“Followers” and voters: the ambiguous role of networks in the US campaign


$ 500 million will have been spent by the candidates to promote posts on Facebook or sponsor tweets. Is it possible in 2016 to calculate the ROI of a “follower”?

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Un imitateur de Donald Trump lors d’un meeting du candidat à Las Vegas, le 14 décembre 2015.

in May a study by the Pew Research Center a center specialized independent US research among others, in the study of media estimated at 44% the share of Americans learning about Facebook . The proportion of network members social who draw information of its past next to 47% registered in 2013 to 66% in 2016.

Published early September on the official account of Donald Trump this tweet – an attack as the Republican candidate performs dozens per week – has attracted no less than 27,000 likes


On Facebook, the Bernie Sanders 2017 still gathered in September, more than 4.5 million people. Hillary Clinton has published more than 700 photos on Instagram … in the space of fourteen months. The candidate, determined play on all fronts, even a Tumblr account “Letters to Hillary” which are stacked letters reproductions sent by his admirers. Do not throw away the cut – social – is full


In 2012, the campaign team of Barack Obama had spent $ 47 million (€ 42 million) for its online campaign, ten times more than his Republican opponent Mitt Romney . From there to conclude his re-election, if only in part, due to this differential, it is only a step.

Never the presence of policies on social networks has been massive, and controversial tweets Donald Trump are only a small part of what it plays. But for what? It would make sense to attribute the camp of Democratic victory in 2012 with a strategy of “managing community” perfect. After all, young people are over-represented in both the electorate Barack Obama (60% of 18-29 year olds voted for him in 2012, according to the National Election Pool, a polling organization founded by several media) and on networks.

At each election, many statisticians calculate the price of a voice obtained by any candidate based on campaign expenditure mobilized to get it. A ballot is it, in the same way, quantifiable in “likes” or shares? Is it possible, in 2016, of calculate ROI of a “follower”?

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A little more than two months of the deadline of 8 November, the presidential candidates are now beat record advertising spending on the Internet. According to projections of Borrell Associates, this amount should ultimately let behind the billion dollars or about a tenth of the money invested in advertising across all media. And half of this billion should be spent online campaigns: for promote of posts on Facebook, sponsor tweets and do and back content in the “newsfeeds” and the “timelines” of members.

“It is difficult to conduct studies on the subject, explains Thierry Vedel CNRS researcher and Research Center policy of science Po because the algorithms used by Facebook and Twitter to customize content seen by each user are not fully public. These platforms looking to monetize the personal data they hold [ce qui est rendu possible par l’absence de loi comparable à la loi « informatique et libertés » française] and it became very difficult for researchers to be access freely. “

Young little vote but vote Democrat

“Nevertheless, we know that for win an election in the United States, it is crucial to fight against the trend of history down the vote,” he peak. Indeed, 62.3% of the electorate voted in 2008 but only 57.5% in 2012 . Especially, the dynamic of the youth vote has not moved past twenty years has highlighted the Circle (Information and Research on learning and citizen engagement) in the elections of mid- mandate of 2014. the under 30 move slightly: from 20 to 23.5%, depending on the year and type of election. Instead, they vote overwhelmingly for Democratic candidates. This party has every interest to be interested in platforms that young people every day looking for information.

“In the US, advertising investments are concentrated in ten key states [les « swing states », qui font les présidents] explains Thierry Vedel and this is that networks are most useful, both for better know or target voters, and raise volunteers in militant actions. “

In the US, party activity as such is very limited outside election periods – they do not multiply instances, political offices or debate as their French cousins ​​for example. Thus, mobilizing activists before an election must be massive: the time and money needed to operate the heavy internal machine are enormous


Hillary Clinton à Scranton (Pennsylvanie), le 15 août 2016.

The value of networks: gather rather than convince

By purchasing data to Facebook and Twitter and passing the comb, it is possible to build models that will better target advertising or calls to donation. Using tools “tracking” (which measure user behavior and size up the impact of a given content by the number of “likes”, retweets, etc.), campaign headquarters know who send donation requests that seek to coach a rally or going door to door … Prior to potential propaganda tools, networks social are powerful organizational tools. If profiling is more important than the debate, the interest of networks lies in their ability to bring much more than convince .

In the current campaign, the Democratic candidate made a much more strategic use in its network use his opponent; Yet it does not harvest the fruit. 78% of the links that Donald Trump publishes refer to articles, while 80% of the links post Hillary Clinton return to its country pages. The trend is much the same on Twitter. Despite this effort, the billionaire troublemaker is much more “buzz” about networks. According to statistics from the tracking tool Quintly, Mr. Trump captures 65.7% of followers on Facebook, against 34.3% for M me Clinton. The gap is narrower on Twitter, with 56.7% for a 43.3% one in mid-August.

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According to a large study by the Pew Research Center on the thumbprint of the presidential candidates, one of the most striking changes is the reduction in four years, the size of the websites of the candidates . For two posts published daily on the website of Hillary Clinton, Obama and Mitt Romney published 8 4 in 2012. Most of comment and discussion areas have disappeared. The activity has clearly moved on networks: in one day, the Democratic candidate publishes over a dozen posts – Mr. Trump is a little less diligent: five to seven daily content. Or, more sponsors and publishes his posts also more subscribers are likely to see back its content in their “newsfeed”.

But again, the study shows that it is actually Donald Trump that captures the attention, much more than his Democratic opponents ( Bernie Sanders is included in the panel):

“In all measurable categories of user’s attention – Facebook shares, comments and reactions retweets – the public responds to updates Trump more frequently it does for other candidates. Trump posts are retweeted an average of 6000 times, against 1500 for Clinton and 2500 for Sanders. “

And that even Hillary Clinton spends more than him sponsorship on Facebook: 90% of posts published on Facebook were sponsored in mid-August, against 60% of the Donald Trump of posts according Quintly

Assuming that “better bad publicity than no publicity,” Trump relies on networks enjoy full of what Dominique Cardon, a sociology professor at Sciences Po, called the “circular communication” useful when one is already a known candidate, we do not do much of the politically correct and we have some money to spend advertising: noise on the network, created by Mr. Trump himself above all by his millions of followers, “gives room for interpretation, and is then taken up in the media” . Without reshuffle cards “it can influence on the rules of political competition because this recovery effect has a strong symbolic importance” .

When the algorithm of Reddit ignites

A “subreddit” – Wire lively discussion on Reddit forum – dedicated to Donald Trump, and has since become a case study, provides an excellent example. A survey published by Vice in July highlighted a particularly intensive activity of members of the subreddit “r / the_donald” this overheating contributed via Reddit algorithm to do go very high on the home page of the site, although higher than it should have been – at its peak, “r / the_donald” was that the 253 e forum membership. Reddit was forced to go to change its algorithm avoid to leave broke .

On Twitter, hashtags “trumpesques” – #MakeAmericaGreatAgain, #AmericaFirst, #CrookedHillary, #BuildTheWall, # ImWithYou … – remain popular. This strategy is dangerous (after yet another unfortunate exit, Hillary Clinton responded by asking Trump delete (his) account “#DeleteYourAccount” ), “but Twitter is a provocative space in which one can distinguish “ said Dominique Cardon: ” natural, spontaneity, humor are valued in the US, they give the feeling that the fate of candidate a civilized framework, although in the end, the opinion does not work like that. “

“Exposure to political content is probably a little higher today thanks to social networks, that put us in contact with content that we were not looking necessarily concludes Thierry Vedel. But since Paul Lazarsfeld and Elihu Katz [qui ont théorisé dans les années 1950 le rôle primordial des leaders d’opinion sur les médias dans les choix électoraux] little has changed: the networks are just strengthen our own convictions. “



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