Yesterday, I was quoted in the Washington Post about Twitter usage during Election 2016 in the article “Social media campaigns attract millions of followers, but can they get them to the polls?”
I provided the reporter with a lot of background information that was not used in the article. See below for my full interview!
Interview Questions for Jenn Little, Washington Post
August 10, 2016
Prepared by: Alissa Arford, Director of Online Strategy, Robert H. Smith School of Business, University of Maryland
How has social media become the new “ground game” of the electoral process? Past the canvassing and phone banking, what unique power does social media have?
Social media is having a huge impact in this election! For hundreds of millions of people much of the news they see about the presidential election is filtered through Facebook and Twitter. What you see depends on who you follow and who you are friends with and their political views. Everyone is going to have a very different experience on social media with respect to the election.
For example, if you’re following the Washington Post, The New York Times, or Huffington Post you’re probably going to see positive posts about Hillary Clinton and negative posts about Donald Trump. Following Fox News? Obviously, they are pro-Trump. You are likely to see more positive posts about the candidate you support because you are more likely to have friends with similar views and follow news outlets that reflect your opinions.
If you have friends who are very extreme in their views and you don’t agree with them you may even decide to stop following them or hide their posts. If you’ve crafted your social media experience to only see posts you want to see, how effective are the negative posts being made by the “other candidate?”
For Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, social media is allowing them to connect with the voters in a new and exciting way – but it’s also scary. One mis-tweet could have a profound impact on the campaign. And every tweet is being heavily scrutinized by the media. The unique power of social media for the presidential candidates is that it unites their supporters and allows them to engage with voters directly and in real-time. Candidates can get immediate feedback when something goes right, and when something goes wrong.
When I see a Facebook post or tweet come into my news feed, I feel an immediate connection to the person who posted it. I sometimes think about the writer taking the photo and writing the tweet just mere seconds ago. The immediacy of social media is really appealing – people are more inclined to engage with a post about something that is happening right now. The lifespan of a social media post is measured in hours, so the candidates post very often to connect with their supporters.
I was teaching a social media class to high school students this summer at the Robert H. Smith School of Business and we analyzed the Twitter accounts of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. It was almost impossible to predict which posts had the most engagement. Trump has a couple million more followers than Clinton, but the engagement levels (retweets, likes) are proportionally much higher for Trump. However, Clinton’s posts are strategically much better – she includes photos, infographics, and videos. If she’s doing everything right on social media, why are Trump’s posts getting so much more engagement? It appears as though he is writing all of his posts by himself, so they are more authentic and people like to “Like” something that is genuine and even controversial. (Think about the Taylor Swift – Kanye West feud, people love to hate it on social media.) Most of Clinton’s tweets are done by her social media team and are technically perfect, but maybe that’s why they’re not as engaging – they’re just too textbook. The posts she writes herself are signed “— H.”
One thing that neither candidate is doing a great job at is using hashtags. Trump uses hashtags more regularly, but not consistently – #MakeAmericaGreatAgain #TrumpPence16. Clinton promotes #ImWithHer, but doesn’t use it consistently in her own messaging.
In your opinion, is having a stronger social media presence or a stronger ground game (rallies, canvassing, door to door, town hall) more important? They both have their benefits of course, but which is more crucial in the 21st century?
I think you need to have something tangible to promote on social media, so the ground game and social media go hand-in-hand. The candidates need to get out there and interact with the voters in order to generate effective content for social media. Photos of happy, smiling faces and big crowds at rallies along with heartfelt photos of personal interactions make a big impact on social media. Donald Trump does a good job of promoting his rallies on social media – thanking the towns and posting photos. Although it was a good attempt, the photo with the crying babies did not go so well! If there was a rally crowd photo posted by one of the candidates with me in it, I’m probably going to engage with that post, which is the goal of social media – increase engagement to increase reach.
At the Smith School we post photos of students all the time on Facebook – our goal is to get the students to tag themselves in the photo so the post will be shown to their friends, and when their friends like the post, their friends see it, and so on, and so on… a Facebook post can reach exponentially more people than like your page or are friends with you. A great photo can be a huge win for social media… think about the photos of the balloons at the Democratic National Convention. Who knew that would be such a huge social media phenomenon?! Gifs, memes = huge.
What are some specific job designations under a team of “social media strategists”? What does the typical makeup of a social media team look like?
I’m not familiar with the social media strategists on the Clinton and Trump teams, but if I were to guess I’d say that there could be the following kinds of people on the social media team, who would work directly with the communications/PR team, so there could be overlap:
Writers, photographers, videographers, graphic designers, and data analysts.
I can’t imagine the amount of analysis and web listening that’s going on right now for the campaign – they may even outsource the basic analytics out to a company. At the Smith School, we’ve used PR Newswire – now Cision – and Radian 6 for analytics.
In what ways do candidates manipulate Twitter or Facebook data collected to their own advantage? (Email lists, filtered content, etc.) Do users always know this is happening?
I’m not exactly sure on this question… but here’s one answer:
I would hope that the candidates are not manipulating social media data! But generally speaking, the way you could manipulate data would be to create fake accounts to inflate the engagement numbers or hire the services of a company that assists in those practices. As my son calls it on Instagram: “Likes for Likes.”