It’s undeniable that social media and the Internet audience has had a measurable impact on the political process this primary season. Whether this is because we’re turning to social media for our insights now more than ever or simply because campaigners are becoming savvy to social media’s uses, there are some very real lessons for marketers to learn.
1. It’s All About the Meme-ing
Think of meme-ing as a sort of pill capsule. Through meme-ing, you take an already old and played out idea, pack it with your personalized message, and then feed it to the Internet zeitgeist. It’s not a great way to get across complex ideas, but it’s a fantastic way to build momentum and drum up influence. In fact, the entirety of the Trump campaign is essentially built on a platform of memes. Thanks to services such as Patreon, there are now even “professional” memers. Like racketeers, no one knows what they actually do.
2. You Don’t Need to Build Momentum — Just Capture It
Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump have one thing in common — well, besides the fact that they’re white, male, and pariahs within their parties. OK they actually have a few things in common. But in terms of marketing, both of them were able to capture an undercurrent of rage and distrust within their respective political systems. They didn’t create this wave. They answered it. When it comes to marketing, you don’t have to create a new craze or a trend: you have to find one to capitalize upon.
3. If You Can’t Fight It, Bury It
And believe me — you can’t fight it. It’s impossible to actually hide negative press anymore, but it’s possible to bury it with more positive news, or just hide it when no one’s watching. This is one reason the White House tends to distribute bad news late on Friday evenings. In terms of marketing, you can most definitely fight news with news.
4. A Single Mistake and It’s All Over
We actually learned this one over a decade ago with “The Dean Scream.” You just have to make one mistake — the right mistake — and you’re suddenly plastered all over the news. A single upwards glance by Hillary Clinton in a Harlem apartment has turned into a meme of its own and isn’t likely to die fast. This means that you have to be incredibly cautious as a marketer, because a single slip could be your last. Anything that you say on the Internet will remain on the Internet… forever.
5. People Are Incredibly Fickle
As an addition to the above, there’s a reason why a single mistake can end a campaign. People always want to be on the “right” side, and their opinion of the “right” side is based on public perception. That’s why some Bernie supporters switched to voting for Hillary late in the primaries because they thought she was more likely to win. It effectively took away their personal right to vote, but it was more psychologically satisfying — even though it had zero effect on the general election. If you can seem like a winner, you’re golden.
6. Sometimes You Can Seem Too Good
The Bernie Sanders campaign found out something kind of remarkable: if you seem really, really good at what you do, people actually care less. For instance, if they think you’re definitely going to win at the next election, they don’t vote. And when you do lose later on, they then blame you. Marketers are constantly seeing this type of rebound effect: when you set expectations too high, every single under-performing moment is scrutinized. Set your expectations reasonably and ramp up from there — it’s safer.
Basically what we’ve discovered during the presidential primaries is that the Internet is chaotic, unpredictable, and powerful. When you can harness the Internet audience, you can do anything — but once you begin losing their favor, the tides can quickly turn against you.