Election Tech: Why 2016 is the first made-for-social media campaign

Social media is the primary battleground for the most controversial presidential campaign in modern history. Here's what real-time data says about each campaign.

@HillaryClinton social media trends, March 2016 | Image: Keyhole.co

Online and off, the Western primaries and caucuses added little clarity to an already atypical campaign. The social web reacted dramatically as candidates traded personal barbs on Twitter. A former political consultant close to the the now-defunct Jeb Bush campaign mused recently, "this is the first made-for-social media campaign."

Social media trends related to candidates trends have been relatively consistent for the past several weeks.

TechRepublic recently worked with several big data and social media data brokers to monitor candidate activity on social media. Keyhole.co ran trackers to capture a number of data points on Twitter and Instagram related to presidential candidates. The platform tracked each politician's name as a search term against Twitter and Instagram. Graphs, hash tags, word clouds, influential followers, and other information related to the keyword are displayed on a live dashboard. In near-real time the dashboard allows users to see how and what users are posting on the social web.

SEE: Best practices for using social media in business (Tech Pro Research guide)

The tool allowed TechRepublic to peek into the social web as election returns were happening. We were also able to extrapolate several larger key trends from the data. Here's what we learned by studying campaign social media activity from late-February through late-March.

@realDonaldTrump social media trends, March 2016 | Image: Keyhole.co
  • Women voters made up about 42% of both @HillaryClinton and @BernieSanders activity.
  • More women, about 38% of total mentions, Tweeted about @realDonaldTrump. About the same number were tweeting about @MarcoRubio, before he dropped out of the race.
  • And Trump remains, by far, the most tweeted-about candidate. Prior to and in the days after Super Tuesday there were more than 3 million tweets about him. Sanders had slightly more than one million tweets over the same period of time. Interestingly, @TedCruz is the least tweetable candidate, with fewer than 300,000 posts containing his hashtags and keywords.
  • Cruz was also the candidate least mentioned by international audiences. Nearly 91% of tweets about him came from users in the United States. Rubio was the most popular candidate abroad.
  • The most popular user tweeting about John Kasich--in terms of likes and retweets--is Donald Trump.
  • Perhaps as an echo of this winter's so-called #marcomentum, by mid-March Rubio had the greatest share of posts, at 33.1%. Cruz, at 68.7%, had the highest percentage by volume of retweets. Sanders posts were the most retweetable in total, at 9.8%.
@BernieSanders social media trends, March 2016 | Image: Keyhole.co

Our analysis came from the following trackers:

Through the course of the 2016 presidential campaign TechRepublic is reporting on ways that business can learn from watching how campaigns innovate online and win elections using digital tools. If you're a data scientist, social media professional, or inquisitive TechRepublic reader we'd love your ideas on how to inspect campaign social media data. Please leave a comment below or ping us on Twitter @TechRepublic.

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