Ellen DeGeneres’ Oscar Selfie, the Deflategate saga and the tragic picture of Aylan Kurdi have all been massive stories in the public consciousness in recent times. What do they all have in common? They all begin and end in social media.
Ellen’s impromptu photo with some of the most famous faces in Hollywood while hosting the 2014 Oscars went viral capitalizing on people’s obsession with celebrity. When New England Patriots were penalized for allegedly deflating footballs, the internet quickly filled with wild conspiracy theories about Tom Brady that rocked the sport to its core. And most remarkable of all was the devastating picture of the young Syrian boy, Aylan Kurdi, lying lifeless on a beach in Turkey after trying to cross into Europe. This picture resulted in a seismic shift in refugee policy in every country in Europe in a way that no amount of lobbying or politics could ever have hoped to achieve.
So what can we learn from these events?
Up close and Personal
Though many industries, particularly entertainment, have long pursued traction on social media, it has now become essential for political campaigns to understand the power of social and figure out how to leverage it best. It is not just a case of embracing the internet and social media anymore, but rather, how to be authentic online. Today, voters don’t just seek engagement, they expect it. For example, when Nicolas Sarkozy was French President, he shared daily updates of his political work, his travel and pictures of his family, thus creating a personal connection with his supporters (and detractors!).
Today's generation live online so it should come as no surprise that the protocol for anyone running for election is to have a campaign website and also have various social media accounts. It is not essential to be liked but it is essential to be personal. No potential voter wants to be hit with surprise information during a live television debate when they could have been forewarned online.
Due to this, there is a certain degree of celebrity associated with some politicians who maximize social media to its full capacity. During his 2008 run to the Oval Office, Barack Obama coined the phrase, “Yes we can”, boosted by his large fan base of famous musicians and actors, Obama understood the power of authenticity and mobilized a massive grassroots movement by presenting this authentic voice through the medium people knew best, social. His campaign has become iconic and will attempt to be copied to a greater or lesser extent by all candidates in 2016.
Live by the sword
While social can be the sword that you live by, well you know the rest, something 2016 Presidential hopeful Jeb Bush has learned recently.The Republican came under fire on social media in the past few weeks after he was quoted as saying that Democrats appeal to African-Americans by offering “free stuff”. It was not long before Bush felt the full force of the keyboard warriors. Singer John Legend wasted no time in airing his annoyance at the comments, tweeting “It’s always the guys born on 3rd base talking about black people lining up for free stuff”. It can be a harsh lesson to candidates when they get it wrong on social media and entire demographics of possible voters disappear from sight after just 140 characters. Nobody pushes the envelope quite like Donald Trump in this election but he seems to have been immune to the sword until now.
The power of authenticity
The self professed ‘king of the keyboards’ Donald Trump has enjoyed increasing success since he announced he was running for President back in June. Trump is an experienced Twitter user from his business and entertainment careers and it shows. Back in the days when he was firing people for fun on The Apprentice, Trump built up a strong following being a person of controversy and debate. He knows that social media is all about being yourself. He now uses it as a powerful tool to convey his raw side in direct comparison to his more conservative political opponents. It is for this reason we are seeing the less established political candidates resonate with the public and find success in the polls early on, while the more established candidates flounder. Authenticity is something Twitter and Facebook users appreciate which is why Hillary Clinton is also enjoying some success in this realm.
Clinton describes herself as a “wife, mom, grandma” on her Twitter bio before she ever mentions her political role. She also shares candid, behind the scenes, snaps with supporters and from her day-to-day life. In the end, being successful in social space is no different than succeeding in face-to-face situations, you need to convey authenticity while also getting your campaign message across.
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