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Hidden In Plain Sight

On Tuesday last week, we looked at the US presidential candidates’ presence on Facebook. In short, it was clear that Donald Trump’s ability to engage with his following on social media far outweighed that of his rival, Hillary Clinton. While the Clinton campaign opted for a rather conservative strategy of a steady, predictable stream of content whatever the weather, the Trump campaign took advantage of high-reach and high-engagement content types such as native video and live video, posting aggressively depending on the day to maximize engagement.

On Tuesday this week, businessman and political outsider Donald Trump, against forecasts and predictions, defeated seasoned Democrat politician Hillary Clinton by 290 projected electoral votes to Clinton’s 232 to become the 45th president of the United States of America.

Much like the Brexit referendum on 23 June 2016, the result caught the world off-guard. Looking at traditional metrics such as publicly available polls, exit polls conducted outside voting stations, or simply the press each candidate had received leading up to the election, it now feels like anyone relying solely on this data has been living in an echo chamber, impervious to any signal to the contrary. The surprise brought by the Brexit referendum was supposed to be an outlier. However, if one had been looking less at public polls and more at social media reactions generated by actual people with no intermediaries, this may have been less of a surprise.

This live video broadcast is Donald Trump’s highest-engaging Facebook post.

It has been said that the liberal media have taken Donald Trump literally, but not seriously. On the other hand, his supporters have been taking him seriously, but not quite as literally. They don’t expect him to deliver on all promises in a literal sense. What is literally a wall may less literally mean more aggressive measures against illegal immigration. What is literally targeting “waste, fraud, and abuse” in the federal workforce may less literally mean a hiring freeze to reduce said workforce through attrition.

While Trump’s outbursts received a lot of negative media attention, Clinton received over 80 endorsements from notable newspapers in perhaps the most lopsided split of endorsements in American history. Trump chose not to spend too much energy fighting an uphill battle with the media and instead took to his 11 million (now 14 million) followers on Facebook to put a positive spin on things in an environment he could control better (Clinton’s 7 million fan count has since gone up to 9 million). And to what effect: while many of his highest-engaging photo posts are election day celebratory posts of won states, his highest-engaging photo post ever is this one from May 5.

On the other hand, it has been said Hillary Clinton is not a digital candidate. There’s the difference that Trump actually does tweet himself (apart from that short takeover), but there’s also a difference in what kind of spin they were able to create on social. Compared to the positive vibes of Donald Trump’s Cinco de Mayo post above, the two highest-engaging status updates from Hillary Clinton’s Facebook page make you feel sorry for her.

To put this further into context, here’s a view of the top twenty highest-engaging status updates to come out from the Trump and Clinton camps during 2016. The aforementioned two from Clinton are the only ones that made it to the top 20. Other than that, it’s all Trump.

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It will be interesting to see how President Donald J. Trump’s social media strategy changes when he is sworn into office. Looking back on the enormous social success of his campaign, we can expect him to seek popular approval for his policies from his social audience, not restricted to Americans only.

Additionally, 2016 has seen right-wing media surging on social. Outlets such as Fox News and Breitbart have been engaging with their social audience extremely effectively and they have the Trump campaign to thank for many of their most successful stories on social. In the wake of Trump’s victory, Breitbart has already announced plans to expand in the US and Europe. We will be touching on this subject in the near future in another blog post dedicated to the matter.

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