Although most online battles among the 2016 candidates and their supporters are being fought on Facebook and Twitter, a few newer or lesser known sites are also participating in the debates. Like everything else in the world of technology, it is impossible to say which of these, if any, may become a dominant force in the election process. Nonetheless, since candidates, or their supporters, are actively using these sites, all of them have the potential to influence the outcome of the primaries and the 2016 election.
Instagram is not unknown. It is probably the most well-known of these second tier social media sites. Although popular as a photo and short video sharing site, it ranks far behind other photo sharing sites, accounting for only 7% of daily uploads. However, unlike Twitter, which has shown a decline in users, Instagram is still on an upward trend. As far as demographics are concerned, Instagram appeals most to millennials. 90% of Instagram users are under 35 and it seems to appeal more to females (68%) than males (32%). Because of its appeal to millennials (a highly sought after group among certain candidates), Instagram could become more important as the election campaign ramps up. This could especially be the case if the contest comes down to Trump vs. Hillary, both of whom are not particularly popular with this group. So far, in terms of numbers of Instagram followers, Donald Trump holds a slight lead over millennial-supported Bernie Sanders. Here are their stats.
The trick in using Instagram is to appear spontaneous. You want to appear ‘in the moment’. If you’re a candidate, you want to make it seem as if you’re just a regular person doing regular things. This makes it easier for people to relate to you. Most of the candidates have figured this out. At first, Hillary was accused of staging her photos too carefully, but she has since adapted. Actually, Donald Trump does not do as well as other candidates in this regard.
On the surface, the photographs make it appear as if the candidates are just ‘one of the gang’. Below the surface, there is seething anger as trolls and bots battle it out in the comments section. Generally, just as it is on other social media sites, it’s the Trump and Sanders supporters who are most active.
Because of its appeal to millennials, Instagram could become a key player in this election. It is difficult to say who is winning the Instagram battle. Trump has more followers and has posted more, but other candidates use the app better. For this reason, I would have to call it a tie for first between Trump and Sanders. I would put Clinton as a close second.
Let’s not forget the power of YouTube in this election. It has the video power that Instagram lacks. Instagram limits videos to 15 seconds. In addition, YouTube appeals to voters in all age brackets. As the Washington Post recently reported, “since April 2015, Google data show, Americans have watched 12,500 years’ worth (110 million hours) of YouTube videos about the 2016 issues and candidates.” The same data show that Trump has more video views than any other candidate. He is followed by Sanders, Clinton, and Cruz; an order we’ve seen in other media use. Not that all Trump’s viewers watch videos that show him in a positive light, but on YouTube, views are views. They are always positive, which I’ll explain in more detail later.
Most of the candidates have learned how to use YouTube. They have learned that few people will watch a video that drily states policy. YouTube videos must be creative, controversial, or humorous. Sanders and Cruz have excelled in their use of such videos. Sanders’, ‘America’ video has been the most watched of any video from any candidate (3.5 million views). Cruz’ video of lawyers and bankers crossing the Rio Grande has also been popular (700,000 views). Donald Trump’s first anti-immigration ad garnered over 3 million votes, but it received 80,000 down votes to 20,000 up votes.
But views are views, and here’s why. Once you go to watch a YouTube video, you are presented with a list of related videos. If you have your settings adjusted to play the next video in the sequence, you may end up watching a number of videos about a candidate, whether you originally planned to or not. In other words, you may think you are going to YouTube to watch a critical video about a candidate and end up watching a positive video. In the process, undecided voters may get the information they need to change their minds one way or another.
For the above reasons, I would have to conclude that Donald Trump leads in the YouTube battle with Sanders and Cruz following. Hillary has a way to go to make up the difference in this medium.
If you are over 35, you may not have even heard of Reddit. You may know that it exists, but you may not know how to use it. That’s because the demographics of Reddit are quite unique. 80% of users are under 35 and, of them, 80% are male. This is Bernie Sanders’ core group, so, it’s no surprise that Reddit is Bernie Sanders’ territory. He has 20 times the number of subreddit subscribers as the nearest candidate, Donald Trump. Candidates, themselves, can’t maintain a profile here but their supporters can post links and comments that favor a candidate.
After reading some of the posts and the graphic comments accompanying them, my conclusion is that Reddit is where Sanders supporters go to be ‘radicalized’. You will see posts on how and where to protest as well as how you can make donations to the Sanders campaign. Recently, there has been a growing fear among his supporters that some of them may eventually shift to Trump if Hillary is nominated. This is for the simple reason that they see Hillary as part of the old regime; the political establishment. To some, Trump symbolizes a revolution, even if it might not be the one they were hoping for.
The Trump supporter answer to Reddit is rense.com. This is pure Trump, anti-Cruz territory. Sanders is not really taken seriously enough to merit many attacks. Hillary is sometimes mentioned, but always in the negative. It is a similar format to Reddit except that it lacks the human interest angle (cat dances with dog) that the Reddit site often features on its front page. Mostly, it consists of links to articles and videos that don’t make it to the mainstream media outlets.
A lot of journalists looking for potential news videos keep tabs on liveleak. Many of the videos here are from people who happened to be in the right place at the right time and had their smartphones with them. Unfortunately, such videos can’t be authenticated, hence, their use by mainstream media must be accompanied by disclaimers. Some are filmed at major news events and do, in fact, eventually find their way onto major networks. The first time I saw the riots at the Trump rally in Chicago was via a smartphone feed to liveleak. It’s the kind of site where there are stories and videos that the mainstream media would love to report on if it weren’t for those pesky journalistic ethics.
You can probably guess which candidates are getting the most attention here. Yes, there are a lot of Trump supporters, Trump haters, and Sanders supporters. Occasionally, Cruz gets attention, but mainly for negative reasons. Although the pro and anti Trump advocates were more or less equal for a while on liveleak, recently, it seems like the Trump supporters have been more vocal and are getting more representation. It’s not clear if this indicates a new trend in popular thinking or if it is just a temporary phenomenon.
So Which Candidate is Winning the Social Media Battle?
In this series of posts, I have tried to get a focus on which candidate is winning the social media battle by analyzing all the available data on the major social media sites used by the candidates. The reason for this analysis is based on the presumption, held by many, that the election could be won or lost through proper use of social media. Interest in candidates can also be assessed using Google Trends. Google Trends listed Trump as the most trending politician for March, 2016. Cruz was 6th, Kasich was 7th, and Clinton was 9th, one spot ahead of Fidel Castro. Interestingly, and somewhat puzzlingly, Sanders did not make the top ten. I then compared interest in the candidates over the past 90 days and restricted this interest to the U.S. Here are the results. (The numbers next to the candidates are given by Google for comparison purposes.)
Trump – 39
Sanders – 16
Cruz – 14
Clinton – 13
Kasich – 2
Once again, we can see that interest in Donald Trump, whether for positive or negative reasons, remains significantly higher than in other candidates. In fact, there is more than twice the interest in Trump than in the next candidate, Sanders, and 3 times more interest in Trump than in Clinton. The main question to answer is: Will this interest eventually be translated into votes? Who knows? There may be voters who are interested in Trump but may be reluctant to say so in public polls. There may be more Trump haters than supporters. All we can say is that Trump, with these interest levels and with his control of social media, is well-positioned to be heard. He can, if he uses this media cleverly, control the outcome of the primaries and, eventually, the election. On the other hand, it could also work against him since any misstep will be amplified on the same media by his detractors. However, in the final analysis, there is little doubt that Trump is winning the social media campaign. Sanders is a distant second and Cruz and Clinton come out almost equal in their use of this path. Perhaps, what’s even more surprising than Trump’s dominance is Hillary Clinton’s low rating. This could be a result of her supporter demographics and the fact that they may not use social media to get information on their candidate. Notice the lack of volatility in the graph of interest in Clinton as compared with either Sanders or Trump. This is a reflection of a campaign designed around caution and the avoidance of controversy. In the same way, Sanders may appear to be more popular than he truly is because his demographic base may have more social media savvy. Nonetheless, you cannot discount the possibility that his unexpected rise in popularity was connected to his campaign’s timely and intelligent use of social media.
So, if it is true that social media will decide the election, you can expect Trump to win the Republican nomination hands down. Clinton may have more supporters, but, if these statistics are correct, Sanders will make a close race of it, even if he ends up losing the nomination. And here’s where I’ll go out on a limb. If it comes down to a Clinton-Trump election (and given the caveat of social media deciding the election result), Trump will win. Even if he loses, this election will be much closer than most experts and polls currently predict.