Some have attributed the success of President Barack Obama’s rise to prominence over early favorite Hillary Clinton in 2008 to the adept way his campaign handled social media. He generated the early buzz through social before the mainstream media and television started realizing he would be able to sneak right past his opponents into prominence. The Republicans and John McCain had a miniscule focus on social media by comparison.
In 2012, Mitt Romney’s team did better than McCain but was still miles behind the President. The Obama campaign team’s second social media burst was a masterwork as they had more people Tweeting and Facebooking his every move than all of the Republican contenders combined. For 2016, the gap will likely be smaller as the GOP seems to (finally) realize the importance of getting people behind them on social media.
It’s not just what you say. It’s what other people say about you. That’s why social media in a modern political campaign is so important.
The rise of political social media as a primary arena for battle means two things to both Republicans and Democrats: the good must be broadcast as loudly as possible and the bad must be diffused and handled on a case-by-case basis. It’s not a matter of responding to everything out there. It’s a matter of knowing when and how to respond. Sometimes, silence works the best.
As we wait to see where everyone lands on the social media spectrum, we are starting to see a few trends:
- Instagram is a Thing – The younger voters have been moving more towards Instagram and some of the other smaller platforms in the last couple of years. Facebook is for old people.
- A Picture or Video for Every Post – If it can’t be seen, it didn’t happen. Twitter and Facebook in particular dramatically favor visual posts for engagement and exposure.
- Ads Amok – The only way to get massive exposure on social media is through advertising. Candidates who are serious about reaching more people have to pay up if they want to get the message out there.
- Hashtags Over Likes – There was once a push to get people to like a page or follow a Twitter account. Those days are gone. People will like or not regardless of whether you ask. Now, the key is to get into the Hashtag business and be at the top of all important conversations.
- Paid Trolls are Happening – Nobody will admit to it. Everybody will do it, even if the actual candidates aren’t told. There are already plenty of people being paid to promote the good and denounce the bad on social media, in blog posts, and on forums. This is the ugly side of social media that has become an abysmal reality.
There is no doubt that social media is going to play a huge role in the coming election. The only question that remains is about who will appeal and who will fail miserably. It’s still wide open, but our early analysis of the campaigns behind the candidates points to three people who will make the most of social media before the primaries: Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, and Martin O’Malley.