Here’s How Social Media Will Impact the 2016 Presidential Election

By Guest Comment

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So far, the run up to the 2016 elections has been, at various times, amusing or weird, but mostly interesting, thanks to social media. If not for this ever flexible, we wouldn’t have seen this hilarious Snap of Hillary chillin’, the world wouldn’t be same without those odd Trump-isms on Twitter, or worse, we wouldn’t have known what Scott Walker is eating!

If we are to believe the figures estimated by Borrell Associates, politicians will be allocating over 9 percent of media budget towards digital and social media — this comes to an estimated $1 billion. And don’t we all know for whom is this budget allocated for?

Long story short, the efforts of electoral candidates and their social media agencies seem to be concentrated towards winning affection of millennials (25 to 34 year olds), and although no one can say today which candidate is going to win the elections later this year, one thing is clear: social media is winning the elections today.

The Elections and Social Media

One interesting thing to note here is it’s not only candidates who are showing an affinity towards social media; websites like Facebook, Google, Twitter and Snapchat are doing their bit to warm up to politicos too.

Twitter, for instance, shut down two apps that showed tweets that politicians had deleted – if ever a social network pandered to political advantage, this was it. Twitter later formed an agreement with Politwoops. They even hosted a breakfast event in Washington rolling out the proverbial red carpet for election candidates. And they went on to partner with Square so people could tweet their donations to their preferred parties and candidates.

Eric Laurence, Facebook’s head of U.S. Industry for Politics and Government, once cited the benefits of their video advertising saying it was a “great way to reach and mobilize supporters and voters that candidates need to win elections.” He further added that “those voters are on Facebook,” which is not far off the mark, counting the 200 million U.S. citizens actively using Facebook. The company has a dedicated team which meets candidates and offers assistance with Facebook’s advertising services.

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.

Coming to the giant now, Google is a leader when it comes to 2016 elections. From sponsored links in Google searches, YouTube video ads and the new-fangled programmatic display ads on online publishing websites such as New York Times, presidential candidates have a lot of scope to reach out to right audience through Google.

Lee Dunn, who is heading the election campaign management team at Google told Glamour that YouTube will help candidates to target people based on their geographical locations, language, etc.:

2016 will become known for being the campaign of video content. People want authenticity and directness from candidates, and the best platform to provide that without a filter from the media is YouTube.

Clearly, the 2016 election candidates have woken up to social media and the social networks have woken up to the amount of cash at stake.

Now the question isn’t who is using social media, the question is who is using social media most effectively. People are watching candidates with hawk eyes, waiting for one wrong tweet…

What’s worse, candidates are continuously up to odd antics, trying to be “cool” so as to impress millennials. In fact, this might be taking them away from the precious presidential hot seat.

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So the question that President Obama changed from “Can presidential candidates gain from social media?” to “How do presidential candidates gain from social media?” is now more like “How do candidates and parties ride this huge, big wave that has come out of nowhere and has changed the shape of elections and politics?”

Winning Strategies from Social Media Experts

A lot of consultants and agencies seem to be finding the answer and I have rounded up some of these strategies and solutions here.

Erin Lindsay from Precision Strategies, a consulting firm founded by people behind Obama’s campaign, told The Hill:

Authenticity is a big thing in social media. I think the candidates that are the most successful are the ones that are clearly the most comfortable.

I think what Lindsay is trying to say is that you should adjust your tone depending on various platforms: on Reddit, be ready to answer any questions; on Twitter, be ready to handle impromptu debates; on Facebook, show concern and warmth. The dos and don’ts for various social media platforms are endless. But the basic mantra is same – be authentic at all times.

Another gem of advice comes from Jim Walsh, co-founder of DSPolitical:

When Walsh tried to persuade politicians about the effectiveness of targeted reach and precision using digital media in 2012, he had a hard time fighting traditional media like print and TV. Today, his company has expanded to almost double their size with half the need for persuasion, and is serving some of the best political parties.

So do they have a magic wand?

The magic wand that agencies like DSPolitical have is – data and tools. Companies like DSPolitical, CampaignGrid and Targeted Victory use analytics tools to narrow down every one of the 190 million registered voters and target personalized messages at them using their browsing history, real estate and tax records.

Further, data firms like Data Trust, i360 and TargetSmart track, compile and analyze social data which help candidates in their social media campaigns.

When it comes to the agencies helping them out, it is not only big data exchanges such as the above, but also various other social listening and collaboration tools that come in handy. For instance, Quintly can be used for benchmarking competition, monitoring and analyzing campaigns, and finding influencers. The same goes for Wrike, which allows marketing teams to seamlessly collaborate on campaigns while saving major chunks of their time. Since campaigners need to respond quickly and in real time, SaaS tools like these can prove to be very useful.

And the Winner Is…

I know you’re wondering why I haven’t used the T-word yet. No article on the presidential elections is complete without commenting on the antics of The Donald. However, I wanted you to read what I had to say before going off on tangents chasing @realDonaldTrump. To say Donald Trump has won the social media battle is a serious understatement. He could very well be the first president who rewrote the rules on social media.

Brigitte Majewski, research director at Forrester, cautions against making assumptions based on follower count, though:

Just because you have a follower doesn’t mean you have a vote. It just means that you have caught their ear. It’s a good signal, but at the end of the day, a signal is not a vote.

Agreed, but when you dig into the share of voice and do some sentiment analysis on all those posts, it becomes clear that The Donald is well ahead of the others in the race to the White House.

And to trump that, he appears to need no apprentice!

Rohan Ayyar is a web analytics and conversion optimization specialist at E2M, a premium digital marketing agency. You can find his articles on 20+ major business publications including Fast Company and Entrepreneur, and hit him up on Twitter at @searchrook.

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