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Why social media could swing the 2016 presidential election

Lauren Brousell | Aug. 28, 2015
Candidates in the 2016 U.S. presidential election use more social networks than politicians of the past, in hopes of tapping the millennial market. However, it's difficult to measure real ROI, and the social trail is fraught with political perils.

For many candidates, the capability to tap into the millennial demographic is an important component of their efforts on social networks. Millennials are the bulk of users on many of the most popular niche social sites. For example, 71 percent of Snapchat's users are between the ages of 18 and 34 years old, according to comScore.

Posting on niche social networks can help candidates stand out to millennials, according to Betsy Sigman, distinguished teaching professor at Georgetown University's McDonough School of Business. Millennials also appreciate photos and images, and these forms of media can make candidates more memorable to people in that valued demographic, Sigman says. If a candidate's message resonates, millennials are likely to share with people in their networks.

"It's not just about motivating this generation to vote, but getting their friends to," says Ralph Legnini, senior creative strategist at DragonSearch, a digital marketing agency. "They need to create advocates where one kid will get others to vote."

However, millennials don't want social-based political messaging to look like the age-old political ads they see on TV, according to Zach Peterson, chief editor at social media analytics company, Socialbakers. "To break through the noise and make an impact on voters, campaigns need to be original and authentic. Nobody is marketed to like millennials are, and they know when they're being marketed to."

It's unclear exactly how all of these social efforts will influence the official nominations for each party and who will ultimately be elected. Right now, it's too early in the game for campaigns to tell which efforts work — and which ones don't. Many of the most significant social initiatives are also probably still in the works, but Jasso says social will be a major part of the election even though it can be a powerful double-edged sword.

For many voters, "[i]t's about 'How comfortable do I feel with that particular person? How trusting am I of that particular person? Would I want to have a beer with that person?,'" Jasso says. "Social media is a good way to show that."


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