The upcoming 2016 presidential race is undoubtedly going to be the most social media entrenched race to date. In just three short years since President Obama’s last run in 2012:
- Facebook has added 300+ million monthly active users
- Youtube watchers now view ‘hundreds of millions‘ of hours of video per day
- Snapchat’s valuation has gone from $70 million to $3 billion
- Instagram has grown by as many as 400,000 users a day (in March 2014 for instance)
- Entirely new types of social media, like the Periscope and Meerkat streaming apps, have emerged
It would not be surprising, in fact it is likely inevitable, that even more social platforms will arise by 2016. It is essentially a necessity for soon to be presidential hopefuls to utilize social in one way or another during their campaigns. In fact, if they are able to take things a step further and connect, engage, and interact with potential voters on multiple platforms and levels, they will likely build a strong competitive advantage. This is especially the case with the younger generation. As seen in the chart below, the 18-24 year old demographic is one that has seen a stagnation, or even decline, in voter turnout over the past several elections, never crossing the 50% mark.
Social media provides an unbelievable opportunity for candidates to engage the other 50% of young voters – a relationship that, with the right cultivation, could turn them into voters, and even supporters. If that point can be reached, than this young demographic (who are the most technologically and social media savvy) could end up sharing and spreading a campaign message even more effectively than the most passionate older supporters in many cases. This is a huge factor to consider, and candidates should be especially focused on gaining this younger, acutely social media focused demographic involved and on their side. This brings up an interesting question – should candidates invest in Snapchat initiatives? It would certainly be a novel approach in the political sphere, but it would be a guaranteed targeting of the younger demographic. In fact, 71 percent of Snapchat’s US-based users are between the ages of 18 and 34. Below is a breakdown of the top social networks and where each age demographic stands in their usage:
Candidates need to not only be all-in when it comes to social, but they need to understand who uses which platforms, and ‘market’ themselves and their campaigns accordingly. Once, and if, a particular candidate begins to stand out on these platforms, network effects will take over. Here are a few quick stats from Pew Research Center on how voters encourage each other to vote:
- 22% of registered voters have let others know how they voted on a social networking site such as Facebook or Twitter
- 30% of registered voters were encouraged to vote for Democrat Barack Obama or Republican Mitt Romney by family and friends via posts on social media such as Facebook or Twitter
- 29% of those under age 50 have announced to their networks through social media how they voted or planned to vote, compared with 17% of those 50 and older who have revealed their vote by social media
Additionally, candidates can also help themselves by choosing a highly digitally literate team. What can a candidate learn from Jet Blue for instance? Well, the small airline is known for its customer service, especially when it comes to timely twitter responses. Just imagine how impactful it would be for an on-the-fence voter to tweet at a candidate and get a thoughtful response in the ‘Jet Blue andidates and their teams must be truly committed to other innovative campaign approaches as well. Periscope, one of the newest popular platforms, could be used to connect with voters on a more candid and spontaneous level. Two examples could be sharing quick Q&As with online audiences or showing backstage preparations. This could really serve to show a candidate is willing to be transparent and open, qualities that are often criticized as lacking in the world of politics.
Ultimately, it is of course important for candidates to fully realize, and at least attempt to utilize, the immense benefits that social media can offer. However, it is vital to be highly thoughtful in the usage of social media in the political sphere, as backlash is unavoidable. A plan of defense is equally as essential as a plan of attack for candidates using these platforms. Consistency and honesty will need to be maintained in all digital campaigns to the same level that they are maintained in non-digital campaigns. Another aspect that candidates must think critically about is avoiding alienating older or less social media savvy voters who may not appreciate so much focus on digital. Overall, social media can provide a great amount of opportunities for presidential candidates to enhance their campaigns – as with any opportunity though, the risks must be kept in mind as much as the rewards.
By: Josh Reed @jreed0614