Election 2016 and the Art of Engaging Millennials

By: Sean Brenner

Wherever you stand on the candidates and the issues, few would argue that the 2016 presidential election campaign has been one of the most unpredictable — and can we just say it? wacky — the U.S. has ever seen.

It’s also the first time, as the Wall Street Journal points out, that millennials could have as much of a say in the outcome as baby boomers — “could” because although their numbers are roughly equal, it’s still more likely that boomers will vote in greater numbers. But still, for brands aiming to reach millennials, it’s clear that there’s much more to watch between now and November than the daily poll numbers and the candidates’ campaign tour stops.

Perhaps not surprisingly, Pew Research found that millennials, are getting a big share of their updates about the campaign from major social platforms and websites — which also are the sources through which young voters are “getting to know” the candidates. The trend is stronger among left-leading millennial voters (who report getting campaign news from Facebook, YouTube, Reddit and even Snapchat in significant numbers) than it is among the more conservative ones (mostly Facebook).

So it stands to reason that candidates are devoting an estimated 9.5 percent of their media budgets to social (per Borrell Associates). That percentage might lag other major categories, but it still will translate to about $1 billion in spending this election cycle.

If millennials are less likely to actually vote in November, that doesn’t mean they’re not involved at all. Ypulse highlights the fact that digital platforms are making it easy for millennials to create and share satirical election- and candidate-themed GIFs — and even to vote on the best political memes out there.

Politicians’ use of social media has clearly evolved since the past election cycle. Even as the 2016 campaign was just getting underway, it was becoming clear that campaign managers are now savvier about using social as a tool for engagement and conversation, not just to blast out messages to the masses — certainly a smart approach for any brand trying to reach millennials.

“It’s become much more interactive, less about your posting your own beliefs in your own feed,” Blue State Digital’s Marie Danzig told The Hill. “So I think we are seeing the candidates wake up to that and make sure that they’re having more of a conversation rather than using it as a PR channel.”

As this Social Times column notes, the campaign also seems to be reinforcing the power of Google, YouTube and online publishers to provide candidates with both massive scale and highly targeted reach — and the opportunity to speak to consumers unfiltered by the media — through video ads and sponsored links.

A final reminder for brand marketers that we’ve seen coming from the candidates? The benefits of adapting communications to the nuances of each social media platform.

In that Social Times piece, Rohan Ayyar points out: “[O]n Reddit, be ready to answer any questions; on Twitter, be ready to handle impromptu debates; on Facebook, show concern and warmth. The dos and don’ts for various social media platforms are endless. But the basic mantra is same — be authentic at all times.”