In the run up to the 2016 US presidential election, how successfully are candidates using social media and online content to engage with voters?

Over the last two US presidential elections, Barack Obama has shown how politicians can harness the power of social media and content marketing in political campaigning.

Described as ‘the first social media president’ Obama used the likes of Facebook and Twitter to engage with voters, with his followers then spreading content to a wider audience of their family and friends.

For example, in the 2012 election he logged twice as many Facebook Likes and 20 times as many retweets than Republican candidate Mitt Romney, building on the success he had in the 2008 contest.

Using social media is increasingly vital for politicians, particularly those looking to reach younger voters. People are now used to seeing political content in their social media feeds. Indeed, many young people rely on social networks to get their political news, with 61% getting their news via Facebook.

Social media users are also more likely to be politically active, and to vote. Pew Research found that 66% of social media users actively engage in political activism online, while researchers at the MacArthur Research Network on Youth & Participatory Politics report that young people who are politically active online are twice as likely to vote than those who are not.

As you’d therefore expect, many of the 2016 presidential hopefuls are starting to gear up their online and social media activities ahead of the candidate caucuses.

When Searchmetrics analysed online and social activity for some of the main contenders in June 2015 we found that many were already extremely active.

Democrats

Hillary Clinton has 3.73m followers on Twitter and 951,000 on Facebook, along with 5,395 shares and 178,356 Facebook Likes of her specific posts and a combined social visibility score (based on aggregated social shares of their website content on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest and Google+) of 514,644.

This is far higher than her Democratic rivals, although fellow candidate Bernie Sanders is much more active on Twitter, having tweeted 12,100 times against Clinton’s 837. 

Republicans

On the Republican side, Jeb Bush has 204,000 Facebook followers, 214,000 on Twitter but a relatively low social visibility score of 4,083.

When we investigated we saw that his posts had only being shared 342 times on Facebook and 1,525 times on Twitter so his followers do not appear to be engaging with him.

Bush’s 1,182 Facebook Likes are dwarfed by the likes of Rand Paul and Donald Trump. Paul has a social visibility score of 401,029 with 9,214 Facebook Shares, 142,049 Likes and 25,485 Comments. Obviously Trump has a strong profile through his business and TV activities, which is reflected by having 3.05m followers on Twitter and 1,900,000 on Facebook.

These are less engaged however, with just 757 Twitter shares and 19,968 Facebook likes, all contributing to an overall social visibility score of 59,998.

These high profile established figures have a slight head start in social media, while there are many presidential hopefuls who have only just announced their campaigns and launched their websites and social media handles. For example, based on our data, Republican Carly Fiorina, had a social visibility score of 1,260 and no Facebook Likes, Comments or Shares when we looked at her social data, while Democrat Lincoln Chafee, also had negligible engagement and a low social visibility score. It’s early days and we expect to see social numbers increase as these candidates get their campaigns in gear. 

Content marketing

It’s worth pointing out that getting lots of followers on Facebook, Twitter and other social networks is one thing. What I’m really interested in following over the course of this campaign is how successful the candidates are at using their websites and social channels to implement content marketing.

Are they creating meaningful content (blogs, video, images) focused on their important campaign issues and the US political agenda and successfully driving social shares?

As a benchmark it is worth looking at the popularity of content on the White House website. Pages that have been shared widely include the Now is the Time campaign, which has received over 13m social shares.

Looking at the sites of some of the hopefuls, I notice that Trump and Bush are already using a lot of video to talk up the issues on their campaign agendas (with a focus on immigration and their record as Governor of Florida respectively).

Clinton is using LinkedIn Pulse for campaign trail updates, while Senator Ted Cruz and Jeb Bush offer website content in Spanish as well as English.

However as yet no one is seeing huge levels of engagement when it comes to social shares of their content. Given the importance of social media this will undoubtedly change. As the campaign develops we’ll be tracking social visibility and providing regular updates on the winners and losers.

A note on the data used in this post:

The Searchmetrics social visibility scores we use in this post are based on the amount of social signals (shares, comments, likes, tweets, plusones, pins etc.) from social networks including Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest and Google+. Social visibility is a useful indicator of how sharable or viral the content on a website is on social media. We crawl the web for publicly available social data and use this to provide social media analytics – such as the social visibility scores – within our software. It is important to note that we can only use publicly available data, so we do not include content that social network users share privately with their friends and followers.