October 26, 2016Published by: Sharmin Cheema-Kelly

How social media has shaped the Trump-Clinton political circus, and what it means for brands and organisations

Whether you belong to Team Trump or Team Clinton, you’ve probably not seen anything quite like the 2016 US presidential elections before.

Technology has been the great game-changer for both candidates and also the cause of much controversy: Democratic candidate, Hillary Clinton, found herself in hot water after sharing classified information through her family’s private email server, while Republican nominee, Donald Trump, was filmed making lewd remarks about women in a video dating back to 2005, just two days before the second presidential debate.
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Credit: Giphy

However, there is a specific kind of technology that has influenced the US presidential campaign in a way that no other kind of technology has done before, and that's social media. With a whopping 1.7 billion users on Facebook, 1 billion on YouTube, and 320 million on Twitter, there have never been more powerful tools for the rapid dissemination of information.

Snapchat has also been a prominent feature in this election and its growing political importance extends beyond puking rainbows or swapping faces with friends. Millennials are one of the most, if not the most, coveted group of voters out there, and Trump and Clinton haven’t forgotten to take them into consideration - and for good reason.

According to a 2015 study by the Pew Research Centre, nearly two-thirds of 18-to 29-year-olds said they found social media helpful for learning new things about politics, which may be attributed to the need to simplify mundane complexities into brief, easily digestible ideas thanks to character limitations and shorter attention spans, on and partly as a result of, social media.

Credit: Hillary Clinton / Twitter

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, if Trump sought the same sort of attention as he currently does on social media channels, his social reach would cost an immense $380 million (£313 million)! Instead, he’s getting it for free (well, almost, if we discounted the funding he puts into the production of videos and carefully crafted content, all of which no doubt takes a whole team to gather and curate) in the form of tweets, likes and shares - though not all of this, as American journalist, Marissa Lang, observes, is positive.

Credit: Donald Trump / Twitter

Where information generation is concerned, this feedback loop as a result of social media is a gold mine for both candidates: Trump or Clinton’s mud-slinging tweets end up being outrageous enough to make the news, which then gets circulated through social media, which then contributes to more ‘noise’, therefore building more momentum around both candidates’ campaigns as a result. Win!

Social media politics has also transformed in recent years from being incredibly dull and sanitised, to being a place to issue an immediate (and sometimes humorous) response (Clinton’s ‘Delete your account’ tweet to Trump was her most retweeted tweet, with over 510,000 retweets and counting), to being a place where politicians show their less-than-manicured sides (who could forget “Ed Balls” or Ed Miliband being papped tucking into a bacon sandwich...)

Ed Miliband bringing home the bacon...

If there’s one very important takeaway from the whole Clinton-Trump social media circus, it’s this: social media has progressed from being an afterthought to being an essential part of communications strategy, and brands, organisations, and even politicians who wish to reach the masses absolutely cannot afford to discount it if they wish to build meaningful relationships with the very people whose support or business they require.

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