Every election cycle has had a “new technology” story. In 2000, the addition of a website was exciting. In 2004, it was the use of Websites to fund-raise rapidly instead of relying on slower direct mail. In 2008, social media was new with a method for engagement of passionate followers. In 2012, campaigns broadcast with their followers, amplifying their messages. In 2016, the social media campaign was the campaign.
The Democratic Party’s edge in online marketing was eclipsed by GOP Efforts to build a massive digital operation over the past year. The President-Elect’s background in Brand Marketing has brought this to the forefront, but the rewriting of election campaigning has already begun. Twitter’s dominant presence in journalism led to a redefinition of the news cycle in 2016.
While 2012 features television ads shared on YouTube with the occasional “web only commercial,” 2016 focused on partisan media plays created in the run-up to the election and a person-to-person social media based news fight through election day.
Partisans were able to form like minded communities in the 2016 social media world, in a stronger manner than the engagement was with the prior world of forums and dedicated posts. Contrast the 2004 – 2008 election cycles, where partisan groups like Daily Kos dominated the conversation of partisans but were ignored, to the 2016 cycle where Democrats and Republicans seemed to exist in separate worlds for months.
While a Presidential Election may be an extreme event, the methods by which brands will connect with their followers will continue to evolve. But the power of social media to drive the national discussion seemed overstated as recently as 2014, and now seems obvious.