The results of last week’s election left the US (not to mention the rest of the world) in a state of shock. The results were so unexpected that even the winning Trump team appeared stunned. It is being called the most significant political upset of our time and with good reason. There are lots of unanswered questions surrounding this election, but one thing is clear, social media played a historic role in choosing the next president of the United States.
On November 8th premature articles posted by Social Media Today and PR Week congratulated Hillary Clinton on her winning social media strategy. Ironically, they were partially correct. Clinton fielded a 100 person strong, highly coordinated team, which used a wide variety of social platforms, including Pinterest and Quora. She effectively used email, intensive metrics tracking, regional targeted audience development, video, paid social, digital organizing and her well-executed Briefing blog. She managed to turn her sophisticated social media presence into substantial donations, which is no small feat in the political arena. According to Social Media Today, Clinton’s campaign did an excellent job of balancing her values and policy with humorous jabs at the Trump campaign on social media.
Her campaign addressed one of Clinton’s biggest deficits by humanizing her at every turn. Instagram images of Hillary Clinton holding her grandchild and deep in prayer, viral YouTube meetings with immigrant children and Snapchat posts chronicling days at the state campaign level all contributed to one unified message. In short, Hillary followed every rule in the social media manager’s handbook and significantly improved on Obama’s use of social media in 2008 and 2012. With this amazing show of force, Hillary Clinton won the popular election by over a million votes.
In contrast, Donald Trump’s social media campaign gave every appearance of being an unscripted free-for-all of 3 am tweets, Instagram video desk rants and fake Facebook news. Pollsters and pundits decried his social media presence as amateurish and crude, if admittedly compelling. They speculated that his high number of followers (more than twice the number of Clinton’s on certain platforms) and high engagement rates would not translate into real votes. As we know, they actually did and here are three winning strategies that helped make that amazing conversion happen;
Twitter - Trump used Twitter to communicate thoughts, emotions and ideas in real time, often narrating his opponents’ events and speeches. His unvarnished commentary on celebrity culture, personal events and even his own family inexplicably allowed the billionaire to appear authentic and accessible to middle-class voters. According to the Guardian, 58% of Trump’s Twitter followers live outside of the US in countries suspected of harboring “like farms” but, as with so many facts in this election, never mind. In short, social media managers will be studying Trump’s brilliant and undisciplined use of Twitter for decades to come.
Short Form Video - The Republican nominee embraced short form video, frequently using Instagram and Periscope to create tweet-like clips that were all the more entertaining for being hard to predict (think bald eagle attack shot). Trump’s use of this platform has been called “the future of American politics” by some observers and could possibly become a feature in the Trump administration (as in YouTube selfies replacing the fireside chat).
Facebook - Finally, Trump used Facebook in ways that did an end-run around his sworn enemy, the mainstream media. His ability to get unverified messages past the fact checkers and out to his supporters hinged on viral transmission and Facebook provided the perfect medium. So much so, that Mark Zuckerberg has spent significant time this week downplaying the role of “fake news” on Facebook in the Trump win. Guess what? It all worked. As we know, Donald J. Trump is president-elect and continues to tweet out messages that defy convention on a daily basis.
So, what does Trump’s win and Clinton’s loss say about the future of social media as a social force? The answer to that question probably won’t take shape until we have a little more distance from the election and a little time with a Tweeter-in-chief at the helm of the nation. However, one thing is undeniable, the entire world is on the social media train and it is moving way too fast for anyone to get off.