How Social Media Will Factor Into the Next Presidential Election

Many candidates could be better utilizing their platforms

Now that the next presidential election is getting closer, it is interesting to propose some hypotheses on the role social media will play throughout the election cycle. Although the election itself is more than a year away, many candidates are already using social networks as their main medium to recruit, find donors and strengthen their constituent base. So far, their use of Instagram, Facebook and Twitter lacks the creativity and innovation that would make for a truly effective social strategy.

Considering that social media is evolving to a more mature medium, it is worth asking what the role of social media should be in the next presidential election.

Perhaps the first element to mention is that social media has become a more complex universe, with users increasingly sharing content on so-called “dark social” platforms like WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger, which are not trackable and very hard for candidates to influence. Due to a combination of increased polarization, privacy concerns and simply not feeling comfortable sharing certain ideas publicly, users are more likely to express such ideas in these types of channels. According to a recent study led by We Are Social, 63% of respondents mentioned that they prefer to share content and recommendations on dark platforms rather than on open ones.

Perhaps the most important consideration candidates and their social teams should be making is that emotional value has to be at the center of their social media presence.

At this stage of the race, a considerable part of the electorate is far from having clear preferences, and thus platforms such as Facebook and Instagram should be playing an essential role in building capital for candidates through the generation of awareness and trust. But in practice, we are not seeing any clear differentiation in the way candidates are deploying their social strategies, most of them having a predictable, self-centered presence. All of them use Instagram as a photographic diary of their activities where the main sin is vainglory. More than 95% of their pictures and stories are about them posing with children, farmers, workers, auditoriums full or supporters, etc. It’s an old and fake trick that does not surprise anybody.

Obviously, some candidates need to prioritize their image to generate face recognition. But others like Warren, Sanders and Biden do not need to be the main characters of their accounts. They should, instead, use Instagram to convey a vision of America, not a vision of themselves. A very good principle to follow would be to take less selfies and instead focus on portraying more personal stories in an authentic way. It is very important to be aware of users’ mindsets as they check their Instagram feeds and also allows for a better understanding of the different roles and peculiarities between the use of posts and stories. The goal should be to interrupt less and to add more value to users’ feeds.

All eyes will be on Facebook throughout the election cycle considering the very controversial role the platform played during the last presidential election. But most of the candidates, however, are not using Facebook in new or innovative ways that could allow them to stand out from the field. Most of them are doing exactly the same thing: commenting on the news, posting media clippings from all their media appearances (more egotism) or just inviting people to join and support them. They should know by now that a successful social strategy is not about asking people to follow or like them. Social media is a space for creativity and experimentation. People reward innovation and new proposals that offer them inspiration, connection and relevance.

Perhaps the most important consideration candidates and their social teams should be making is that emotional value has to be at the center of their social media presence. Never forget that voters become aware of a candidate through the emotional connections they are able to generate, not through rational appeals or arguments.

Also, marketing is greatly about distinctiveness, yet very few of the candidates have brought something to the table that can truly provide them with a unique identity before voters. Sanders, Buttigieg and Williamson are perhaps the ones who are doing the best job at having a unique visual layout.

We know social media is going to keep evolving during the campaign, and we’ll see if candidates are able to innovate, present a new vision and create more relevance for voters. We’ll also see who will be best at turning sceptic citizens into followers and followers into voters. Let’s keep the conversation going.