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Social media’s role in everyday life is undeniable. According to the New York Times, 80% of the US population uses various forms of social media daily as it’s a platform where “everybody has a voice”. Hiding behind texts, emails, tweets and Facebook posts, we can be anybody we want to be and project the illusion we want the world to believe. The problem is, that our audience – friends, family, and anyone who happens upon what we write, can only take us at our word because there are no nonverbal cues to indicate anything other than what we are sharing. While we marvel at our connectivity with the world around us through technology, we are actually a more disconnected society than ever before. “With 93% of our communication context stripped away, we are now attempting to forge relationships and make decisions based on phrases. Abbreviations. Snippets. Emoticons. Which may or may not be accurate representations of the truth.”[1]

The 2016 Presidential election is a case study in the good, the bad and the ugly sides of social media. In the wake of one of the most polarizing presidential elections in modern times, many people are shaking their heads wondering, what happened? Regardless of which way your political leanings skew, it is impossible to ignore the number one forum voters looked to for their information about the candidates and it wasn’t the official televised Presidential Debates. From the onset of the election season, it became clear that social media was going to play a major role in the eventual outcome and President-Elect Donald Trump used all the tools at his disposal to take advantage of his built-in social media base.

“The public’s trust in mass media has dropped to its lowest level in Gallup polling history. Fewer than one in three Americans have confidence in the media to “report the news fully, accurately, and fairly.” [2] So, where do we turn? Social media and the echo chambers of sites like Twitter and Facebook that specifically feed you news that reflects what you have liked on other pages or read or commented about, cementing your views. And, the public’s reliance on information disseminated over these mediums made it virtually impossible for pollsters to accurately predict a winner because social media was never taken into consideration.

Love him or hate him (there’s really no in between), Donald Trump fought the majority of his battles online. “It’s been well-documented; Trump may very well have the most combative online presence of any candidate for president in modern history.”[3] Even those that do not agree with a single thing he says still listened. And, you know what they say about publicity? There is no bad publicity – just publicity. Everything he said was turned into a meme, argued about publicly – either in online forums or in the streets. The point here is that it was repeated, discussed, dissected and made him the center of conversations at dinner tables around the world. And, by harnessing his strong Twitter core supporters’ attention, he ensured his message would be heard.

“His campaign from the beginning was voter-centric. He remained engaged via Twitter by embracing immediacy (right now), transparency (unvarnished expression), and risk (rather than caution).”²  Dominating the social media sphere, Trump normalized the use of these mediums to both build his campaign up and tear others down.

As early as last summer, when the candidate pool was beginning to dwindle down, former Secretary Clinton and former Governor Jeb Bush got into a sort of “Twitter War” over student debt. Secretary Clinton had tweeted a graphic about how many students were in debt; Governor Bush’s camp changed the graphic to reflect his view on the subject and it escalated to the point where both sides looked petty. But, this tearing down of presidential candidates over social media by their opponents was a constant throughout the entire election process.

Voters across the country commented and retweeted and posted the barbs on Facebook, which led to many lively discussions about the campaigns and the candidates. But, when you look at the core analytics, it is hard to deny that Trump had the upper hand when it came to this medium. According to Google Trends analysis, Trump was the most Googled candidate and the most mentioned on Twitter and Facebook. He had 4 million more Twitter followers than Clinton and while her social media engagement showed an uptick around the third debate, it was all for naught. She was never able to amass the following that Trump did from day one.

With voters relying on social media for the bulk of their decision-making information, it is no surprise that politics took center stage on many people’s Facebook walls. Many friendships became strained when someone used their page to promote a candidate that others didn’t agree with. Families were literally torn apart by the distance in beliefs between them. Facebook saw an incredible uptick in people “unfriending” each other over election stances. There are now movements, though, to try to bridge the divide and people are using social media to promote unity instead of division between each other.

Just as they relied on the medium to help promote their candidates and bash the others, many voters have taken to social media to decry the results of the election, blaming false news reports on Facebook and Twitter for influencing the outcome of the election. Seriously? Since when do we believe everything we read without doing any research to back it up? Ohhh…right. Since social media became the number one source of news for millions of people on a daily basis. According to Jeffrey Sadow, Political Science professor and social media expert, “…about 44 percent of adults get their information from Facebook because of how quick and easy it is to access.”

Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook, even felt compelled to craft a response to those who say that Facebook unfairly biased voters in the election.

“Our goal is to give every person a voice. We believe deeply in people. Assuming that people understand what is important in their lives and that they can express those views has driven not only our community, but democracy overall. Sometimes when people use their voice though, they say things that seem wrong and they support people you disagree with. Of all the content on Facebook, more than 99% of what people see is authentic. Only a very small amount is fake news and hoaxes. The hoaxes that do exist are not limited to one partisan view, or even to politics. Overall, this makes it extremely unlikely hoaxes changed the outcome of this election in one direction or the other.”[4]

So, what can we learn from this election? Regardless of which candidate you supported, you have to agree that social media is clearly the superior way to reach a targeted base of consumers.

Sharing and arguing about political views isn’t the only way to harness the power of the internet. Schedule a call with us to learn how we can help you take advantage of social media to propel your business to the next level.

 

[1] Tardanico, Susan. “Is Social Media Sabotaging Real Communication?” Web. Forbes. 30 April 2012.

[2] Kahn, Laeeq. “Trump Won Thanks to Social Media”. Web. The Hill. 15 November 2016.

[3] Sanders, Sam. “Did Social Media Ruin Election 2016?” Web. NPR.

[4] Payoute, Jasmin. Hawaii News Now