The advent and evolution of social media has profoundly influenced the way individuals interact with political campaigns. The 2008 election was notably dubbed the “Facebook election” for Barack Obama’s groundswell of support online, especially on Facebook.
Three-quarters of online users accessed the internet to gather news, seek information or communicate with others about the 2008 election, amplifying the internet’s role in political elections to come. The 2008 election used social media to reach and interact with voters nationwide, while the 2012 election leveraged aggregated voter data to improve targeting segmentation. In the current 2016 election, political marketers are continuing to build on the troves of accumulated data for more granular, precise targeting.
The introduction of programmatic and real-time media buying has been a valuable force in the political marketing realm, accounting for increased fundraising efforts, improved retargeting to both potential swing voters and loyal supporters, and more aligned messaging. Presidential elections are notorious for blanketing the media with ads in the final weeks of the campaign, but this tactic doesn’t translate across all media buys, especially for smaller, more targeted campaigns.
Social Media and Paid Advertising in the Election
Innovative digital marketing executions, such as geofencing and message testing, have significantly contributed to enhanced political campaign marketing. Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have spent $104 million and $91.6 million respectively in the 2016 election cycle, with campaign budgets spanning across traditional media placements to social media and paid advertising. Clinton’s political marketing campaign commenced with a conventionally robust strategy that focused on TV and digital advertising. During the primaries, Trump’s campaign concentrated on driving support and bolstering media exposure from social media platforms like Twitter (this has greatly limited ad spend), although ad budgets have recently shifted towards more traditional political advertising tactics. Trump has been taking to Twitter to broadcast his ads instead of buying time over the airwaves, and his proclivity towards Twitter has transcended throughout the general election campaign.
Less than a week ago, Trump launched a social media campaign to help keep the media honest with his hashtag #BigLeagueTruth. The hashtag, initiated just days before the second presidential debate, sought to fact check, debunk accusations, and counter the democratic narrative (both the media and the Clinton campaign). Trump has thrown any and all traditional social media etiquette out the window, but his messaging and frequency have remained consistent. Although some of the messaging is arguably derogatory, Trump uses social media to break through the antiseptic and computerized tone of digital content, offering followers a human voice.
Back in May 2016, Trump famously criticized data for being “overrated” – just one of the unorthodoxies of his political marketing strategy. With Election Day just a few short weeks away, Trump has ushered towards a more analytical approach to advertising, now spending millions of dollars on data and digital marketing.
Trump’s recent propensity for data is respectable, but Clinton’s campaign has been consistently dedicated to strategic media placements, number crunching, AND sophisticated data-gathering throughout the primaries and general election. Trump eschewed from data and analytics, and Politico cited his strategy as “scattershot populist messaging” while Clinton’s campaign targeted voters one by one.
Clinton is represented on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Twitter, Pinterest and Snapchat, but the presidential contender discovered a particular niche on Instagram. She has been on Twitter since 2013, but only joined Instagram in 2015. Her Instagram followers are generally people who began to follow her since the campaign’s inception, versus someone who has been following her on Twitter or Facebook for years. This insight uncovers the different types of people, personalities, and mindsets each follower is at in THE ‘conversion cycle.’ Clinton’s marketing team applies this same strategy to all paid media executions, understanding that certain images or words elicit more aligned messages that resonate better with different audience segments. Clinton’s political marketing campaign heavily relies on first-party data, but leans on platforms like Facebook and YouTube for demographic information and language preference.
Of course it all boils down to the voters, and unfortunately voter turnout is extremely hard to measure and attribute to online transactions. Despite this, digital marketing will remain a formidable approach to political marketing campaigns. As the digitization of TV develops, we predict that Programmatic TV will be a big player in future elections, capable of targeting at the household or individual level.