Social media election


The social media election: how business can learn from politics

Social media is a huge political force. The biggest. The biggest force. Yuge. Win on social media, win the country. The losers don’t get that. That’s why they lose. SAD.

Donald Trump’s distinctive Twitter presence didn’t win him the Presidency by itself. His campaign was engineered to target swing voters through their social media feeds, precision-tuned to fit insights from behavioural profiling company Cambridge Analytica. Both he and Corbyn have used social to circumvent the mainstream media to talk directly to the electorate, and increasingly social has become the space for political debate: a global Speaker’s Corner where everyone has their say.

Social media can swing elections, and used properly it can build your brand, earn you authority, and win you business. So what can you learn from politicians on social media?

Social: the new politics, the new marketing

Trump is not the first politician to embrace social: his predecessor Barack Obama has been dubbed “the first Facebook president”. And like Trump, like Clinton, and like the Vote Leave campaign in the Brexit referendum, Obama employed behavioural profiling companies in his social media strategy.

Facebook has become the primary platform for targeting floating voters, especially given the short campaigning window available for this year’s snap election. In these circumstances the agility of a social campaign, plus the total editorial control offered and the opportunity to tailor and personalise variants on the message, all add up to an edge over traditional media.

Why Facebook specifically? Two main reasons. The first is data. The old adage that Google knows what you want, but Facebook knows who you are is absolutely true. The aforementioned Cambridge Analytica was borne out of a personality test on Facebook that went viral. Based on your likes, groups, posts and comments, the test could tell your sex, age, political bent and much more besides (try it here if you’re interested). The founder realised just how much data was freely available, and began to manipulate it in new, interesting (some might say nefarious) ways.

In its new guise as a political influencer, Cambridge Analytica the business now collects 5,000 data points on over 220 million Americans. That amount of data allows for intense, granular targeting. Messages can be customised, and tailored to fit those small but crucial differences between market niches. For businesses, too, this data is gold for targeted advertising.

The second reason political parties love Facebook is reach. With well over 1 billion users globally (nearly 40 million in the UK), the people they want to reach will be on there.

The Labour party has tailored over a thousand versions of its core policy proposals, launching them as “super local” messages through paid advertising slots. Potential voters see a policy offering that’s weighted to their interests – interests the party has identified through behavioural profiling data.

For B2C businesses, too, Facebook is unparalleled in its reach and detail. Whether you want to sell snow to Inuits or laundry detergent to Barbara in Scunthorpe, your advert can be hyper-targeted and hyper-localised to ensure maximum exposure for your product or service.

In B2B-land, perhaps the most obvious social channel is LinkedIn. It might not hold such granular information on users, but it certainly holds the data you need: specific job titles, size of business, geographic location, age of business and more. Again, advertising on LinkedIn can make sure your message reaches the right people,at the right time i.e. when they’re in ‘work mode’.

In fact, every social channel holds enough personal data on their users for advertising to be highly targeted, and cost effective. Never before have SMEs had the opportunities to reach such a vast cross section of potential customers than they have today.

Social is not all about advertising, of course: they are all free to use, after all. The flip side of social advertising is ‘organic’. ‘Organic’ social still offers huge value; giving you direct access to the people or groups that matter. Trump has brilliantly circumvented the usual channels of communication by using Twitter to talk (rant) directly to the people that matter the most – the electorate. You, too, have access to decision makers, business leaders, suppliers and peers in a way that has never been possible before.

Organic growth and paid reach

Paid advertising gives a party – or business – the reach it needs, but what about those direct conversations? One of the social media highlights of the run up to the UK election was Jeremy Corbyn gatecrashing Theresa May’s first ever Facebook Live Q&A. Facebook Live gave the leader of the opposition a prime opportunity to get airtime with the PM, who has consistently ignored calls for a live televised debate.

This may have been a publicity stunt, but it shows the real power of social media: direct access. You can use social to build your company brand through conversation, but it’s also effective as a personal tool, used to drive direct conversation with the people that matter. Personal LinkedIn or Twitter profiles, for instance, give potential clients an insight into the people they’ll potentially be working with.

And, of course, it can be used as a tool to contact industry influencers, too – those all-important people more trusted than the advertisers.

Candidates, activists and advocates generate free, valuable content – articles, thought pieces, infographics, memes – and distribute those via social media. These people engage directly with politician’s audiences, ensuring organic growth through building relationships with people. The business equivalent of that is journalists, business peers, events organisers or speakers.

With care and nurture, social media can be your new best networking tool, but the audience is not limited by geography, and the nibbles are likely to be better.

Vote social

Take a second to imagine a politician or political campaign that didn’t have a social media presence. OK, perhaps life was better before President Trump’s non-presidential rants, but it would be career suicide for an aspiring leader to ignore social entirely.

And it’s getting to the point now where a lack of social presence for brands, and business owners, is damaging, such are the missed opportunities in ignoring it.

Look at it this way; if Donald Trump can use Twitter, why can’t you?

Wondering which social platforms you should use for your business? Read our B2B guides to Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter – part of our digital marketing starter series. And for more like this, follow us on Twitter.