlets like television and radio broadcasters, this election cycle gives candidates a unique opportunity to bypass traditional outlets completely. By uploading campaign videos to often-visited sites like YouTube and sharing them on Facebook and Twitter, the reach of any single candidate is further and completely unhindered.
Television ads are still needed to reach older voters who haven’t adopted social media, but that heavily sought after demographic, the Millennials, aren’t watching TV in any traditional way. To win their votes, a campaign has to become more personal and authentic. Social media political campaigns create that opportunity – and the more authentic and original, the better.
Millennials want to interact with political figures and share their opinions loudly. They’re well past a point where a return form letter makes them feel valued – but social media gives these voters an outlet for their frustrations and suggestions. All the candidates know it, which is why Donald Trump is heavily invested in Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, while Bernie Sanders is the undisputed king of Reddit and absolutely everyone running has a Snapchat.
How Social Sharing Increases Reach
The interesting thing about politics on social media is how quickly a few users can light a fire under a candidate. For example, although Hillary Clinton only has about 2.5 million followers in her Facebook network, anything she shares may be seen by a multitude more. That’s the power of social networks.
When a Hillary supporter shares something that the candidate has posted to her social media, it goes well beyond that one person. It might influence another 10 people for every share, or it might influence 100, depending on the quality of the content. When friends comment on Clinton’s page, less politically inclined people see that their friends are backing or dismissing her as a candidate and may follow suit.
Pew Research conducted a study of voters using social media between 2010 and 2014 and noticed some really interesting trends. Of voters who follow political candidates, people are increasingly using social media for political news. In 2010, 21 percent of users said they were following candidates for this reason, but by 2014, it was 41 percent. A steady 35 to 36 percent follow hopefuls to feel more connected. Surprisingly, another 26 percent followed candidates in 2014 because they believed social media political campaigns to be more reliable than traditional outlets.
So, what’s the takeaway here? Politics have entered social media, and there’s nothing to be done but to ride the wave. Politicians know where to find Millennials now and how to connect with them even when they’re mobile. What difference this will make to the 2016 Presidential election remains to be seen, but the key to success will be engagement. The more engaged and invested voters are, the more likely they’ll vote and that they’ll vote for the candidate that best earns their trust.