There’s no denying that the 2016 presidential election has been a rough one. But politics aside, it’s a particularly exciting time for us to look at what’s happening on social media. Today, 78 percent of Americans have a social media profile. Based on the groundbreaking influence of social media strategy used in recent elections, the incorporation of this communication tool has become a key element in all political campaigns.

We’re entering into the final days of this election. But before it’s time to vote, let’s take a closer look at how social media has influenced our current election cycle.


As Social Media Week puts it, social media is in its purest form, a platform. It’s a method with the potential to reach millions of people, and in politics, that’s half the battle.

This is the third time in the last hundred years that a new medium has transformed our elections. In the 1920s, radio disembodied candidates, reducing them to voices and resulting in Franklin Roosevelt’s landslide victory and soothing fireside chats. Then, in the 1960s, television gave candidates their bodies back, but in turn placed huge value on ‘image’ and the birth of the ‘sound bite.’

In 2008, President Obama leveraged social media to reach minority groups and young voters (ever elusive and hard to reach). This proved to be highly effective in getting out the vote for his campaign. Since then, according to the Social Times, Facebook now boasts nearly 1.6 billion monthly active users. This is up 60 percent from 2012, the year of the last election, when it crossed the 1 billion mark. Twitter today has 385 million monthly active users, up from 185 million in 2012.


More people than ever get their news from social networks like Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat. Candidates have discovered the quickest (and cheapest) way to make news is to put out a statement in a social media post.

As of April 2016, the country had collectively spent more than 1,284 years reading about Donald Trump on social media in 12 months. If he sought similar attention by buying ads, Trump’s social reach would cost $380 million. Instead, he’s getting it for free in tweets, likes, and shares. Although not all of this attention is positive, it is still attention that can’t be ignored.


In 2016, our social media efforts are concentrated towards winning the affection of one key group—you guessed it—millennials. Figures from Borrell Associates suggest that politicians will be allocating over 9 percent of their media budget towards digital and social media—which comes to an estimated $1 billion. These numbers are backed by numerous eye-opening studies:

  • One study published in 2012 found that Facebook feeds have a significant impact on voting patterns. Certain messages increased turnout directly and indirectly by a total of 340,000 votes.
  • Research from Ipsos Mori indicates that social media has more of an impact for 18 – 24-year-olds. More than a third (34%) of this group said that reading something on social media would influence their vote, second only to televised debates.
  • Another study found that 41% of young people ages 15-25 have participated in some kind of political discussion or activity online.
  • Among 18- to 29-year-olds, nearly two-thirds said social media is the most helpful means of learning new things about politics, according to a study released last year by the Pew Research Center.



Facebook has a dedicated team which meets candidates and offers assistance with their advertising services. Eric Laurence, Facebook’s head of U.S. Industry for Politics and Government, cited the benefits of their video advertising saying it was a “great way to reach and mobilize supporters and voters that candidates need to win elections.” Those voters are on Facebook.


We can’t talk about Twitter without talking about Donald Trump. He has made it a major component of his campaign marketing strategy over traditional tactics like TV ads. As unconventional and notorious as his tactics are, Trump’s messages attract a vast web audience—4 million followers on Twitter alone—while giving reporters fresh bait to feed on. It’s clear that Trump understands the best way to dominate the online discussion is not to inform but to provoke. Do we as a country support this tactic? Apparently, yes. The amount of airtime on traditional media and the engagement that Trump receives for his tweets speak for themselves.


Even the fairly new entrants like Snapchat are using filters and 10-second video ads catered to political campaigns. The first few candidates to run ads on this platform were John Kasich, Rand Paul, and Scott Walker. We anticipate seeing more here as election day approaches.


Lee Dunn, who is heading the election campaign management team at Google told Glamour that YouTube will help candidates to target people based on their geographical locations, language, etc.:

“2016 will become known for being the campaign of video content. People want authenticity and directness from candidates, and the best platform to provide that without a filter from the media is YouTube.”


Erin Lindsay from Precision Strategies, a consulting firm founded by the strategists behind President Obama’s campaign, told The Hill: “Authenticity is a big thing in social media. I think the candidates that are the most successful are the ones that are clearly the most comfortable.” Whether this authenticity is perceived or genuine is irrelevant. What is relevant is how today’s candidates portray their ‘authentic’ selves on social and other media platforms.

Just like brands, politicians are viewed more favorably if they are seen as transparent and trustworthy. Social media undoubtedly plays to this skill. It’s one reason why Trump and Bernie have strong support from their base constituents, while Clinton has struggled with many voters. For better or for worse, her authentic voice does not always come through. We’ve moved beyond fact and merit based on historic truths.

We now live in a ‘shiny object’ culture where even bad PR can turn into a perceived positive. There’s no going back, so how do we move forward?


Soon, the direction of our country will again be defined by the individual who gains our trust to run the United States for the next four years (maybe eight).

Regardless of your political standing, this is a game-changing election that will create ripple effects for years to come. It feels very ‘Hunger Games,’ doesn’t it? But, the part (a large part) that social media now plays in our electoral process gives you access. Access to the facts, history, and reality of our candidate’s experience and background. Since we are talking about the most impactful and visible job in the country, we can’t afford to phone it in!

In the end, we cannot sit by and let someone else decide where we will go from here. Get out and vote on November 8! We’ll see you at the polls.

What are your thoughts on how social media is impacting the election? We want to hear them! Leave a comment on our Facebook page.