Digital Marketing Lessons From the 2016 US Election

More than 8 billion likes, comments and posts related to the 2016 US Election were shared on Facebook alone between the end of 2015 and November 1, 2016. About 20 million users talked about the second presidential debate on social media.


In fact, some are blaming social media for an upset that has sent global markets into turmoil. A case of shoot the messenger? Maybe. But there is no denying that political campaigning has evolved a great deal in this digital age.


Here are key digital marketing lessons that you can pick up from this year’s primary candidates.


Hashtags Matter

Humans are social beings and we have the tendency to flock to groups that share our ideologies. Trump’s audience was white voters in the Rust Belt who were feeling marginalized by the system. These disgruntled white, conservative people saw that there were more like them out there, which polarized the elections.


How did they find like-minded people? Hashtags, of course. Trump’s digital marketing strategy involved a lot of clever hashtags that let people form cliques online. For instance, #WomenForTrump was used to convince white females to support the Republican candidate.


The takeaway for digital marketers:
Build smart hashtags around ideas that resonate with your audience. For instance, a clothing brand for youngsters that is fun and experimental could try a hashtag like #IDontGiveADamnAbout and see how it resonates with its audience. Notice the “About” in the end, which could prompt people to initiate a conversation and hence increase the probability of the hashtag growing organically.


Memes Can Be A Powerful Tool

Memes can be funny, or downright offensive and polarizing. Nonetheless, they can expedite the formation of cliques and influence people. The history of internet memes is very recent. In their infancy, which is about 2010, they were used as a tool for making socio-political statements.


Today, they can be seemingly insipid ideas that are quickly copied and circulated. That’s where the power of memes lies – the speed and the lack of censorship. One of the top tweets by Hillary is a meme. The same goes for Trump.


The problem is the lack of control. As a brand, you often have little control over what your audience might come up with. The solution is to react quickly, either cashing in on a trend or rebuking trolls creatively. You can also feed your audience with meme ideas by using influencers, thus having some control over your audience.


The takeaway for digital marketers:
Ask the content team to use this relatively new internet tool to shape results. Feed memes to influencers in your network. The sheer speed of meme replication can be helpful for brand hijacking online.


A Simple Key Phrase Helps

For Barack Obama in 2008, it was “Yes, We Can.” For Trump in 2016, it was “Make America Great Again.”


Clinton failed to come up with one catchphrase in her campaign. In fact, her ad campaigns used several different CTAs. No one phrase stood out for people, which probably dented her recall value.


Sanders used “Join The Political Revolution” as the catchphrase for all his promotions online. However, it failed to resonate with the audience. No media outlet picked it up and it never went viral, unlike Trump’s.


The takeaway for digital marketers:
Consistency in a campaign helps build traction and visibility. Simplicity is important as well, though.


Online Conversations Matter

Traditional pollsters got it all wrong for US elections in 2016. Even a reputable website like FiveThirtyEight predicted a Clinton victory. On the other hand, BrandsEye got it right. It predicted a Trump victory. It did so by analyzing more than 200,000 tweets to check which side was more popular. The sentiment was measured in the primary states and it was found that Trump led in most of these states.


The takeaway for digital marketers:
Listen to what people are saying about your brand. It can give you clues on whether your campaigns are working or not. It can also give you ideas for creative campaigns.


Let’s take the case of the clothing brand again. If data analysis reveals that people are complaining about the fit of the clothes, you could take a couple of quick steps to remedy the situation. Start reaching out to individuals who are complaining and offer them a solution.


Alexis Ng

ReFUEL4's digital and content marketer who loves the ocean, yoga and constellations. Watches too much TV.