“[Candidates] use social media to try to generate attention, to push a particular story or agenda that they have,” said Jennifer Stromer-Galley, the author of Presidential Campaigning and the Internet Age. “They use social media to increase name recognition and try to reach people that are excited by their campaign and then try to encourage those people that are excited about the campaign to then contact their friends and co-workers to get excited about the campaign too.”
In her book, Stromer-Galley examines presidential campaigns since 1996 and considers how they have used digital media. She said that 2016 candidates are currently in the “surfacing stage,” in which they attempt to get their message out to voters before the primaries.
“Clever campaigns will work really hard to find ways to basically create viral messages that will spread so that people that wouldn’t otherwise be paying that much attention to their campaigns perk up and take notice,” Stromer-Galley said. “There’s a lot of attention-getting work at this stage of the game, as well as fundraising.”
The fundraising effort continues throughout all stages of the campaign. She said that email is the most important, but often overlooked, tool that candidates use to raise money. She added that YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter will join email as the most widely- utilized platforms in 2016 because these platforms lend themselves easily to campaigns, but others, like Pinterest, Instagram and Snapchat, do not.
“The hard part for campaigns is that there are always new and emerging platforms, but until it’s clear why you’d use such a thing for a campaign, they’re just not going to adopt it unless they have nothing to lose,” Stromer- Galley said. “You might see some lesser-known candidates experimenting with some of these platforms as a way to generate visibility and buzz.”
Despite the problems that campaigns have with Pinterest, Stromer-Galley predicts that Hillary Clinton’s campaign will use the site because much of Clinton’s target demographic uses Pinterest.
No matter how effective a candidate’s social media performance is, Stromer-Galley said that at the end of the day, campaigns are about one thing: winning.
“Social media is not an end in itself. That’s not the point. The point is using social media to get elected,” Stromer-Galley said.