Some say the way Barack Obama used the internet in 2008 changed the political landscape. For the first time in a political election, digital marketing took center stage as Obama secured the nomination and the presidency with the help of social media.
Obama’s campaign videos on YouTube alone were watched for 14.5 million hours. And this was all free exposure, as opposed to paid TV ads.
Here we are in 2016, where the presidential candidates are shaping politics once again. The general election is months away, yet digital marketing has already been a primary driver (if not the primary driver) of success for the top political candidates.
Related: 10 Laws of Social Media Marketing
Each candidate has taken new strides in the world of digital marketing. Take a look at these four wins that have driven each to success.
Donald Trump: Free (or ‘Earned’) Media.
You can’t turn on the TV or pull up a tab in your web browser without seeing Donald Trump. The Republican candidate has turned this season’s election into a reality show, much like The Apprentice. And as a result of his massive media coverage, he has the public saying ‘You’re fired’ to the majority of his political opponents.
Just how much has the media helped Trump? Some estimate he has earned the equivalent of $2 billion in free media. Compare that to $313 million in free media for Ted Cruz, $746 million for Hillary Clinton, and $321 million for Bernie Sanders.
In fact, Trump has gotten more minutes of coverage than all of the other candidates combined. When presidential campaigns are limited by the money they bring in, this earned media means that Trump can achieve greater results from a lower budget.
Indeed, Trump has spent less money on ads this election cycle than any other candidate (even John Kasich). But his marketing has been so successful, he’s the center of every dinner table conversation.
Bernie Sanders: Crowdsourcing.
Bernie Sanders is synonymous with the term “political revolution.” And while we can debate about the scale of the revolution, one thing is for sure: Sanders’ campaign is powered by the people.
One place this shows: fundraising. In the month of February, Sanders raised $42.7 million from 1.4 million contributions, averaging $30 a piece. Compare this to Clinton, who raised $30 million in February. In March, he crushed his previous record, bringing in $44 million. It’s all due to Bernie’s record number of contributions at this point in a presidential race.
But the crowdsourcing goes beyond just funding. Groups of Sanders supporters have independently taken on projects to get out the vote and promote his platform. A group of coders, Coders for Sanders, created the website FeelTheBern.org in their spare time to explain Bernie Sanders’ positions. They continue to volunteer time to the campaign by creating apps to help Sanders supporters organize and share information.
The team originally organized on the social media platform Reddit. And they aren’t the only Sanders supporters on the site. r/SandersforPresident is the largest subreddit community on Reddit for a presidential candidate. Its 212,000 members work together to hit fundraising, phone banking and canvassing goals -- independent of the official campaign.
Hillary Clinton: LinkedIn Marketing
Hillary Clinton is the queen of social media. While Trump has more Twitter followers, Clinton has the most interaction across the board. While all of the candidates have Facebook and Twitter profiles, there is one place Clinton stands alone: LinkedIn.
Some of the candidates have LinkedIn pages, some don’t have one at all. Clinton shines because she’s the only candidate using the platform to talk about the issues and reach the professional market.
Not only does she post images from her campaign to her LinkedIn page, but she writes long-form content for LinkedIn Pulse. This provides a great way for Clinton to highlight her thoughts on major issues in the country. One of her pieces was viewed more than 450,000 times, and shared thousands of times across LinkedIn.
It’s hard to say what impact this has, but LinkedIn is definitely a demographic Clinton wants to target. It also allows her to build her brand image: a professional, qualified candidate who is ready to tackle the issues.
Ted Cruz and John Kasich: Mobile Apps
While Coders for Sanders created an array of apps for Sanders supporters, Ted Cruz and John Kasich are the only campaigns with dedicated, official mobile apps.
Kasich’s app highlights recent campaign news on its home screen, and has the ‘Donate’ and ‘Volunteer’ buttons front and center. You can then navigate the app to go to the Kasich store, see upcoming events, contact the campaign or go straight to the website.
Cruz’s app employs a lot of these elements, but is also interactive, rather than purely informational. What differentiates Cruz’s app from his competition is the exciting gamification element.
With the app, you can compete with friends to canvas, share campaign graphics and remind friends to vote or attend campaign events. For each activity you complete, you earn points which can be exchanged for some free Cruz swag. And you can also earn badges, and interact with the community through the Newsfeed section.
While not every candidate has an app yet, we’re going to set our trend alert. As the mobile market expands, mobile apps provide a way for supporters to stay involved, wherever they are. Keep an eye out for some more apps from the other candidates as time goes on.