The Art of Social Media in Presidential Politics

June 6, 2016 | Posted in: Business, Politics, Social Media

In my blog dated March 20, 2015, “The Importance of a Digital Persona,” I discussed in detail that, as we continue to progress as a digital, socially-connected world, one’s relevance will be perceived by their digital persona. This truism is now being played out within our political election process in the 2016 U.S. presidential race. Since 2012, Donald Trump has been planning and refining his “Art of Social Media.” I would contest that it’s not only Donald Trump who has figured out that a strong media personality and being a social media influencer holds more weight than main stream media, now other politicians are trying to get in the game, but to no avail.

Gone are the days when people waited for the 10:00 pm evening news, their weekly issue of People Magazine or, dare I say, the National Enquirer to find out what’s going on in the world. Now, with the click of a button, social influencers like @realDonaldTrump, @ParisHilton, @KimKardashian have more influence and ability to reach a target audience than each of CNN, FOX, CBS, NBC and ABC. This clearly explains why Donald Trump, who has 8.4 million Twitter followers and 7.9 million Facebook friends, was happy to have a spat with Megyn Kelly on Fox News, whose viewership is only 2.37 million. In fact, one could argue based on Fox News’ own publication, the ratings are up 20% from a year earlier thanks, in part, to Donald Trump personally and the 2016 Presidential race. Because of Trump’s social media drawing power, he also had no problems alienating the Univision Anchors whose total viewership sits at 5 million for the entire network including news and all other programming.

To date, the Republican and Democratic parties have logged a combined 51 million votes during the 2016 election cycle. The Republican primary has 28 million votes between all candidates at the time of writing this blog: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Results_of_the_Republican_Party_presidential_primaries,_2016. On the other side of the aisle, the Democratic primary has turned in 23 million votes between the candidates at the time of the blog: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Results_of_the_Democratic_Party_presidential_primaries,_2016. When you combine the total amount of votes cast from both parties it’s only slightly more than the number of followers Kim Kardashian has on her Twitter feed, currently totaling 45.6 million.

When one looks at some of the Republican contenders that Trump eliminated during the Republican primaries, @JebBush has a following on Twitter of only 620k, @MarcoRubio stands at 1.3 million and @TedCruz 780k. Based on the fact that they seriously lagged Trump in social media followers, I would argue that these contenders never stood a chance. Trump’s celebrity and ability to control the mainstream media message with 16 million social followers gave him such a large advantage in the Republican primaries, he became unstoppable.

The Democratic primary followed a very similar path. All of the initial contenders to Hillary Clinton were relatively unknown in the world of social relevancy. What has been fascinating to see, and tends to prove my point, is that Bernie Sanders has risen by precisely using a grass-roots social media message strategy. His donations have come from his social followers in small checks. He has built a Twitter following of an impressive 2.3 million followers compared to Hilary Clinton’s 6.4 million. While it would be impressive if Bernie can pull off an upset, I believe it’s too little too late. Ironically, had Hillary been running against a social media titan like Kim Kardashian, it may be game over for her. In fact I would argue that if Bernie Sanders picked Kim Kardashian as a running mate and the Super Delegate Democratic trump card did not exist, Sanders may still be able to pull it off. What Hilary now needs is a super charged high power, business minded social influencer for her VP pick. Enter @mcuban.

Mark Cuban has 5.1 million Twitter followers and knows how to control media messaging. What’s interesting is that, as an independent, he actually could be very useful for either candidate. My belief is that ultimately neither of the candidates will pick him, nor will he pick them; but watch very closely in 4 years for Mark to run as an independent with another very strong social-media savant say @aplusk, Ashton Kutcher with 17.9 million Twitter followers.

So my prediction for this year’s election is that we are going to see Donald Trump in the White House. Although I believe Trump should pick Cuban as his running mate, I believe that he will instead pick a respected seasoned politician who can be his COO in the White House and help to navigate and reform our current gridlock in Washington. Additionally, unlike many pundits I believe Trump will and should continue to use social media to procure influence over the traditional media outlets.

My fear for the future of our political system is that an awakening has happened with our politicians and celebrities during this election cycle. Unlike celebrities, politicians will never be able to achieve super large number of social media followers except at the Presidential election cycle level. This phenomenon will leave the field wide open for celebrity influencers at all levels of Politics. We as a society have seen this before, think Ronald Reagan, Jesse Ventura and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Based on Trump’s outsider success, I think all of us would be delighted to see the word “Politician” potentially not being a career path moving forward, especially if influencers can break through into politics.

This is, I believe, what our founding fathers intended, and where the concept of “Public Servant” came from. Unfortunately, politics has become a career path and no longer actually resembles a public servant. Our founding fathers could only afford to pack up the wagon and go to Washington for maybe one election cycle before they would need to be back to work their business within their home state.

My concern is that there are real differences between celebrities pre-social media and post. The celebrities mentioned above had to make their way into politics through the traditional political system and their celebrity only helped. What this election cycle is showing us is that having any political background or playing by time tested rules and political norms may soon not be viewed as a requirement for being a politician, and we could end up with @kanyewest 2020. We must be mindful that the social media phenomenon within politics is not a trend line but a paradigm shift.

Scott N. Beck, a Dallas Texas Greenhill alumni, received a Masters of Accounting from the McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas at Austin where he completed his B.B.A. Mr. Beck is a member of the Board of Directors of United Texas Bank and is President of Beck Ventures.

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