Donald Trump may get most of the media coverage, but let’s be real: All of the 2016 presidential candidates are expert brand builders. To run for president, you need to possess a certain je ne sais quoi when it comes to communicating messages that can provoke people to take action.
So regardless of which side of the aisle you sit on, your brand can take a lesson from each of the master marketers who remain in the race. The candidates clearly know how to engage their base.
Below are some of the top strategies and tactics of Decision 2016, which can be applied easily to your organization’s social channels to gain traction and win over some very loyal constituents.
Get Out In Front of Your Message Like Bernie
In 2012, shortly after the Occupy Wall Street movement, the Pew Research Center found that 60 percent of Americans hold a negative view of socialism. A more recent Gallup survey revealed that less than half of Americans would vote for a socialist candidate.
Bernie Sanders hasn’t let that public sentiment sink him. The Vermont senator instead sidestepped political suicide by defining democratic socialism before it could define him.
In November 2015, prior to announcing his candidacy, Sanders spoke to a crowd at Georgetown, saying, “Let me define for you, simply and straightforwardly, what democratic socialism means to me.”
Brands can take a page out of Sanders’ playbook by understanding exactly who they are and what they stand for—as well as what they don’t. This proactive outreach establishes a point of view and sparks engagement.
Getting out in front of the message is also essential to navigating a social media crisis. In fact, social media mistakes costs major corporations, on average, $4.3 million a year, according to a report by Symantec. With such a large amount of money (as well your brand’s reputation) on the line, turning a blind eye just isn’t an option. What’s more, with 30 percent of the U.S. population using Facebook as a news source, you need to have your message ready to roll to prevent a crisis from spreading like wildfire.
Ruffle Some Feathers Like the Ever-Tweeting Trump
Trump has some very strong opinions—and he isn’t afraid to share them. As a result, the billionaire businessman’s ability to captivate a crowd has earned him a ton of free media.
But exactly how much free media are we talking about here? A recent Tyndall Report revealed that Trump dominated 32 percent of all presidential election coverage in 2015. This staggering imbalance shows the power of opinionated content to attract both positive and negative attention. But attention nonetheless.
If you want to steal some of your competitors’ oxygen, you don’t have to be as divisive as Trump. But you do have to take a stance. Brands without a strong perspective are dead in the water.
Consumers want to know who you are and what makes you different before they make an investment in your products or services. Use social media as a place to test your messages to see how your audience responds. And while you’re at it, don’t be afraid to occasionally cross-promote everything you offer—from magazines to meats—whenever it makes sense.
Read The Room Like Hillary
Hillary Clinton may claim that she’s “not a natural politician,” but after decades in the spotlight, she certainly knows how to read her audience. Whether delivering a 10-minute stump speech or sending out a 10-second Snapchat, the former Secretary of State moves with ease.
A brand’s content strategy should be just as flexible. That is to say: Shorter isn’t always better, and longform isn’t necessarily a shoo-in.
Snapchat’s 200 million active users, for instance, crave quickly disappearing bits of microcontent. Facebook users, meanwhile, want brand updates that are fewer than 50 words in length (a proven measure of higher engagement).
But here’s the real kicker: When it comes to the content your social updates point to, articles between 1,000 and 3,000 words receive the most engagement on Facebook. And there is an added bonus to detailed content: Google may reward you with higher results in the SERPs. Even Twitter is experimenting with longer Tweets after expanding its Direct Messages limit last year.
As a seasoned social marketer, know that there’s power in what you say, how you say it and where your message is delivered. And when you publish on social, dig deeper—because the pundits are often in need of some serious fact checking.
Mobilize Your Advocates Like Cruz
In a crowded field of GOP candidates, Ted Cruz has made serious headway taking on Trump. In closed primaries and caucuses especially, where the ground game really matters, Cruz has excelled.
Prior to winning Iowa, for instance, the candidate organized upward of 100 out-of-state volunteers to phone-bank and caucus on his behalf. Cruz’s rallies may not be drawing the same media attention as Trump’s, but his volunteers prove that he understands the power of his people.
In the same vein as rallies and polls, social impressions matter—but they only tell part of the story. Actions speak louder than likes. So, from the ballot box to the cash register, understand the real metrics by which your brand’s value will ultimately be measured.
To emerge victorious, enlist your advocates to increase your social reach and engagement. Know that every loyal customer and dedicated employee represents exponential social amplification, far more than a singular endorsement (or brand profile) ever could on its own.
Go Your Own Way Like Kasich
As Trump, Cruz and Marco Rubio peppered each other with ad hominem attacks, John Kasich refused to go negative, telling CNN, “I’m with Harry Potter. We’re not going to the dark side.” The result: a clearly distinguished candidate.
Smaller organizations competing in a crowded market should take note. While other brands are investing in studio shoots and costly influencer-marketing partnerships, look for the low-hanging fruit.
To boost your engagement, consider posting at off-peak times—10 p.m. to midnight and Sundays are particularly promising. In other words, sometimes the best way to remain viable is by going against the grain.
The Vote’s Still Out
There may be room for only one of these candidates in the White House, but marketers can learn from each presidential hopeful’s ability to build a campaign that has held our attention for quite some time. So put politics aside, and apply the best of their marketing methods to your brand’s social strategy. Who knows? You might even swing some votes.
Brendan Shea is the senior manager of content at Sprout Social. A graduate of the Missouri School of Journalism and Loyola University Chicago, Brendan has worked in media, advertising and higher education. He also attended grammar camp—post college. Find him on Twitter @frombrendan.