Snapchat is quickly rising to the top of the social media hierarchy, and presidential candidates want to tap into its growing audience. But how exactly do you reach young voters on social media without sounding “too political” and boring? We speak with two media-savvy election pundits about the issue.
Host: Marty Peterson. Guests: Matthew McGregor, Director of Digital at Precision Strategies and President Obama’s former digital strategist; Aria Juliet Castillo, Communications Director for the Young Democrats of Kauai, Hawaii
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Social Media Can Drive Young Voters to the Polls – If Done Right
Marty Peterson: Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, Vine, Snapchat, Facebook…the list of social media startups goes on and on. It seems like every year there’s a new, trendy platform for young adults to socialize on. As the 2016 presidential election gains momentum, candidates see the incredible potential to reach younger audiences who frequent these sites. In this era of social media, many presidential hopefuls are joining Snapchat – the cell phone app where users can send their friends photos and videos called “snaps” that are a max of ten seconds long. After the “snap” has been viewed, it disappears forever. Since its launch in 2011, Snapchat now has over a hundred million users and is currently valued at around 19-billion dollars. Seventy-seven percent of college students actively use the app. Presidential candidate Rand Paul has been on Snapchat since last year and regularly posts updates and behind-the-scenes footage from his campaign. While candidates have taken a liking to social media, can these platforms really be used as political news outlets to garner the attention of young voters?
Matthew McGregor: I buy into Snapchat’s potential in a sense that the audience numbers speak for themselves, but I don’t think that we’ve seen a campaign really crack how to reach young people in an interesting way, or to turn that into meaningful engagement. Because, you have to remember, campaigns might want to be entertaining and interesting, but they’re not doing that for its own sake. Campaigns need more supporters, more donors, more activists so that they can get more voters. So Snapchat definitely has potential and is definitely a place where a lot of young people can be reached. I’m not sure we’ve a campaign really crack how to be both authentic and interesting as well as getting what they need from that kind of engagement. Content has its own particular personality there, and so figuring out how to adapt the content you’ve been putting out elsewhere for Snapchat but not doing it in a lame way, I think that’s something that campaigns will need to continually work on.
Peterson: That’s Matthew McGregor, Director of Digital at Precision Strategies and President Obama’s former digital strategist. He says campaigns haven’t mastered Snapchat yet, but they’re heading in the right direction. In order to get users to follow a candidate or click on a story, campaigns need to produce posts that are relevant and captivating.
McGregor: People engage with politics because it affects their lives, not because they’re entertaining. Having said that, you obviously want to try and use tactics that will engage people and draw them in and we’re seeing lots of candidates get really good at things like Facebook video, things like Instagram, and that’s important for campaign candidates. But remembering issues and how they affect people’s lives is really, really important whether it’s on economics, security or cultural issues or on immigration as it affects young people and talking to them in ways that are respectful and engaging and open to interaction. I think young people are tuned into the way politics is viewed differently than it was 10, 20, 30 years ago. Young people expect a different kind of interaction with politicians than people of older generations.
Peterson: McGregor says young voters on social media don’t want to see the polished, formal candidate but rather the genuine person behind the politics.
McGregor: I think it’s safe to say that taking the same kind of content you blast everywhere else and blasting it out on Snapchat isn’t a hot move and we see campaigns and candidates doing that sometimes. I think that finding an authentic voice for a candidate on a channel like Snapchat is a real challenge and it’s a real head scratcher for all of them. I think that we’re going to see a kind of iterative process of candidates getting better at it as they go along. And I think that phase has candidates that are both willing to take the risk, also candidates that have that kind of a real and engaging personalities that allow them to just be themselves.
Peterson: It’s great for candidates to show their more laidback side on social media, however they shouldn’t get too comfortable.
McGregor: You need to treat these platforms with a level of respect that you do all of your others. And sometimes, because these platforms are new and people may not be native to them, they take them less seriously and are not as cautious. So that can cause problems but there’s nothing inherent about social media that makes somebody more mistake-prone. You just need to approach all of these platforms with the seriousness that the issues warrant.
Peterson: In addition to tone, McGregor believes campaigns need to focus on quality rather than the quantity of content that’s produced and posted on sites like Snapchat and Facebook.
McGregor: I do think that there’s a risk for campaigns that they approach platforms like Snapchat or Periscope or some of the more traditional platforms like Tumblr with an attitude that “we just need to be on the platform” without thinking through carefully what that means. Being on Snapchat isn’t the goal. Being good at Snapchat and using it to genuinely engage with people and involve them in the campaign and involve them in the issues.
Peterson: Despite Snapchat currently dominating the political advertising spotlight, Facebook is working on expanding their bid as a news platform. McGregor says Facebook and Twitter will still play a role in the upcoming presidential election.
McGregor: Facebook and Twitter might not be quite as sexy as they used to be but I think Facebook’s influences still are absolutely huge and growing as they focus more on news delivery within the site, on developing their video platform. Twitter became the media’s platform of choice in 2011 and 2012 and I think that’s grown, so it’s still essential for campaigns in making sure that they’re getting their message out across to people particularly involved in the media.
Peterson: And what impact do traditional political TV ads have on young voters?
McGregor: I think TV advertising is still important. I don’t think there’s this sense that traditional media is gone for young people. I just think it’s less influential, less important; a different kind of voice, a different approach is important to young people. But that doesn’t mean that those things are gone and irrelevant. I just think that they are now only one part of the wider mix rather than being the big, sole channel through which campaigns can get their message across.
Peterson: As the race progresses, negative ads flood TV channels and politicians point out every mistake or unfavorable decision their opponents have ever made. While some Americans grow tired of this negativity, McGregor says that exposing the facts and past missteps of candidates is crucial to winning an election.
McGregor: It’s incumbent on campaigns to get across the facts about themselves and their own candidate and about who their up against. It’s important that people have the facts. And so I think that you’ll still see campaigns running contra-advertising, showing the choice that people have in the election. Social media lends itself to that. We saw that in 2012, the team I worked on for President Obama trying to show people Mitt Romney’s records as governor and as a CEO, and what that said about his presidential record. Social media was a great channel for communicating those kind of messages. I think it’s more about the tone of voice than in the information you’re trying to get across.
Peterson: One young voter who is involved in politics and excited for the upcoming presidential race is Aria Juliet Castillo. She’s the communications director for the Young Democrats of Kauai in Hawaii. Castillo checks Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram multiple times a day and follows live breaking news on Twitter. She says she’d click on a Snapchat political story if it gave her a closer view into the campaign, and a candidate’s everyday life.
Aria Juliet Castillo: I think that would actually be pretty interesting to give us kind of like a background of maybe their campaign. That’s a pretty exciting time in a politician’s life, so seeing that behind-the-scenes footage would be pretty cool. The more that you can relate to someone, I think the better. I think Obama was so successful because he was someone that you could actually relate to, and you saw him as a person. He’s playing basketball, he was eating in Chipotle, he was giving people high-fives, and it’s something that was really relatable and I thought that was really something that I cared about and wanted to see, like an actual human being not a robot.
Peterson: News on social media should be creative and entertaining rather than dense, unoriginal information that is often copied and pasted from another news site.
Castillo: Sometimes, they can be a little bit too serious. And I don’t really take it as my number one news source, so it’s definitely more of a secondary site. If I wanted to get news about what’s going on in politics I would go on to CNN or another news source.
Peterson: Castillo says campaign officials should target the issues that affect younger generations like job growth or student loans. In her town, young adults felt passionate about the environment and rallied together through the Young Democrats of Kauai to protect precious farmland.
Castillo: Connecting with things that they already care about is a really good way to connect to young voters. Using celebrities or issues that they are interested in and kind of explaining why it’s important to them to vote is the main reason why most kids can involved into politics. In Hawaii we have a lot of people that are really interested in saving the environment and protecting that. One of the reasons why we had such a huge influx in people participating politics last year was because we had a lot of stuff in legislation about GMOs and having sustainable farming be an option for Hawaii. So kids are really excited about that because they’re seeing that there’s all of these GMO companies are taking over all of the farming land and taking away their land to farm and grow foods sustainably. It was really interesting to see, finally they’re like “Oh, well, this is something that we actually do care about and we can get involved now.”
Peterson: The opinions of friends and family have an impact on our political beliefs as well. Castillo says her family members are big supporters of the Clintons, however she’s still open to hearing more from another rising candidate.
Castillo: I’ve always been a Hillary Clinton fan from the very beginning. My family loves the Clintons and I grew up when Bill was president. Bernie Sanders is definitely like a politician that aligns with most of my viewpoints, so it’s going to be really interesting to see those two choices debate and battle it out to see who’s going to be the front runner. I have so much respect for Hillary, but Bernie Sanders definitely reflects my generation and my viewpoints a lot more strongly, so, it’s a tough call. I don’t know who I’m going to support yet, but I’m going to kind of wait and see what happens.
Peterson: Snapchat and other social media apps are on the right path to creating engaging political content that drives young voters to the polls. For now, millions of users like Castillo are open to hearing more from candidates, and are surfing social media to see what comes next. For information on all of our guests, log onto our site at viewpointsonline.net. You can also find archives of past programs there and on iTunes and Stitcher. Our show is written and produced by Pat Reuter and Amirah Zaveri. Our production directors are Sean Waldron, Reed Pence and Nick Hofstra. I’m Marty Peterson.