The elections held in the United States of America for electing its 46th president was a worldwide sensation. People from around the globe were exceptionally aware and updated of the campaigns held along with presidential speeches, solely with the help of social media and digitisation.
Digital platforms such as Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, radio and television have played a major role for the audience to keep up with all sorts of news in real time allowing incumbents and newcomers alike to speak directly to constituents on everything from policy to what they had for dinner. Barack Obama was the first presidential candidate to use the medium, which was still nascent during his 2008 bid, and Donald Trump takes to Twitter almost daily to express himself without the filter of traditional media.
Research suggests that, since March of 2020, the Center for Media Engagement has been studying the role of influencers in the lead-up to the 2020 U.S. elections. We have conducted 14 in-depth interviews with well-placed experts, ranging from political strategists who harness influencers for their own partisan means to executives of so-called ‘influencer platforms’ to governmental regulators and, finally, to the political influencers themselves.
Some of the findings that were made include that, both the Biden and Trump campaigns are employing “digital-first” advertising strategies, with varying degrees of success. President Trump has a well-established online presence, with roughly 86 million followers on Twitter and 29 million on Facebook, compared to Biden’s 10 million and 2.8 million followers, respectively.
Long-form web-based video interviews are popular, with Trump often relying on surrogates, as is the case with Team Trump Online!, and Biden often incorporating celebrity and influencer guests to increase viewership. Trump himself has conducted few interviews, capitalizing on his own influencer status instead by retweeting thousands of followers’ tweets and memes, bequeathing prized endorsements, and promoting follower-generated content to his massive audience. Biden, whose team is working with the influencer firm Village Marketing, has been interviewed by a handful of lifestyle and parenting influencers, YouTube vloggers, and celebrities (notably, Cardi B and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson).
While celebrity endorsement has long been a liberal tactic, the political mobilization of influencers, including those with small and large followings, is relatively new and is not without challenges, particularly regarding authenticity and quality control.
Within the first month of using Twitter, politicians were able to raise between 1% and 3% of what they would have raised in a two-year traditional campaign, showcasing the power of social media reach across the globe in seconds of announcing news.