By: Juliet Thomas
In the age of 24-hour news cycles and the increasing accessibility of information through social media, the American public is becoming more politically involved than ever. Voter turnout for the 2020 election was the highest in American history, with over 159 million ballots cast (Lindsay 2020). This figure represents about two-thirds of eligible voters in the United States. In an increasingly politically aware society, social media and public relations continue to play a bigger role in government and politics. The value of political social media strategy is often underestimated because it is such a new phenomenon. When we see the final product of elections, we often don’t consider how strategically each campaign message is crafted in order to create a statement. Having a strong social media strategy is key for future elections and campaigns.
Approximately 79 percent of females and 69 percent of males from age 13-38 (Generation Z and Millennials) actively use Instagram (Tankovska 2021). Generation Z accounts for one in ten eligible voters, which is an estimated 24 million people (Parker & Igielnik, 2021). President Joe Biden’s campaign team was able to use a unique strategy on Instagram to target these young voters that paid off for him. His team utilized influencers to get the word out to vote for Biden. Some notable ones include Lady Gaga, Keke Palmer and Youtubers James Charles and Nikita Dragun. “Influencers were able to act much like small scale press conferences to youth voters – those not traditionally glued to CNN or other news channels” (Suciu 2020). During a global pandemic where door-to-door campaigning and rallies are more or less impossible, Biden’s team utilized social media in a new, groundbreaking way that helped lead him to the Presidency.
Former President Donald Trump received a lot of notoriety for his Twitter account, which he strategically started utilizing during his 2016 Presidential campaign and for the duration of his Presidency. His posts were known for being “unfiltered” which allowed voters to understand his personality, a strategy that a lot of political candidates shy away from. This allowed him to gain a massive following. Trump was one of the first political figures to use social media in such a major way that drew international attention. This attention wasn’t always positive and caused controversy which ultimately led to the removal of his accounts. Twitter is widely known for political discourse. This is because Twitter is a reliable social media channel that allows users to post easily shareable information in 140 characters or less. This platform will likely continue as an important media channel for campaigns.
Tik Tok is an emerging platform with an estimated 1.1 billion monthly users (Doyle 2021). Tik Tok videos are a maximum of 60 seconds long. Due to a unique algorithm, any Tik Tok user could have a video become viral overnight, no matter their follower count. Senator Jon Ossoff used Tik Tok to his advantage during his 2020 election and subsequent runoff election that just concluded in January 2021. His account has over 452 thousand followers and 7 million likes. Combined with other campaign efforts, this strategy helped him get the word out for his campaign. His message was able to become more effective by using this platform in a push to become more relatable to young voters. Tik Tok is a newer platform that is worth exploring for other campaigns.
In our digital, politically conscious age, political public relations professionals will have the opportunity to be creative with their job by using social media. As shown through success stories, thinking out of the box is a necessity with strategic social media. No matter what the channel, social media is a valuable strategy for communicators to use to reach voters while campaigning. According to 2020 Presidential election exit polls from the New York Times, Generation Z accounted for 17 percent of the votes, Millennials accounted for 23 percent, Generation X accounted for 38 percent and Baby Boomers accounted for 22 percent. Generation Z is the first generation to grow up completely familiar with social media and the internet, with Millennials not much ahead of them. As the majority of Generation Z comes of voting age, these demographics will become even more important for political candidates and their campaign teams to pay attention to. Social media is the avenue of the present and simultaneously the future for strategic communicators to pay attention to.
Doyle, B. (2021, February 06). TikTok Statistics – Everything You Need to Know [Feb 2021 update]. Retrieved February 19, 2021, from https://wallaroomedia.com/blog/social-media/tiktok-statistics/
Lindsay, J. M. (2020, December 15). The 2020 Election by the Numbers. Retrieved February 17, 2021, from https://www.cfr.org/blog/2020-election-numbers
National Exit Polls: How Different Groups Voted. (2021, January 05). Retrieved February 17, 2021, from https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/11/03/us/elections/exit-polls-president.html
Parker, K., & Igielnik, R. (2021, February 09). What We Know About Gen Z So Far. Retrieved February 19, 2021, from https://www.pewresearch.org/social-trends/2020/05/14/on-the-cusp-of-adulthood-and-facing-an-uncertain-future-what-we-know-about-gen-z-so-far-2/
Suciu, P. (2020, November 17). Social media Proved Crucial for Joe Biden – It Allowed Him to Connect with Young Voters and Avoid his Infamous Gaffes. Retrieved February 19, 2021, from https://www.forbes.com/sites/petersuciu/2020/11/17/social-media-proved-crucial-for-joe-biden–it-allowed-him-to-connect-with-young-voters-and-avoid-his-infamous-gaffes/?sh=595516e44148
Tankovska, H. (2021, January 28). U.S. Gen Z & Millennials Social Network Reach by Gender 2019. Retrieved February 19, 2021, from https://www.statista.com/statistics/471543/millennials-usa-social-media-reach-gender/