Presidential Hopefuls & Social Media

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 average’ of 10-minutes or less.  Candidates 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





  1. @jreed0614 this was a great blog post. It will be interesting what other social media platforms begin to play a big role in the 2016 election. I think periscope could be one of the biggest players because it allows the candidate control of a Q&A, etc while still providing a certain amount of free and openness. Part of the blog made me think of a twitter post I made a few weeks ago about how candidates are going to want to seek out fans with the most klout as they have a direct line to the most followers. That will be interesting on more of the established platforms (specifically twitter).

  2. I have also been thinking about how social media will effect the coming election. One particularly interesting example regarding how Periscope is already being used can be seen in Senator Rand Paul walking out of an interview with a Guardian Reporter that was being streamed via Periscope. With live-streaming video apps, candidates will have less control of what version of an interview is told to an audience. Before Periscope, Rand Paul’s team could have negotiated with the Guardian reporter whether that particular question would be included or edited out of the video interview. With Periscope, Paul’s choices were to answer “no comment” or simply walk out. I will be interested to see if other candidates try to avoid the Periscope platform as to avoid “tough questions” being streamed live.

  3. Josh – This was truly an awesome blog post. I really enjoyed the post because I think the topic is so interesting. I really enjoy politics myself and learning about how social media is integrated into campaigns is so interesting. I think this election will be affected so much by social media because it is really an up for grabs race. There is no incumbent on either side which makes the primaries that much more interesting and exciting. 2016 is going to be a very interesting election year!

  4. Very interesting blog post Josh! I also thought that @kirkcaroline example about Senator Rand Paul really added to your post.

    Personally, I am curious to see how Snapchat’s role will evolve with regards to the 2016 election. @jreed0614 and I conversed on Twitter about Snapchat’s latest social media recruiting tactic, as it targets Uber engineers with a geolocation filter tag in their platform. The filter read ‘This place driving you mad?”, and was an effort to lure Uber engineers to work for Snapchat. It brings up the question of ‘How far is too far?’ I also wonder if social media tactics like this will eventually result in stricter social media rules with regards to campaigns. Only time will tell.

  5. Great post, Josh! You clearly did your research and have great examples as to how social media can affect the upcoming election. Like @epehota, I am very curious as to how Snapchat will play a role in the upcoming election. The first thing that comes to my mind is the “Stories” and whether or not campaign teams will elect (no pun intended) to get a Snapchat for their platform. This can be a great way for the 18-24 age demographic to quickly see in 10 seconds or less what each candidate is currently doing. Moreover, the potential for having a geo-story can play an interesting role. The stories now, such as BC Campus Story or the city stories that have recently popped up, seem to be a bunch of people doing funny or quirky things in their everyday lives. But can this story be turned into a way to receive news updates? The Discover feature on Snapchat definitely helps, but capitalizing on the Story might be a tactic that proves to be necessary.

  6. Nice post. It seems like although many politicians use social media during elections and at other times, very few do so effectively. I think part of the reason for that is they’re using a younger generation’s platform to deliver messages tailored to an older demographic. I think your point about the need for effective ‘marketing’ is absolutely right. Just because the younger demographic is reachable via these platforms doesn’t mean they’ll listen to messages they perceive as irrelevant to them.

  7. Josh – really enjoyed the post. The introduction to your post highlighting the growth of SM sites was a great idea to set the stage for the rest of your blog. Throughout the beginning of the post, I began to question whether or not SM would actually be a very effective tool to reach potential voters purely based on age, but the demographic comparison graph proved this wrong and was a great chart to include within your post. I have been thinking about SM as a competitive advantage in the upcoming presidential election a lot recently, but I cannot seem to justify it as such. I believe every candidate will leverage the platforms to the greatest extent they can (like companies and marketing) to the point where it is no longer a competitive advantage but a must. But, you raise a great point through the Jet Blue situation – if one candidate is able to differentiate themselves like Jet Blue I too think it will be a great advantage! I hope some of the candidates use snap chat and the new streaming SM applications, I think this would be really interesting and more fun to follow than typical SM platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

  8. Josh this was great man! Such a relevant topic to people our age. The fact that only 41.2% of 18-24 year olds showed up and voted in the last presidential election is pretty pathetic if you ask me. There are people who have fought for centuries that have allowed them to have that opportunity, and some people just don’t get it. I hope that candidates in the 2016 election can use social media to educate, build a base, and get the young people in America off the couch, off whatever is so damn important, and into the voting booths, into the one major place where we have the power at our age to make a difference in this country. I hope they can capture part of this 50%. Btw, these graphs were so helpful in this post!

  9. SM in politics is always interesting. I actually think its a net benefit to candidates, as they have an opportunity to control their message better. For instance, after someone posted a video criticizing Obama in 2012 (I believe it was about comments made by his pastor), he was able to release a video on YouTube that showed a rebuttal right next to the video.

  10. […] is no realm that social media cannot or will not penetrate.  Whether it be politics or business, education or healthcare, social media and digital in general is changing the way […]

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