The 2016 US presidential election season was one that saw social media as a marketing tool often questioned by citizens. The large number of social posts published made it seem like the candidates were setting new political trends. However, social media marketing was already utilized successfully in both the 2008 and 2012 elections.
Previously, campaigns like that of the 2012 presidential election saw candidates embracing social media. The NY Times's analysis of the various online accounts of Mitt Romney and Barack Obama showed that not only were Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram being updated on a regular basis but that each candidate also had profiles on Pinterest and Youtube, as well as music playlists on Spotify.
Perhaps Obama's best social media strategy for the 2012 election was his ultra-popular AMA (Ask Me Anything) thread on the social news aggregation and content sharing site Reddit.
2016 Presidential Campaign
In 2015, the candidates for the 2016 election found themselves spending a lot of energy on their social media marketing strategy. They constantly looked for new tactics to stay ahead of the political social media curve as they raced against the initial five other Democratic and 17 other Republican candidates.
The candidates built their brand online to gain followers. The campaigns' digital marketers strived to balance between serious, informative posts and more relatable, light-hearted content.
The importance of this is noted in a Participatory Politics study. It found that 20% of youths have circulated humorous or artistic content related to a political candidate, campaign or issue.
Far fewer spent time reading more serious content or even contributing their content to online news sites. This proves that involvement requiring more time and energy repeatedly results in lower participation.
Social Media and the Bottom Line
In an April 2016 article, Marissa Lang stated that "candidates have discovered the quickest way to make news is to put out a statement or comment in a social media post and avoid paying for ad space." This use of free publicity has proven to be a game changer in the performance of digital campaigns.
Every four years, the US finds itself in the midst of a new multi-billion dollar race for the White House. In March of 2016, The Economist predicted that the 2016 US election would spend a whopping $5 billion.
Of that, as of Nov 2, 2016, Clinton and Trump had spent $211.4 million and $74.0 million respectively – not including money spent by Super-PAC and other outside groups -- on general election TV advertising alone.
Deciding not to use social media to promote themselves would be detrimental. It not only affects voter reach but also the campaign's bottom line.
Nowadays, it is not enough for political candidates to be out shaking hands, kissing babies and visiting small-town diners. To reach the broadest range of potential voters, they must actively market themselves on social media. They must focus their digital campaigns at connecting with citizens in their social media realms.