GOP Debate

Donald Trump, center, speaks during the Republican presidential debate Thursday in Cleveland. (Andrew Spear / For The Times)

By Andrea Chang and Samantha Masunaga
August 8, 2015

  • Social media are key in presidential campaign

Donald Trump, as expected, stole the show at Thursday’s Republican presidential debate. Less dramatic, but more profound, observers believe, was that Facebook co-sponsored the event with Fox News.

The social network’s high-profile participation spotlights a trend that has been building for years: the ascendancy of social media in electoral politics and the decreasing relevance of traditional television.

Videos of Trump dissing people including Rosie O’Donnell and his fellow candidates while calling politicians “stupid” quickly spread to millions of Facebook users and other social channels online, foreshadowing social media’s critical role in the long road to Election Day.
See the most-read stories this hour >>

As the campaign season builds momentum, those posts will be accompanied by paid political video advertising, providing a healthy boost to the bottom line at Facebook, Snapchat and other social networks that stand to benefit from the new trend in campaign spending.

“It is becoming increasingly difficult for campaigns and political advertisers to reach audiences through traditional methods,” said Brian Donahue, chief executive of Craft Media/Digital, a Washington, D.C., agency that does traditional and digital advertising for political campaigns. “The most rapid area of growth is in digital and social media. It has been extremely effective.”

Social media’s importance to political campaigning isn’t new. Then-Sen. Barack Obama famously leveraged Facebook to help him win the presidency in 2008. About a third of a million more people showed up at the ballot box in the U.S. in 2010 after seeing a “get out the vote” message at the top of their news feed on Election Day, according to a UC San Diego-led study.

But social media are getting even more influential. Social networks have ballooned since the last presidential election. Candidates are smarter about using them. The platforms are almost ubiquitous among millennials, who pundits believe could be key to winning the election.

And as the use of online video has exploded in recent years, campaigners are beginning to combine the targeting power of rich data analytics with video’s attention-getting emotional appeal, creating a hybrid form of campaigning tailor-made for the digital age. Many candidates are using the medium to project a more relatable image than what they put out over television ads.

With social networks like Facebook, “campaigns can reach the right slice of voters at the right time with the right message to direct the right outcome,” Facebook spokesman Andy Stone said. The Menlo Park, Calif., firm doesn’t release campaign ad spending figures.

To read expanded article, click here.