The victory of Donald Trump two weeks ago has been attributed to a multitude of reasons: the underestimation of America’s populistic movement, the degradation of American’s trust in the political establishment, and the evolving polarization of American politics. As America continues to transition into the digital age, the power of online media and its influence on the American electorate will continue to rise. Trump’s victory last week was a clear indicator that the influence of online media is on par with, if not greater than, traditional political advertising. Despite Clinton’s nearly 3 to 1 advantage in advertising spending, Trump was able to remain relevant and attract supporters by using online mediums such as Snapchat, Facebook, and Twitter in an effective manner. He used Twitter to combat the offenses of political rivals, YouTube to broadcast his rallies, Facebook to promote his political brand, and Snapchat to encourage voter turnout.
In many ways, this past political season can serve as an important case study for advertisers in the digital world. The 2016 Election brought to light many of the ways online users are fundamentally influenced, how they react, and what types of content attract them. Since Trump became President-Elect last week, there has been a large focus throughout America on Facebook and Google’s influence on the election. One of the most influential trends in the 2016 Election was the emergence of “fake news” content promoted on Facebook’s News Feed or through organic and paid search on Google. This bias and misleading political content became the foundation for many American’s political opinions and often resulted in users creating an “echo chamber” for themselves where the content they shared and consumed only served to reinforce their existing views.
Since the conclusion of the election, both Facebook and Google have moved swiftly to limit the influence of these “fake news” publishers on their platforms. Facebook announced this week that through an update to their Audience Network Policy that they would no longer serve advertisements to fake news publishers on third party apps or website due to their content falling under the broader category of misleading or deceptive content. Google followed suit by announcing it would alter its algorithm to restrict ad serving on pages that misrepresent or conceal information about the publisher, publisher’s content, or primary purpose of the website after many election queries such as “final election results” started directing user traffic to websites with false information.
While the majority of these types of content are politically focused, understanding the reason behind why users are attracted to this type of content is an important lesson for advertisers.
The trend of users curating their News Feeds to reinforcing content or creating “echo chambers” shows that users are more interested in promoting the brands in which they have established interest vs. investigating other brands.
Online media has become a new platform for identity politics to play out, where users tend to flock to content and brands that align with their pre-existing views, beliefs, and established interests. Because they already have an established connection with these brands they are much more willing to share and consume content related to that brand in order to self-promote their connection. As we continue to transition into the digital age it will become increasingly important to users to establish their online identity.
Companies can take advantage of this evolving dynamic by making sure they are continually driving brand elements that reinforce their message and values. They need to make an emotional connection with their customers in a way that encourages promoting their chosen brands a part of their own identity. Producing content that merely highlights the technicalities or black and white attributes of their product will get lost in the online world. People want to share content online that serves to reinforce their own values and identity as well as serve as an influence on others.
Companies will also need to focus on diversifying their portfolio of digital campaigns to fit the tone and attitude represented by each different online platform. Whether it’s a disappearing content campaign on Snapchat, video campaign on YouTube, micro-targeted campaign on Facebook, or a brand awareness campaign on Instagram, it will be important for companies to understand the tone of each platform and influence accordingly.
Companies who succeed in these endeavors will reap the benefit of a growing and active digital user fan base. Online users have proven they are hungry for content to promote and share in order to continually project their identity and influence on others. Trump understood the power of online media and the polarization effect that occurred during this past election. His ability to constantly resonate an emotional message with his supporters helped fuel the echo chambers throughout online media and ultimately receive the turnout required to win the election. Online advertisers can be just as successful, using online media as a way to increase brand loyalty and influence potential new customers.