Why Donald Trump Wasn’t Just Better at Social Media
As we all get used to the term “President Trump”, analysts are raking over how he confounded the pundits.
Whether you feel Hillary lost the election despite winning the popular vote, or that it’s not fair because nearly half of Americans didn’t even bother to vote, it’s still hard to ignore the claims (including by Trump himself) that he was just ‘better at social media’ than Hillary Clinton.
The role of social media in the presidential race is reminiscent of 2008 when, after the democratic victory, it was somewhat of a revelation that Obama has used social media to great effect. Greater effect, that is, than John McCain.
But surely it can’t be that simple this time.
Can it really be possible to influence a presidential election by being more effective on social media? After all, there can’t be many 70 year olds (and I’m not being ageist at all) that can point to social media being key to their achievement of a life’s ambition.
So what other factors come into play?
Intrigued by the whole question, we’ve reviewed what various commentators and analysts said before, during and since the US election. If what they’re saying is correct, it’s a salutary lesson for brands as well as would-be presidents.
Here, we’ve distilled the key points.
People use social media for news
The way in which people obtain and consume their news has changed radically, even in the last 3 years.
Having analysed the news gathering habits of Americans during the presidential race, Pew Research identified ‘a rise of social media as a news source’.
In a finding which should now be noted by all future electoral candidates, Pew assert that “more than 60% of US adults got their election news from social media in 2016 – up from 49% during the 2012 election”.
Facebook is by far the largest social networking site in the USA reaching 67% of US adults. So, contends the article, if 60% of Facebook users get their news there, this “amounts to 44% of the US population”.
At first sight, this is a fascinating finding on its own.
But, as with many things in life, it’s not as straightforward as that.
Facebook’s success comes from relationships being made between people who share common interests, beliefs and opinions. Facebook users tend to connect with and follow individuals and organisations with whom they identify, so it follows that they prefer the messages they see and read through this channel.
Accordingly, news gathered from Facebook is necessarily ‘personalised’, and will tend to confirm and reinforce existing viewpoints, a sort of tribal approach to news consumption.
In other words, “news” viewed or consumed on Facebook is clearly not as objective as, say, a newspaper or mainstream TV news service would be (and that’s assuming you believe newspaper journalism to be unbiased!)
In fact as we write this, there’s a furore developing over what constitutes ‘real news’ vs ‘fake news’. But we’ll save the debate about the ‘post-truth era’ for another time.
Trump posted more and differently to Clinton
According to analysts EzyInsights, “Trump’s social media crew consistently outperformed Clinton’s own team throughout the entire presidential campaign.”
Indeed, Trump himself cites his social media channels as playing a key role in his success, admitting on his first major TV interview on US TV network CBS that his social media had prevailed despite being outspent by Hillary Clinton’s campaign in some of the key states.
In a study published on the firm’s website, EzyInsights show how the number of Facebook posts by Trump and Clinton were not hugely different in number, but that the timing and types of Trump’s Facebook post were markedly different.
EzyInsights analysed the activity of both candidates during October, the month running up to the election, and found:
- The two campaigns posted a similar number of times on Facebook (Trump 327 vs Clinton 302)
- Trump used images and video far more – 33 Facebook Live broadcasts to Clinton’s 11 videos
Activity matched with engagement is what wins
Nothwithstanding the fact that Trump has 11.8m likes to the 7.7m of Clinton’s page, the patterns of post types and frequency resulted in extraordinary levels of engagement – with a strong correlation between posting times and engagement.
EzyInsights compared the days on which Trump’s social media team’s posting frequency spiked during October (7th, 12th and 22nd of October) with his engagement levels ( likes, reactions, comments and shares). On the days where Trump posted his videos and images, levels of engagement were seen to be very high.
This correlation between the days and types of posts being made and the level of engagement may not be the only reason for Trump’s success. But the numbers do suggest that Trump’s team was far more tuned in to their audiences on social media (at least on Facebook) than his opponent’s.
And if you want to define ‘tuned in’ as knowing:
- The potential of Facebook reach
- The news gathering habits of most almost half of Americans
- What types of post are going to get you most engagement… …then nobody should be surprised that Trump’s social media performance outstripped Clinton’s.
It’s fair to say that the powerful combination of these three factors may have helped to determine the outcome of the US presidential election.
But let’s not get carried away. Many, many other factors were more important; but certainly the influence of the ‘establishment’ is not among them.
The key takeaways from this are:
- Politicians running for office are actually in the business of entertainment.
- People use Facebook for entertainment…and entertainment is news.
- As well as being a medium for increasing brand visibility, Facebook builds engagement by giving people the news they want and like.
- At the 70 years of age, Donald Trump is the oldest US President-elect, and the world’s most successful Facebooker!
For a free 1-hour consultation about your social media strategy, or to enquire about our social media training courses on how to improve your social presence, speak to one of our experts at C4B Media on 01763 877110.