Election 2016 and the Battle for Snapchat Friends – Will a Presidential Win in 2016 Come Down to Hashtags, Twitter Chats and Snaps?
2008 and 2012 elections have cemented social media’s critical role in political campaigns. Today, 39% of American Adults participate in political activity is social networks, 16% indicate they have changed their views following a social media discussion. A handful of candidates are experimenting with not only the acceptable channels, such as Facebook and Twitter, but with the new millennial communities such as Snapchat, Periscope and Vine. However, the use of the latter communities is still cautious and somewhat hesitant and experimental, done by a handful of candidates. To get the Millennial vote, candidates need to be on Millennial social networks. Are they?
2008 US election was a turning point in the evolution of Social Media.
Much of POTUS Obama win was attributed to the significant weight put on social media campaigns. President’s Obama use of the social channels positioned him as accessible, savvy, cool and well connected to the voters. Technically speaking, it also provided him outstanding reach and access to spread his message and engage with his audience. He got it, he got the intrinsic value of social media. That it is the primary tool to directly build relationships and trust with voters by tapping into and influencing the conversation. 2008 and 2012 Social Media took the power from one-way media platforms, such as traditional news outlets and paid advertising and created a new two-way political dialogue that allows reach and engagement of every single voter. It is inconceivable today to think of any campaign, political or commercial, without the consideration of heavy social media use.
Fast Forward 7 years to Election 2016, in a world where social media channels are well integrated into the personal and business life of each and every one of us, the main question asked is who is going to apply the conversation and influence principle to today’s social channels, to impact the voter. Yes, all candidates understand the Social Media value, that it is driving – and can swing – 2016 election. But do they all use all available channels in the most optimal way? The Facebooks of the world are great places for the 35+ population. But what about millennials? Millennials represent 30% of US population, are labeled as the most educated and diverse generation to date, are spending most of their time on the newer communities such as Snapchat and Vine. To influence millennials candidates must be present and involved with those communities. In addition to the question of presence, comes a question of Use: It’s not enough to merely “be present”, one must also use these channels right, as each platform has its own set of rules and ‘language’. Be formal in a business environment, and open and chatty in a casual one. Otherwise one risks mismatch of behavior, to social circumstances – just like in “real life” this can bring inappropriate and mocked-on, response. Understanding The social context of each social platform is simple and critical step that can make or break a candidate’s presence. And so, the two parameters used in this article to measure ‘social media’ success are 1) presence – are candidate is present in various social communities 2) use – correct use of different social communities. The latter parameter is a critical one, where many political candidates fail to leverage the channel due to inability to decode the ‘social engagement rules’ of each specific community.
For the purposes of this article, I reviewed the social channels of all democratic and republican current candidates to explore who does the minimum necessary, vs who maximizes, social media use to tip the scale. The results, are as follows: All candidates have presence in the ‘usual suspects’ or shall we call them ‘traditional’ social channels: Facebook and Twitter. All have a polished LinkedIn profile. A few candidates extend activity into Instagram and YouTube, and Twitter-owned Periscope. However, just a handful of candidates are leveraging the new millennial communities, such as Meerkat, Vine and Snapchat. And, only one candidate understands the latter channels right, leveraging them to the highest optimal level, with one small candidate from the opposing party, growing to be a bit of a David to Goliath. Can you guess who these might be? I’ll share that in a moment. Lets dive into numbers first.
Not surprisingly, the top four candidates doing the best job so far on social media are Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, of the democratic party, and Donald Trump and Chris Christie of the Republican side. Dr. Ben Carson is somewhat flirting with these channels too. All former four are using Facebook, Twitter, instagram and Youtube. Being on Instagram and YouTube is a smart move as these platforms allow organic growth and high engagement, especially for smaller candidates that dwell in tens or hundreds of thousands of followers and need the reach. Instagram is my personal favorite social channel recommendation, as it enables the candidate to easily create emotionally engaging content, tap into existing popular hashtag marketing games and leverage the already ready-to-engage audience. All candidates leverage techniques such as using hashtags, posting videos, and doing live Q&A on social media channels. So all check ‘yes’ under presence and proper use of the validated social media channels. Just as an example, last week saw Hillary Clinton participated in a Live Q&A event on Facebook, which was transcribed into a LinkedIn article, answering questions submitted by the audience; Hillary and Trump both used Periscope to broadcast their rallies; Bernie Sanders is running with #FeelTheBern which has proven very successful to create successful rallies across the country. Other popular candidate hashtags include #AllInForJeb trending high on Twitter. Good work so far. However, these covers the 35+ segments.
However, some still sin in the ‘use’ of social media channel, not understanding the personal, conversational aspects, nor the ‘operational’ and ‘technical rules’ of each community.
Some candidates’ traditional’ core perception of the web is quite visible: as an example, Candidate Ben Carson, while having very polished social presence -including on Vine – is using #AskBen on Twitter for his main campaign, a general enough hashtag to clash with another #AskBen that is around a teenage popstar, interfering and diluting the message, and breaking social SEO. It’s not enough to just invent a hashtag. A more unique hashtag is needed such as #AllInForJeb that cannot be accidentally mixed with other irrelevant campaigns. Another strategic mistake: candidate Pataki’s use of videos hosted on his site rather than on YouTube is a strategic error to cost him traffic, engagement and social SEO. This alone reflects the most critical lack of understanding of today’s web: we live in a social web, where being ‘out there’ is as important as having your own site (if not more, to speak of millennials). Voters check candidates on social channels, simply because voters are on social site already for 2-3 hours a day, and probably because they are interested in expressing their opinion, or hearing what their friends have to say. Heated political debates are definitely not a rare dialog in the social network
Now, let’s deep dive into Millennial communities. Periscope, Meerkat, Snapchat, Vine, all relatively young networks, are YET to be formally used by most candidates. The use of these communities is necessary not solely because Millennials are there, but also because video is the primart content format favored by adults. One more reason to join the newer networks, is also because there is much direction coming from the network themselves, as well as from the users, to dominate the election debate. Both snapchat as well as Meerkat, 2 relatively new communities that grew widely in past couple of years, have rumoured to have hired professional political editors/strategists to help build, leverage as well as steer political discussion in the network. And as we learned from the past, the biggest mistake a candidate can make – is to let the content and discussion be led by the audience, and not by the leader. That is why it is imperative we start seeing all candidates involved in all Millennials networks.
Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump, Dr. Ben Carson, Chris Christie, are of the few candidates that took the step and are on Vine. Interestingly enough, Trump’s abandoned Vine and the countless videos posted of him, is of the successful Vine accounts and videos on the network. Trump, Clinton and Sanders use Periscope to live broadcast rallies. While Hillary got heavily criticized on wrong use of Snapchat, Trump is literally trumping the Social Media Millennial communities in storm. Why? Trump is the only one that uses Vine ‘properly’ with nearly 80k followers and almost 9m video loops. And that with only 10 videos from 2013, imagine what it can explode into in 2015. If I wasn’t a Hillary supporter, I’d recommend Donald to activate his Vine asap. Just to give a benchmark, a brand such as Coca Cola has 129k followers and nearly 2m video loops. His authentic, non edited, non polish, emotional videos hit the core of social media, eye level conversation.
Here’s where we get to reveal the potential David to the Goliath here. A new candidate has entered the game last month, Democratic candidate Prof Lessig, who used Twitter and other social media communities long before Obama did. Lessig, a political activist, lawyer who is involved in many organizations to “free information”, has entered the race last month, with a number of followers as big and passionate as the medium sized fishes in this game, such as Gov. Christie and Dr. Ben Carson. With a sound knowledge of social media impact, I am expecting Lessig to become a strong media opponent to Trump.
To conclude, Candidates need to get to where the voters are at. And more importantly – to where the conversation is. To add to that, it’s not enough to just post there. Candidates need to be present and involved where voters speak of the election, to maximize their use of social media. Candidates need to understand the different ‘social context’ of each network, and plan their content and message accordingly, ‘behave’ and ‘speak’ accordingly. Facebook is the main social channel for 35+. Twitter is the business arena. YouTube and Instagram for young and more female orientated audience that responds to emotionally engaging content. Vine, Snapchat for the millennials, to offer unedited, raw, unpolished videos to touch the hearts and minds of the young vote. In addition to that, Venturing in new networks will achieve a twofold purpose: (1) expand the candidate’s reach, which is harder on ‘traditional’ social media channels, especially with millennials. (2) to influence and steer political discussion, because the political discussion is growing there, organically, as well as led by the specific network.