Social Media Democracy: Old Politicos Try to Learn New Tech Tricks

This millennium's candidates are running on all the new millennial social networks.

Social media isn’t the future of campaigning; it’s already here. If you’re a candidate for political office, you better jump on the bandwagon or lose the youth vote. Modern voters expect to directly engage with politicians in an almost one-on-one, live-streaming way. So candidates have embraced Periscope, Vine, Snapchat, and a slew of current apps to provide voters with real-time, behind-the-scenes, unfiltered (well, so we think) moments on the campaign trail.

Oh, how times have changed: 2008 was trumpeted as the “Facebook election.” Obama’s campaign used the social network to voice his message and win over young voters. Now, candidates are utilizing every branch of social media that has emerged over the past seven years.

Let’s look, shall we?


In October, Rand Paul set things streaming. While campaigning in Iowa, he broadcast his entire day live on the Internet; streaming through UStream. The candidate’s team called the live-streaming event: Randlive.

A lot of the footage was mostly Paul driving in a car, but it did illustrate the immediacy of being able to connect with people; turning the campaign trail into a voyeuristic low-budget reality show and providing an illusion of insider access. During the streaming, Paul fielded questions via Twitter. One pertinent question: "Is Rand Paul still running for president? I dunno." Paul retorted: "I wouldn't be doing this dumbass live streaming if I weren't."

Randlive had more than 400,000 views.


Both Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush steered toward Snapchat earlier this year to chronicle their campaign kickoffs. The app allows users to send photo messages that disappear a few seconds after being viewed by the receiver. The candidates used Snapchat’s “live story” feature, which enabled their Snaps to be viewable to the public for 24 hours.

The rival candidates leveraged Snapchat to showcase aggregated photos and videos from their campaign events; posted by their campaign team and supporters attending the event. Example: Snapchat users saw a “Hello, Hillary 2016” live story that featured moments from her rally that day on Roosevelt Island. Bush supporters saw something similar from his announcement event in Miami.

It’s a pretty bold move to leave questioning open to any troll on the Internet.


After former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina announced she was throwing her hat into the presidential arena, she also announced she would be doing a live Q&A with the help of the Periscope streaming app. She trumpeted the fact on Twitter:

“I'm in and I'm excited to hear from you on @periscopeco at 4 pm EST this afternoon. http://t.co/yLxdsJF9Q7 https://t.co/REDpXCcUjq

— Carly Fiorina (@CarlyFiorina) May 4, 2015”

It’s a pretty bold move to leave questioning open to any troll on the Internet (though a staffer curated the conversation). The Periscope live Town Hall leaves candidates less scripted and molded when fielding questions from an anonymous audience—which might ask inane questions such as “What’s your thoughts on Un­break­able Kimmy Schmidt?”


In March, Ted Cruz’s first stop for launching his presidential campaign was Twitter. Cruz released a 30-second announcement video on the social network. No big deal? This took place several hours before his formal announcement at Liberty University in Virginia. Cruz’s Twitter campaign account has more than 404,000 followers. The presidential candidate then posted the video on Facebook—and reaped more than 1 million views. That’s a fair amount of mileage that Cruz got on his own steam from the digital world.


The best use of Vine paired with a presidential candidate is the app’s collaboration with reality star/billionaire Donald Trump. Okay, in this case it wasn’t Trump who utilized the social media. But a video a Vine user created that showed all of Trumps amazing, mugging looks from the Republican debate—in six seconds—became a viral hit within minutes.