While it’s still very early in the election season, the race to the presidential candidacy has been vigorously played out in social media. Candidates are bypassing traditional media to speak directly to potential voters. They are showing up in unexpected new channels. They are hoping to rely less and less on being “on the news” and are rather hoping to be “the news.”
They are paying to influence hearts and minds in every digital way they can. And the major social media companies are loving the political business.
Twitter provides candidates a list of Twitter handles that it wants to target based on their values and influence. Facebook allows campaigns to gather a list of voter files, and then the company will provide the Facebook accounts matching those records. Snapchat hired a lead exec from Google’s political ad sales efforts who was once a member of the White House communications team under President George W. Bush.
So, the race is on.
But as we watch on the sidelines, what can we learn from all of this?
Does follower count matter now?
While Barack Obama’s embracing of social media may have helped his campaign (Obama spent 10x more on social media than his opponents), social media dominance doesn’t exactly translate to votes (or sales, or customers). And your number of social media followers doesn’t always translate into social media impact.
We often use engagement as a key metric; which means that someone is commenting, liking or sharing what you posted. That being said, which candidate is winning at engagement?
Bernie Sanders currently has the highest level of engagement on his individual Facebook posts. His hashtag, #FeelTheBern, has been tweeted at least 100x more times than some of his rivals, including Hillary Clinton. He’s even grown a, shall we say, “niche” community on Instagram called #babesforbernie, where women are tagging themselves in support for his candidacy.
We also looked at the type of engagement that each candidate is getting. You can’t do an analysis like this without looking hard at Donald Trump, who has one of the fastest growing social media accounts (more on that later), with a lot of engagement. Like Spam and the Kardashians, he’s built an American brand that is getting attention.
But what type of attention? The ratio of negative sentiment is higher for Trump than it is for any other candidate. Here is a word cloud of the top keywords that are being mentioned in connection with Trump.
Many of his retweets and responses and mentions are, without surprise, quite infuriated (including the many, many who have posted variations of “wanting to build a wall around Trump”).
And, a quick analysis of Hillary’s general sentiment seems positive on the surface – but when you dig into the actual content, her recent mentions aren’t dominated by positives about her or her policies but rather include a lot of positive mentions about her opponent, Bernie Sanders, and the challenge he’s giving her.
The lesson? Retweets do not exactly imply endorsement.
The Snapchat Election
As we write this, almost every candidate is live with a Snapchat account, the country’s current fastest growing messaging app.
Clinton jokingly referred to her email scandal when she said that she launched Snapchat because “those messages disappear all by themselves.”
Jeb Bush announced his candidacy via an exclusive Snapchat partnership, marking the first time a candidate used the tool to gain full access to all of their active users and having struck a partnership of this kind.
Why is everyone flocking to Snapchat?
The most obvious reason is its dominance among the allusive 18 to 25 age group target.
In addition to that, through Snapchat’s Live Story feature, candidates can share chronological content, such as photos and videos that actually tell a story – not just a post or tweet.
Bush used the Live Story feature without having an actual Snapchat account. But he was not the first to use this platform, nor is he the most active. Rand Paul began using Snapchat in January 2014 and Marco Rubio seems to be one of the most active presidential candidates, as he posts scenes from his speeches and rallies every day.
Is it working? There’s almost no way to tell. Snapchat’s analytics are thin in that it only tracks views of its disappearing messages.
For politicians and candidates, and even brands, that want to connect in an authentic way – and have a strategy and content and tone of voice to communicate that authenticity – this is a platform worth participating in.
My Foreign Policy is on Fleek
Speaking of authenticity, like too many brands, too many candidates are trying too hard to be relevant to young voters. And it shows.
It isn’t going well…
While almost everything a candidate posts is going to be met by your standard Internet troll, this one received more negative backlash than usual. One reason, we suspect, is that it doesn’t look, sound or feel like something Clinton would write or say. The topic and conversation is right; the delivery – not so much.
And, she’s not the only candidate that’s getting dinged for coming across as pandering to millennials:
Sure, Rubio could very well be a fan of N.W.A., but this tweet also had its fair share of response citing that he’s trying too hard to appeal to young voters.
If it’s not something you’d say to someone in person, don’t say it on Twitter.
Twitter, and all social media, is built on authenticity and transparency. And candidates, like brands, should be their truest selves possible and use what social media is built for: two-way authentic conversations.
So, engagement, authenticity, and trying new channels. Seems like a simple enough strategy that most brand managers know. Let’s see if the candidates can start to get it.
Nicole Larrauri is the social media expert and managing partner of the EGC Group.