Donald Trump is the new President of the United States but oddly, everyone seems confused as to how it happened.
Pollsters, journalists, academics you name it were (almost) all calling for a Clinton victory with many believing it would not be that close.
The one place however where Trump has maintained a strong lead throughout the entire campaign is social media and as the nation comes to terms with a Trump presidency, there are lessons that can be taken away from the first made-for-social-media election and tactics that confounded everyone in the traditional media.
When it comes to politics, there is a tendency to dismiss the voices of people on social media. “It’s just trolls”. “It’s all bots anyway” are all common refrains. While there is some truth to this – social media after all gives everyone voice including spammers – this does not mean it should be dismissed. In fact, there was much talk of bots distorting the social media view, but the result makes it apparent that this was overplayed. Individuals were supporting Trump and they were being very vocal.
Indeed, in this case of this election and of the recent “Brexit” referendum in the UK, social media has instead uncovered a seam of public discontent that polls do not seem to be able to capture.
Perhaps it is the unsolicited nature of social media comments. Perhaps it the potential that social media offers for people to be heard by the world. Perhaps it is just the myriad forms of expression social networks provide that cannot be replicated in a simple survey.
In this election in particular, what stood out was Trump’s ability to seemingly bypass the media and deliver his message directly to US voters – via the unfiltered megaphone of social media.
The traditional campaign infrastructure of heavy advertising, pollsters and media courting has collapsed in front of the free and uncontrollable force that is social media.
Trump has been a master of tailoring his messages and approach to this new era of political campaigning.
Additionally, Trump created a brand that resonated with voters, right down to creating a uniform – the red cap with the Make America Great Again slogan that also translated to social media, with the hashtag #MAGA, which trended for months. The visuals, along with online conversation, created a strong brand that no other candidate could match. He gave derogatory names to his opponents (Crooked Hillary and Lyin’ Ted), in effect branding as inconsequential the other Republican candidates first and Clinton last and basically casting them aside.
His top hashtag #MAGA was used over 8 million times over the last 30 days of the campaign and has become the clarion call of his social media army. This was more than double that of Clinton’s #ImWithHer.
Trumps attacks on Clinton’s alleged corruption was a hashtag hydra with slogans like #CrookedHillary, #DrainTheSwamp and #BigLeagueTruth used to attack Clinton from multiple angles and adopted heartily by his followers.
The dominance of Trump on social media has been readily apparent since the beginning of the campaign and though it has often been dismissed as a vocal minority making a lot of noise, the gradual impact that this may have had on a social media savvy electorate should not be dismissed, especially given the eventual result. There was much talk about influencers having a greater impact on social media for Clinton and although Clinton had the edge in support from celebrities, athletes, politicians and other high profile public figures, it was the grassroots voices supporting Trump that pushed him over the line.
Trump himself has translated his unique, brash style directly to Twitter, eschewing the usual rules of crafting social media messages with professionally produced images and video. Instead he delivers his truth, as if he were having a conversation with the electorate, unencumbered by the fear and hesitancy that often accompanies public figures on social media.
The result? Trump’s tweets were shared almost double the number of times of Clinton’s – a crude measure to be sure – but an indication of the impact his style was having.
In a sense, Trump sold “brand Trump” to the masses and they bought it and anybody listening carefully and without bias to social media would have been able to detect it.
As Trump realized early on, people don’t like it when you think you aren’t listening to them and social media is where they were trying to be heard.