The Obama campaign's use of social media in 2008 has been lauded as a factor in his successful election.
Chris Hughes, one of the co-founders of Facebook, ran Obama's website and turned it into a social network of its own. Obama's Twitter following and Facebook friends outnumbered John McCain's.
Indeed, Obama's digital strategy was so successful that it has been the object of scholarly study. Now presidential hopefuls are trying to figure out how to improve upon the high bar that Obama set.
Bernie Sanders: Social Media Nerd?
"I'm not some kind of tech nerd, I really am not," Bernie Sanders told the New York Times. "But I have always believed in communication, and not just photo ops and stuff, but educating people, and communicating with people about the real work that we're doing."
Sanders, a senator from Vermont and 2016 presidential candidate, often appears up on the home page of Reddit and his Facebook posts receive tens of thousands of shares and likes.
And Sanders doesn't follow the rules. On Facebook, he shares quotations as images. He posts long status updates. His team doesn't use keywords to be more searchable.
And yet, despite these hiccups, Sanders' social media presence attracts a significant following. Why? Because it is authentic. Sanders writes the majority of his own social content.
"Usually, it's in the shower where something pops into my head," Sanders told the New York Times. "I play a very, very active role in writing, literally writing, what goes up there on Facebook."
Laura Olin, who created the social media strategy for President Obama's 2012 campaign, told the New York Times, "If it sounds like him," she said, "his people will find it and spread it."
Sanders is a former journalist, so writing comes fairly naturally to him. Not only are his social media messages authentic, they are topical. Sanders writes about the issues. He writes about the increasing disparity between rich and poor. He writes about keeping jobs in the U.S.
Sander did not start off his presidential campaign with a big announcement event like Ted Cruz or Rand Paul. His popularity on Facebook reflects this: it starts off slow. But while Cruz and Paul saw a lot of initial social interactions right after their announcements, they have cooled off, while Sander has been warming up.
Sneaking Anti-Hillary Sentiment into Liberal Newsfeeds
A conservative group called America Rising PAC has been using social media to try to weaken support for Hillary Clinton's presidential run. But their messages don't target conservatives; instead they target environmentalist and Democrats in an attempt to splinter the political will of liberals.
America Rising PAC social media posts criticize Clinton's connection to Wall Street. They compare her to Kevin Spacey's character on "House of Cards." They suggest that she has not be an champion of the environment in relation to the Keystone Pipeline debate.
Another group, American Crossroads, founded by Karl Rove, is also creating digital content that uses liberal messages to critique Clinton. In one piece of content, a speech by Elizabeth Warren warning against "powerful interest" trying to "rig the system" in Washington is played as images of Clinton are shown.
An article in the New York Times suggests that this kind of political messaging is indicative of the way that social media works. Information travels fast and often the source of the information is not clear. Also, on the Internet and social media, people exist inside a "filter bubble" where they only receive information that they want to see, that confirms their initial biases and reflects the beliefs of their online community.
America Rising PAC and American Crossroads are using those filter bubbles strategically.
According to the New York Times, Matt Rhoades, who was Mr. Romney's campaign manager, founded America Rising "in response to a recommendation contained in an autopsy of Romney's failed presidential run that was ordered by the Republican National Committee. The group's original goal was to compete with American Bridge, the Democratic opposition research group, but its focus under Mr. Rhoades has been to subject Mrs. Clinton to an ordeal similar to Mr. Romney's."
Laura Hart Cole, who was surprised to learn that she'd shared content created by American Rising, told the New York Times that Republican groups, "have a history of sleazy tactics." But she added: "I guess it's fair. If what they're saying is factual, then I guess it's fair play. It's a dirty game."