How Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton Are Changing the Social Media Game

By Carey, Matthew | Daily News (Los Angeles, CA), November 5, 2016 | Go to article overview

How Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton Are Changing the Social Media Game


Carey, Matthew, Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)


First it was newspapers, then radio, television and now social media.

Throughout history, advances in mass media technology have played a vital role in presidential elections, shaping how voters view the candidates and the issues. In 2016, experts say, a new force has become communications king -- social media.

"Surely we will look back on this election as a turning point," observed Renee Van Vechten, associate professor of political science at the University of Redlands. "We are in a social media election, for better or worse."

According to a July study by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center, 24 percent of American adults said they had "turned to the social media posts of Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton for news and information about the election." That's compared to 15 percent who said they got information from the candidates' websites or emails.

The results were not surprising to Van Vechten.

"Through Facebook postings and Instagram postings the average voter picks up on the events that are unfolding in the campaign and then responds to them in real time," Van Vechten explained. "That certainly marks a difference over past elections."

- Related Story: Here's how political figures and pop stars stack up on Twitter

Republican nominee Trump has effectively made social media the cornerstone of his campaign. He boasts 12.9 million followers on Twitter -- compared to Clinton's 10.2 million -- and has provided them with a steady stream of blunt commentary and headline-grabbing remarks.

"He's completely mastered this particular medium," Van Vechten said. "He has branded this sort of communication with the voters in a way that no one else has."

Professor Ira Kalb, a marketing and branding expert at the USC Marshall School of Business, credited Trump with an effective approach to reaching his followers. "Trump takes the same phrase and keeps repeating it, like 'crooked Hillary, crooked Hillary,'" Kalb said. "He talks in such simple terms that his audience can understand it. In communications, that's very important."

In some ways, Twitter has worked better for Trump at getting his message out than a paid publicist, noted Chad Kawalec, president of West Hollywood-based Brand Identity Center, which advises companies, celebrities and athletes on managing their public brands.

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"He uses Twitter to kind of fulfill that need to constantly be able to speak to his people, his followers," Kawalec said. "It's almost like a virtual rally for him -- he can use it to make a speech any time he wants."

- Related Story: Trump supporters plan to watch California polling places

In Kawalec's opinion, Trump's success communicating through Twitter boils down to one quality. "He's very authentic. He says what he thinks, come hell or high water. You know no consultant is going to be telling him to say that stuff," he explained.

But some of Trump's online swipes have produced condemnation, including his denunciation of former Miss Universe Alicia Machado. After Clinton brought up the Venezuelan-born Machado at the first presidential debate -- accusing Trump of humiliating her when she put on weight -- he later tweeted, "Did Crooked Hillary help disgusting (check out sex tape and past) Alicia M become a U.S. citizen so she could use her in the debate? …

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