Anyone with an Internet connection, a TV or a newspaper subscription is likely bemoaning the 2016 presidential election’s complete takeover of the news cycle. As a recovering politico and current PR professional, I can’t help but find the discussion of campaign strategy and tactics fascinating. Seeing which candidates are using the communications tools at their disposal to target specific constituencies and the rate of success at which they’re doing so is intriguing. And this time around, it seems, more than ever, political candidates are willing to make the jump into the social media stream to reach prospective voters.
One of the most interesting discussions I’ve encountered so far is the increased use of social media influencer endorsements to target younger generations of voters. Hillary Clinton generated buzz after sitting down for an interview with Lena Dunham, creator and star of HBO’s “Girls.” She then handed over the reins of her Instagram account to the actress for a series of posts, similar to when singer, Katy Perry, took creative control at a campaign rally where she performed last October. Likewise, Bernie Sanders did a six-part interview with rapper Michael Render, known as Killer Mike, and received a resounding endorsement from filmmaker, Michael Moore, on Twitter last Sunday.
And this is certainly not a one-party strategy. Ted Cruz created a one-minute video of him with Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson that showed the two duck hunting, with production mimicking the style of the popular TV series. Donald Trump directed vast amounts of traffic to his Facebook page with the video endorsement from Sarah Palin.
It seems each of the candidates, and their communications teams, see the value of tapping into the curated and loyal audiences of these influencers. And those efforts have paid off. Bernie Sanders’ interview with Michael Render has been viewed on YouTube more than 1.8 million times and an additional 247,800 times on Facebook. The video of Cruz earned more than 4 million views in just a few days of going live, and the video of Sarah Palin’s endorsement of Donald Trump on his Facebook page was viewed 1.6 million times in less than 24 hours.
While analysts point to the increased use of these celebrity endorsements as a sign that we are losing sight of the seriousness of the political debate, it leaves this millennial public relations professional wondering. Is it truly a “dumbing down” of political discourse, or is it a reflection of the need to meet the newest, largest generation of voters in a place where they are most comfortable – within the world of the social media influencers they feel are already representative of their values and interests? It’s still unclear whether this trend will drive voters to the ballot box, but it will be interesting to see how each campaign continues to draw on the potential of these influencers and their audiences as they attempt to win the hearts and minds of the country.
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