Well, that was a surprise.
While there were many prediction models and polls that forecasted the Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton as the winner in the presidential race in year 2016, it was found by social media analytics companies that had trained their eye on the election that Donald Trump would be the victor.
Donald Trump made full use of social media accounts and rode the Trump train all the way to the White House. According to marketing analytics professionals- social media gave him the edge needed to win. Trump’s engagement and mentions on social media have all been tracked by analytics, and his spend on social media in July was $8.4 million. He invested wisely, knowing that a grassroots campaign was the best strategy to win, and win he did against all odds. This shows the well-known massive ROI for investment in digital marketing and the importance of social media presence and engagement.
“This seemed to be a clear-cut election from the start”
As the bandwagon of Donald Trump gathered speed, mainstream journalists and political pundits did not predict how important his online presence would become to his campaign. With 4 million more followers on twitter than Clinton, he had a seemingly transparent and instant platform to his voters which gave him a powerful voice direct to their smartphones. The engagement level of his voters was unprecedented.
“How Social Media Marketing Won Donald Trump the Election?”
Just check out The_Donald subreddit on Reddit, known as “The front page of the internet”. Every day his supporters would create, post and share content created for him. Hillary did not have anywhere near the levels of engagement across her subreddit, HillaryClinton. Online interest in Trump was 3 times higher than Clinton. Combine this with voters distrust in mass media at its lowest point in polling history. 42% of TV viewers do not bother to watch campaign advertising. This combined won Trump the election.
“You see what you want to see online”
However, social media news feeds have been shown to keep you in a bubble. People tend to ignore political posts which they disagree with, and this is exacerbated by the algorithms used to deliver news on these sites. For example, if you hold a certain view, Facebook’s artificial intelligence algorithm curates trends and delivers to you on your feed which reinforces your worldview. The more articles you click or share with a perspective, the more you will see of your view, and less of the opposing viewpoint.
This has the unintended consequence of reinforcing more polarizing views, as you believe you are surrounded by people who share those views. Trump’s use of social media has shown this particular oversight to be a force to be reckoned with, and something which should be considered and used carefully in future elections. Mark Zuckerberg has had to respond to claims that fake news articles were shared widely on Facebook, amplifying political biases, and slanted views. With the presidential election this year being taken as an example, social has never been more powerful.
The presidential election of 2016 has not been the first event that involves social media as a political tool, but these days, it carries greater influence and weight over the vote. The 2 presidential candidates, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, both used social media to their advantage, with Trump rallying support that outweighed the fact that 57 out of 59 newspapers supported Hillary Clinton. This is such a massive change to previous elections and completely unprecedented.
“Popularizing and reinforcing narrow opinions”
It has never been like this before. Today, a simple retweet, like, or other mindless online activity has been very reflective of the politics in America. Social media is acting as a glue for like-minded individuals, and reinforces their confirmation bias. And people do not know that this is happening, making them less informed with more and more access to information than ever before. Psychological research shows that people lean towards confirmatory information and solidify their views, but this takes it to the next level, narrowing opinions and giving a greater importance to opinions which were once less socially acceptable to hold and discuss, without being presented with a counter argument as would have happened in the past when expressing such opinions in public. This is the first time that people who do not understand the echo chamber they are within have voted on such a grand scale for such an important event, each side believing it was obvious that they would win (confirmed by all the posts saying so on their newsfeed). This power of social media has yet to be recognized to the everyman, but needs to be known.
“Social media needs to be respected and the news model refined”
With the demise of the power which traditional newspapers used to hold over shaping peoples views, this has raised questions about how news should be delivered online and on social networks. Facebook has left it up to artificial intelligence, in part to stop human editors bias from influencing trending articles. In the future, I believe we will see a much more refined AI model with less divisive tendencies. And I guarantee that the next election will be another social media popularity contest. If you plan to run in the 2020 election, better start building your followers now!