The impact of social media on the US election

Posted on Posted in Beloved Brands in the Market

How can we explain Jeb Bush spending over $100 Million and getting very little back in return. If we look deeper, we can see that he has done a very poor job in engaging with voters through social media.

The US election has always fascinated me, even as a Canadian. Heck, we even have a Canadian in the race this year. Just kidding. As crazy as the current election has become, it has almost become entertainment. I’m not here to talk about politics at all. As Marketers, we can certainly learn from how the candidates are utilizing social media.

While the 2008 US election taught us that social media can help you win the election, the 2016 US election might be teaching us that traditional media may not help you win at all.

Back in 2008, Obama’s team was ahead of the social media curve using 2.5 million Facebook supporters, 115,000 Twitter followers (a lot back then) and 50 Million views on YouTube. John McCain was no where on social media. 

This year might be a great case study in how spending more on traditional media might not mean that much. Reportedly, Jeb Bush has already spent over $100 Million and yet has come in sixth place in Iowa (behind Rand Paul, who dropped out) and he is likely headed for a similar result in New Hampshire. Bush has done an awful job on social media, weak on both Twitter and Facebook. His lack of engagement with voters might be a better explanation as to why he is doing so poorly. Below is how the candidates fare on the two social platforms. Trump has 6 million followers on both Twitter and Facebook, while Bush has a 400,000 on each.

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So far in the 2016 campaign, Donald Trump has spent more money on “Make America Great” hats than he has spent on Advertising. As we all know, he is the most actively engaged on-line, tweeting on an hourly basis–with 30,000 tweets, about 10x as many as the other candidates. Trump’s style of Tweets is like the car-crash that you cannot turn away from. I will regularly peak in on his just to see what he’s said now. Most days I’m in shock as to what he’s been able to get away with, but now I’m starting to expect that this is all part of the frustrated brand that he has created. 

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As expected, Hillary Clinton’s tweets are safe and calculating. There’s no reason to follow or look at her account, unless you want the odd link to one of her policy papers. With Bernie Sanders, his account says that Tweets ending in B are from him, but the rest are from staffers.  When I eye-ball the last few hundred tweets, I did not see one signed with a B. So basically, signing up for Bernie’s Twitter means you are fully engaged with a 23-year-old intern. One of the newest social media vehicle that some of the candidates have embraced is Instagram. Look at the chart below, we can see that only 3 candidates have done anything with Instagram. Poor Jeb Bush has 4,000 followers, slightly behind Trump’s 980,000 followers.

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In terms of earned media, Trump has managed to dominate the news cycle, garnering 38% of the total media mentions. Bush has only grabbed about 4% of the earned media. The media seems to be endlessly talking about Trump, half the time confused. It seems the media has tried to anoint various candidates instead of Trump, including front-runner Scott Walker, followed by front-runner Jeb Bush, followed by new front-runner Dr Ben Carson, followed by new front-runner Ted Cruz, and followed by new surging candidate Marco Rubio.

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I can’t predict who will win the 2016 election. But I can predict that elections will never be the same. Forget politics for a minute. What can your brand learn from the use of Social Media in the 2016 US election campaign? How can you leverage the efforts of social media to counter the high cost of paid media? How can you leverage earned media to be part of the story? Does it do any good to have a social media account and not do anything with it?

This US election year appears to get more interesting every week.


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