Why the influence of social media on the outcomes of the US elections & Brexit should influence your marketing strategy

Why the influence of social media on the outcomes of the US elections & Brexit should influence your marketing strategy

When the results of the US election finally came in, the world reacted in utter shock.

How could Donald Trump – a man so totally discredited by the media – have been elected President of the United States of America?

Parallels were quickly drawn with the shock which followed Brexit in the UK – as the country voted to leave Europe despite polls and masses of experts predicting the opposite outcome.

Whatever your political views, you have to admit this is pretty extraordinary and it feels as though something has shifted.

But what?

As a former journalist, who now works mainly in the social media sector, I have been particularly interested in whether the influence of the mainstream media has been metaphorically “trumped” (sorry, couldn’t resist!) by social media.

In his excellent blog for the influential Nieman Lab, Pablo Boczkowski analysed the influence of social media on the outcome of the US election.

He investigated the influence of traditional, mainstream media and found that Hillary Clinton was endorsed by 229 dailies and 131 weeklies compared to Trump who only received backing from 9 dailies and 4 weeklies.

Boczkowski also claims that the widespread negative coverage of Trump would have been expected to “seriously damage the chances of a presidential candidate, and maybe even derail the candidacy altogether”.

However, when he analysed social media influence there was a different story being played out.

Trump’s Facebook page had 11.9 million likes compared to 7.8 million for Clinton.

As well as more followers, it also appears his posts were more popular too, with Boczkowski, finding the following.

“A post about a campaign appearance made 14 hours before on the Facebook page of Trump had 92,000 likes, 40,000 loves, and 29,000 shares — and the video included in it had 2.1 million views.

“By way of comparison, a post made 12 hours earlier on Clinton’s Facebook page, also about a campaign appearance, had 14,000 likes, 1,300 loves, and 1,965 shares — and the video included in it had 218,000 views.”

And, when we come to Brexit in the UK, we see a similar pattern yet again.

Vyacheslav Polonski, a social media researcher at the University of Oxford, conducted large-scale social media data analysis into Brexit and found the Leave campaigners were simply more effective in their social media use than the Remain campaigners.

Among the most telling statistics, he discovered there were twice as many Brexit supporters on Instagram and they were also five times more active than Remain activists. The same pattern could be found on Twitter, where they found that the Leave camp outnumbered the Remain camp 7 to 1.

However, the UK mainstream media were also widely pro-Brexit which makes it more tricky to analyse whether it was social media, mainstream media or a mixture of both which ultimately influenced the result.

What is clear from both “shock results” is that more and more people are spending more and more of their time using social media and being influenced by what they read and see.

If Facebook and Twitter can influence the outcome of a US election and Brexit, then it can certainly influence whether someone buys your products, shops at your stores, appoints your firm or eats in your restaurant.

Jim Morrison famously said that “whoever controls the media, controls the mind”. Insert the word “social” before “media” in that sentence, and it is as true today as the day he first uttered it.

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