For evidence that social media is ground zero for many campaigns, look no further than what President Trump’s campaign has been able to do. Millions of low-dollar contributions, an active online following that spans every nook and cranny of the country. Every Democrat presidential campaign is trying to duplicate the success that the Trump campaign has had on social media, but with uneven results. Enter Michael Bloomberg.
It’s been widely reported that the former New York mayor is taking a different approach to social media. In addition to advertisements, Bloomberg is paying for “influencers” to promote him, skirting the new rules and policy changes of many social media platforms.
Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram have very specific policies for advertisers. Promoted posts are listed as such differentiating between organic and paid content. What Bloomberg has done by playing influencers directly is avoided disclosing that the posts are sponsored, instead giving them the appearance of unprompted support. Whether social media platforms will revise the rules once again so that they apply to this new technique is as yet undetermined, as is whether these paid posts will have any impact in increasing Bloomberg’s support.
This is in stark contrast to the president’s campaign. The Trump campaign, in partnership with the RNC, is doing the data leg work to identify actual supporters—those who attend rallies, donate money, and identify themselves to doorknockers as supporters of Trump and his agenda. So they identify these supporters and then talk to them on social media. In contrast, the Bloomberg approach is to pay people on social media to talk about him, then hope they turn into supporters.
That strategy will test the correlation between online and offline actions. Social media is powerful because it harnesses the power of trusted relationships. Political scientists have long established that the most effective campaign tactics involve peer to peer (P2P) communication, whether this is knocking on a neighbor’s door, texting a friend or sending a Facebook message to a colleague. Voters are most likely to respond to communications from their networks, as opposed to paid endorsers.
How will this play out in November? We shall see, but as history has demonstrated, it’s very difficult to buy support. Social media only matters if the online backing translates into offline activation. Consider this: Are your social media followers donating? Are they encouraging their friends and family to support your candidacy?
A like on Facebook, a retweet or follow on Twitter doesn’t automatically translate into real-life action. For an example of this, we can look at former Democratic candidate Tom Steyer.
He spent millions in his attempt to make the debate stage early on in the primary. While he hit the donor threshold of 130,000, his campaign didn’t put in the legwork to cultivate a loyal grassroots following. In the end, while Steyer ultimately made the debate stage, he failed to win a single delegate.
Will Bloomberg’s efforts on social media gain him support on Super Tuesday? My money’s on the organic support that can’t be bought.
Reid Vineis is the Vice President of Digital for Majority Strategies, a full-service data, digital, and print firm that specializes in influencing the opinion and behavior of voters, constituents, and consumers.