Technology, Social Media, and Campaigning: Building on Obama’s Success and Looking Towards 2016

Author: Abigail Fournier ’19

The 2008 presidential election, also called the “Facebook election”, was the first election in which candidates used Facebook and other social media outlets to connect with a greater number of voters online. It is undeniable that Obama’s far more effective use of Facebook contributed to his victory over Hillary Clinton in the primary and his eventual victory over John McCain. 2008 was the first time that Americans saw how much social media and technology can help candidates. The importance of such campaigning tools has only grown since the 2008 election. Thus, the 2016 presidential candidates’ use of social media and technology will be more important than ever as the new year approaches. The 2016 hopefuls should imitate the effective strategies Obama used in order to connect with their constituents and take advantage of new technology.

According to the Pew Research Center, 74% of internet users that are 18 and older have social media profiles. Considering this fact, it is critical for 2016 candidates to have a strong presence online. In the 2012 presidential election, Obama was much more active on social media than Mitt Romney. The Pew Research Center reported that Obama posted four times as often as Romney, had double the Facebook likes, 150,000 more Twitter retweets, and double the YouTube comments, likes and views. Obama’s social media presence certainly contributed to his success as he was able to connect with more voters. CNN Politics reported that studies have shown that social media users respond well to shorter videos and sound bites. Such advertisements spark online conversation and draw attention to candidates’ profiles. If candidates keep such research in mind, they can influence more voters.

2016 candidates can also take advantage of the vast number of Americans that have smartphones. According to Darrell West, vice president of the Center for Technology Innovation at Brookings Institution, 83% of smartphone and tablet users are registered to vote. Candidates can use new technology to fundraise and connect with more voters. Some of these new advancements includes “Geofencing” Technology, when candidates can advertise to smartphone users in a given location. For example, in 2012, Rick Perry used this technology to target students at Evangelical colleges in South Carolina. With new advancements, 2016 hopefuls can also reach out to Americans who frequent certain websites. Because the vast majority of Americans have smartphones, mass texting is also an effective way of communicating with voters. An example of this is when Obama famously announced Joe Biden as his VP via a mass text in 2008. It would be a mistake for candidates to not utilize this new technology to connect with more people.

Online donations have also become a major source of fundraising for candidates and will continue to be critical in 2016. According to Time writer Michael Scherer, Obama raised $690 million online in 2012. Obama and Romney both had their own campaign applications in 2012 that they used to help them raise money. 2016 candidates have already begun using effective strategies to raise money online; Hillary Clinton designed her website so that one cannot even enter the website without contributing to her campaign. With new technology, donating money online is easier than ever.

2016 hopefuls have already begun using social media and technology to connect with voters. Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton, and Jeb Bush have already made cameos on “2016” Snapchat stories and all candidates have Instagram profiles. As primaries approach, it will be critical for them to take advantage of new advancements and learn from Obama’s success in 2008 and 2012.