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The 2016 Presidential Race: The Impact of Social Media

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On April 12, 2015, Hillary Clinton announced she was entering the 2016 presidential race. Did she do so in a press conference or newspaper editorial? Nope, she did it on YouTube and Twitter. And she’s not the only one: Senator Ted Cruz also announced his bid with a tweet.

Though the marriage of social media and politics is nothing new, its popularity and influence has exploded in the past few years — and its effect on the 2016 presidential race will likely be unprecedented.

Social Media Reaches the Voting Public

Like the last election, Millennials will play an important role in determining the next American president. And the best way to reach Millennials is through where we already hang out: online. And it’s not only Millennials, an astounding 74 percent of American adults use social networks.

Translation: Social media is an incredible way to reach the voting public. Hillary Clinton’s announcement tweet was seen 3 million times in the first hour it was posted. That’s a lot of reach — for free.

More importantly, social media doesn’t just reach voters — it sways them. Many experts believe President Obama wouldn’t have won the 2008 and 2012 elections without his savvy use of social media, and they are predicting that social media could have even more of an impact on the upcoming 2016 presidential race.

“Facebook is on the cusp — and I suspect 2016 will be the year this becomes clear — of replacing television advertising as the place where American elections are fought and won,” says Buzzfeed’s Editor-in-Chief Ben Smith.

Social media is arguably more effective than platforms like television and newspapers for one simple reason: It allows messages to be spread by people that users know and trust. “As any marketer will tell you, word of mouth advertising — a recommendation from someone you trust — is the most powerful form of persuasion,” says Dr. Pamela Rutledge, the director of the Media Psychology Research Center. “Social media creates multiple levels of trust based on relationships.”

Candidates Should Embrace Social Media

In addition to networks such as Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube, The Washington Post has predicted that Instagram will be the new heavy hitter during the 2016 presidential race.

Jeb Bush took to Instagram to announce the launch of his Right to Rise super PAC; Senator Rand Paul shares shots of young supporters using the hashtag #StandWithRand; and Senator Marco Rubio posts behind-the-scenes campaign photos through his Instagram account.

If candidates are smart, they won’t only use social media to interact with potential voters. They’ll also use it to learn what people care about. “Imperfect as it is, [Facebook] is probably the biggest trove of data of what actual human beings outside of Washington, D.C., are talking about day to day, and that makes it intrinsically important,” explains Teddy Goff, a former digital director for the Obama reelection campaign.

Candidates can focus on popular youth issues, such as gay marriage, student loans, health care, and the job market, all they want, but it won’t do any good if the youth isn’t able to hear their message. Of course, having the most retweets or Facebook fans won’t guarantee a win. If candidates want to reach and sway voters — especially Millennials — that’s a fact they need to embrace.