3 Digital Marketing Lessons from this Presidential Election

Wherever your loyalties lie in this election, you have to admit that it has been interesting. Even before the primaries ended, experts were literally throwing out the rulebooks on how campaigns should work, and it looked like politics might never be the same again.

Social media has played a huge role in how all of this unfolded, and there are many lesson to be learned from the primaries and the Presidential election. Many books will be written on the subject in years to come, but for now here are three things to consider:

Disruption is real.

If you asked any pundit in early 2015, they would have confidently told you that this election would be Hillary Clinton against Jeb Bush. After all, they both have huge brand recognition backed up by massive advertising budgets. How could either of them possibly fail?

Yet by March 2016, it looked like the election could well be Donald Trump vs Bernie Sanders. Trump had cruised past his opponents while barely spending a penny – although it’s estimated that his media strategy provided $2 billion of free news coverage. Sanders ran Clinton to the wire mainly due to a strong digital strategy, with social media used for both building engagement and raising funds.

This kind of disruption is happening everywhere, not just politics. Netflix, Uber and Airbnb have all turned their respective industries on their heads, and they’ve done it in much the same way as Sanders and Trump: by having an attractive proposition and using technology to connect with people. Despite this, many industries are as complacent as Jeb Bush – one recent survey shows that only 3 percent of finance companies feel they are at risk of disruption.

Work together and stay on-message.

Trump’s social media presence has been an unprecedented factor in this election. A Twitter celebrity long before the election, his Twitter feed is engaging, provocative and written in a distinctive voice. He writes most of his own tweets himself and doesn’t seem to answer to a social media team, which brings a valuable sense of authenticity to his tweets, but may have hurt him in the long run. The very off-message response to the Alicia Machado debacle hurt him in the polls at a time after he had been neck-and-neck.

Like most politicians, Clinton doesn’t have Trump’s natural social media skills. Instead, she surrounded herself with a great team, headed by Emily Lowenstein who was digital director at Emily’s List. Lowenstein’s team built a robust multi-platform campaign that made the most of newer channels, such as Snapchat and Facebook Live, in which they focused on engagement while staying on-message. And occasionally, the team were given room to improvise such as the infamous “Delete your account” tweet.

Lowenstein’s digital campaign seems to have been run by people who really understand digital, with little interference from other parts of the campaign, and has allowed Clinton to compete in a digital space where Jeb Bush and others failed.

Engagement is everything.

Obama’s digital ground game in 2008 was a huge success, but he didn’t have to compete with dank memes.

“Dank memes” was a concept initially associated with candidates like Bernie Sanders and Jill Stein, but the term entered mainstream political discourse when it was revealed that a Silicon Valley billionaire had been financing some of the pro-Trump meme-generating groups. Dank memes groups operate in a way that’s almost analogous to SuperPACs: they are not officially affiliated with the candidates, but they produce material supporting them, or attacking their opponents.

Obama’s 2008 campaign was still largely based on the idea of the internet as a broadcast medium, and many people still think this way about digital marketing: you acquire followers and push your message out to them. The dank memes groups show a whole other model of engagement, where people are forming their own communities based around the brand, and even create their own advertising. This can be scary for a digital marketer, of course, because you want to control your own message as much as possible. However, this is the environment in which we find ourselves. If people love your product, they will discuss it as they see fit. They may even create some dank memes .

We’ve come a long way since the Lincoln-Douglas debates, for sure, but what we’re seeing in 2016 is a conversation where ordinary people can make their voice heard. Ultimately, that’s good for everyone.

Ber LearyContent Creator

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