Social Media and the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election

Even more than ever, in this US presidential election social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook played a major role in shaping the public debate and moving voter behaviour.

Clearly there is a lot to unpack and analyze over the coming months. Any recent US election is a time of huge investments in new online strategies and there is always a lot to learn.

Our team has spent a lot of time already looking deep into various digital aspects of the election campaign, focusing mainly on social media and search engine optimization.

One thing that really stands out loud and clear in our analysis is that Facebook completely dominated all other platforms.

In fact, late in the campaign an article about Donald Trump’s Facebook strategy made it very clear just how important the platform was to their campaign.

According to media reports, the Trump campaign’s “Project Alamo” was a 100-person operation run out of San Antonio, Texas. Alamo was a $150 million under-the-radar Facebook campaign, targeting voters they thought they could move off of voting for Hillary.

Trump’s campaign head Steve Bannon went so far as to say that the reason he joined Trump’s campaign was the Project Alamo Facebook strategy, telling a reporter that:

“I wouldn’t have come aboard, even for Trump, if I hadn’t known they were building this massive Facebook and data engine,” says Bannon. “Facebook is what propelled Breitbart to a massive audience. We know its power.”

Using the content marketing tool BuzzSumo, here’s some of the things we are seeing in our analysis of the role Facebook played in the 2016 US presidential election.

Looking at content shared about Hillary Clinton on social media, here’s the proportions of social media shares by channel:


(Buzzsumo: social shares for “hillary clinton” between June 7 to Nov. 7, 2016)

We saw a similar graph for social shares about Donald Trump in the same time period:


(Buzzsumo: social shares for “donald trump” between June 7 to Nov. 7, 2016)

Looking at these graphs, clearly Facebook reigned supreme as the social media platform where people were consuming and sharing information about Clinton and Trump. 

While Twitter is dwarfed in these graphs, that is not to say it did not play a major role. It just played a different role which was mainly driving media and punditry conversations. You don’t have to think much further than all the headlines Donald Trump was able to generate with his Twitter account!

Based on a sample of 14,000 + articles, here’s the total shares and average shares of content related to Hillary Clinton:


And here’s the total shares and average shares of content related to Donald Trump:


You can see here that there was a huge number more social shares for Trump content than there was for Clinton content. 

To give you an idea of what people were sharing on Facebook, here’s the top 5 most shared pieces of content about Hillary Clinton in the six months running up to election day:


And here’s the top 5 most shared pieces of content about Donald Trump in the six months running up to election day:


Again, way more shares for Trump content (good or bad) than for Clinton.

Overall, we can see that Trump was talked about and shared significantly more than Clinton. Whether this was a result of “Project Alamo” or something else is an open question. And looking at the types of content being shared, there is a mix of both negative and positive news for both candidates.

All of this data brings up as many questions as it does answers, but we know one thing for sure and that is that there is a lot more to come on this topic in the coming weeks and months!

Image credit for banner image: Colleen P on Flickr under Creative Commons