I’m not a fan of reality entertainment. You will never see me sitting in on a Saturday night watching the X Factor, and I’m glad to say I’ve never seen an episode of Big Brother. But…. The largest reality competition the world has ever seen is due to conclude in November this year. I’ve been sucked into the world of reality competition for the first time. I am, of course, talking about the US Presidential Election.

The Elections will have an impact on our fair little Isle to the east of the land of the free. But that’s for another day. As of this moment, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are locked in the first presidential race of the social media age. Now, the US Presidential race has become the most publicised political battle in US. This is all down to the use of social media in the US election.

The social media fix

man possibly looking at social media in the US electionMore of us, than ever before, get our daily news fix from social media. We are particularly plugged into Facebook and Twitter. And while Trump is undoubtedly more in tune with the Twitteratti, both candidates have used social media as a way to engage with voters directly en mass. Facebook recently released figures showing 1.6 billion monthly active users, up 60% from 2012 during the last election. Twitter boasts similar increases, up 200 million to 385 million monthly active users over the same period. Not quite as much as Pokemon Go, but significant nonetheless.

Much more than a hashtag

Granted, the increased levels of interaction on both platforms cannot be attributed to just the ongoing campaign. But there is no doubt that it has had a massive influence. Trump in particular, has realised that social media is no longer a secondary method of communication. It is also a way of gathering direct feedback from the masses, information that is critical to a successful campaign. At the time of writing, Donald Trump has 11.1 million followers on Twitter, making him the second most followed political figure, behind Barack Obama, and giving him more followers than Fox News, Channing Tatum, Manchester United or the Pope.

One of the reasons behind this is Trump’s tendency to capitalise on any opportunity for publicity. And Trump doesn’t shy away from using Twitter as the engine to broadcast his opinions. He made a visit to the state of Louisiana after the recent flooding and didn’t miss the chance to broadcast it, getting 38,000 likes and over 16,000 retweets.

He then followed it up with a direct attack on Hillary Clinton.

Controversy sells

And it’s controversial communications like this that his helping him amass his followers. And it’s proving effective, especially among younger voters. Research done by www.pewresearch.org showed that nearly two-thirds of 18 to 29-year-olds use social media as the main tool for political knowledge. In March, the NY times claimed that Trump has had nearly $2bn worth of free coverage, all down to his high level of activity on Twitter.

Clinton has attempted to take on Trump in the social media war. Clinton’s shift in focus came as she ramped up her presence since announcing her intention to seek the Democratic nomination. She now has over 8 million followers. And while Clinton is still a way behind Trump, her engagement levels have been higher. Her tweet to Trump, requesting that he delete his account, was retweeted over 480,000 times.

Followers on social media in the US electionHillary’s tact appears to be one of quality rather than quantity; her tweets tend to get up to 3 times the level of interaction than Trump’s. However, her overall reach is still short of what Trump has achieved.

Why social media in the US election is great

There is no doubt that the use of social media in the US election is now a mainstream part of the campaign strategy. In years gone by, the platform was more of an afterthought. Four years ago, politics on social media was boring. In 2016, it has become controversial and is part of the norm. Everything about both candidates, their campaigns, opinions, and potential skeletons, are now in the public domain. This is all thanks to social media, and their willingness to embrace it as a powerful ally.

And I, for one, am loving it.

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