With more and more Americans getting their news from sites like Facebook and Twitter, the current crop of presidential contenders is, for the first time, taking their social media outreach – and the buzz they can generate using it – seriously.
From Hillary Clinton sharing "The Official Hillary 2016 Playlist" on Spotify (featuring such tunes as Katy Perry's "Roar" and Ariana Grande's "Break Free") to Marco Rubio hocking his "Marco Polo" shirt on Instagram, the 2016 presidential candidates have learned to diversify their social media portfolios in an effort to raise money, connect with younger voters and venture onto the virtual campaign trail – even as they continue their pilgrimages to the early-deciding states of Iowa and New Hampshire.
"They're critically important," Matt Compton, digital media director at Democratic National Committee told Fox News Latino, about social media. "We know this is where people are having the conversations. This is where they're going to learn about the people who are asking for their votes."
Compton added: "Over the past few years, these technologies have reached a saturation point, and everyone is aware of them and participating on them."
In the social media numbers game, Clinton is the clear-cut front-runner so far – getting 4.7 million different Facebook users to mention the candidate in 10.1 million interactions in the first 24 hours after she declared her run for presidency.
Following real estate mogul and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump's now infamous campaign announcement on Tuesday, his campaign claimed to have garnered "3.4 million Facebook users in the U.S. [who] generated 6.4 million interactions regarding the launch of his campaign – the highest by far, among all 2016 GOP candidates."
The opinions of your friends on Facebook or Twitter are far more influential than what any pundit may say on TV. Head count matters more than headlines.
- Jeff Roe, Ted Cruz's campaign manager
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz – one of the earliest candidates to announce a run at the presidency – sits in third in regard to Facebook interactions, generating 2.1 million unique visitors with 5.5 million interactions in the first 24 hours of his campaign. None of the other presidential candidates – either Democrat or Republican – came close to pulling in a million Facebook users.
"Social media is the new ‘coffee shop' where neighbors, friends, colleagues and family gather to discuss issues, talk about the candidates and influence others," Cruz campaign manager, Jeff Roe, said in a press release. "That is the most important space to succeed as a candidate, especially early on. The opinions of your friends on Facebook or Twitter are far more influential than what any pundit may say on TV. Head count matters more than headlines."
When it comes to influence, Facebook is the most widely used social media site out there today, with Pew Research Center statistics finding that 71 percent of adults online in the U.S. used the site in 2014. In comparison, only 28 percent of online adults used Instagram, and a meager 23 percent use Twitter – a fact that recently earned the micro-blogging site the title of "the BlackBerry of social media."
The reach that Facebook has and its influence on voters has caused some observers to worry that the Menlo Park, California-based company could use its sway to pursue its own political agenda.
Since 2008, Facebook has posted some type of button on its page on Election Day that allows users to tell friends that they have voted. A controversy, however, arose when it was discovered that only certain people saw the button and that those who saw it were more likely to head to the polls than those who didn't.
Critics say this is worrisome because Facebook, which already can glean large amounts of information about its users, from their political view to who they are dating, could use its voting button to attempt to sway the outcome of an election.
"Digital gerrymandering occurs when a site instead distributes information in a manner that serves its own ideological agenda," wrote Jonathan Zittrain, a professor of law and computer science at Harvard University, in the New Republic. "There are plenty of reasons to regard digital gerrymandering as such a toxic exercise that no right-thinking company would attempt it."
Alleged gerrymandering aside, both parties are making a concerted effort to reach out on social media – particularly when it comes to young, Latino voters, who research shows are one of the fastest growing demographics on sites like Facebook and Instagram.
Pew found that Facebook is more popular among Latinos than any other demographic, with 71 percent using the social media site, and that Instagram is more popular among Hispanic and black Internet users than among white ones.
After studying Nielsen reports, which found that Latinos watch more than eight hours of online video each month (around 90 minutes more than the U.S. average), the GOP has focused some of their outreach by targeting videos and other sharable content to what it calls "digital trailblazers."
"The Republican National Committee is ramping up our content in Spanish and launching a digital campaign with video, graphics and a blog," an RNC spokesperson told FNL. "We also want Hispanics who read and prefer Spanish-language news to have easily shareable content on social media platforms."
The DNC is employing a similar strategy of creating web-specific videos that can be shared through social media, while also realizing that Americans sitting down to watch television are also multitasking on their smart phones and tablets at the same time. Compton told FNL that the DNC is looking to engage voters during key events – everything from debates to the NBA Finals to the season finale of "Scandal" – by making its tweets and Facebook posts timely, fun and easily sharable.
"More and more people who are sitting down to watch something on TV are doing it with a second screen close at hand," he said. "We are thinking of the right way to get our message to these people that's not a traditional television ad."
Follow Andrew O'Reilly on Twitter @aoreilly84.