The proverbial "shot across the bow" is an intentional missed shot for the purpose of providing a warning that the next shot will be a direct hit; it gets the attention of the targeted ship. The recent stepping up of activity by the Presidential campaigns on Snapchat seems to follow suit. Though the campaigns acknowledge that Snapchat doesn't provide the precision targeting that has become the hallmark of presidential campaign advertising and outreach, they're taking a deep dive into the red hot social network, anyway.
Snapchat boasts 150 million daily users and the vast majority of them - around 75% - are the coveted Millennials. Both campaigns are desperate to win this demographic at the polls in November and see Snapchat as a key avenue to achieving that goal. As I've written in past, Snapchat presents the candidates with some difficult challenges, but has a reach that campaigns will feel they cannot ignore.
And they most definitely are not ignoring the ephemeral content platform.
Consistent with how the rest of their respective campaigns are proceeding, the Clinton campaign is planning to buy Snapchat video ads, while the Trump campaign is focusing on an interactive ad. Clinton's approach seems to focus on maximizing the reach of her message, while Trump's is to focus on maximizing engagement.
Snapchat already made a sizable impact in the 2016 election at the party conventions. The RNC, for example, employed Snapchat's Live Stories feature, generating millions of views as people at the conventions contributed to the thread. The platform was perfect for tapping into the collective excitement at the convention, but truth be told, it was really no different from how Instagram captured the excitement at the 2012 Democratic Convention.
But while Snapchat is making a clear play at selling political ads, the question still remains about the receptivity of the audience. At issue is the net benefit of reaching all of those Millennials versus turning them off by intruding into their sacred, peer-2-peer space. Much like calling someone who has signed up for the "do not call list," any Snapchat user that's on the platform precisely to avoid being the target of messages from outside their peer networks might easily be turned off by the campaigns creeping into their feeds.
The risk campaigns take with social media advertising is turning off voters by delivering unwelcome ads with messages that are irrelevant to them. Because Snapchat offers imprecise ad targeting to an audience that may well be using the app primarily for private one-to-one and group conversations, those risks are compounded.
What the campaigns are hoping for is a net benefit akin to what the Obama campaign discovered with respect to emails. Obama's team learned that the number of unsubscribes generated by an incessant flow of campaign emails was more than offset by the money the campaign raised by them. If that same dynamic results from these Snapchat forays, then the campaigns will get a big boost and Snapchat will establish itself as a powerful channel for politics.
And what's drawing politicians to Snapchat, aside from huge Millennial user base, is video content. We're seeing tremendous growth in social media video sharing, not just clips, but also live streams, this cycle.
But Snapchat steps into a crowded market when it comes to video streaming. At the beginning of the campaign season, Meerkat and Periscope burst onto the scene offering live streaming video easily shared over Twitter. Not long after that, Facebook Live was launched and subsequently made universally available to all Facebook Pages. Meanwhile, Instagram and Vine (owned by Facebook and Twitter, respectively) were already distributing near-live videos in 15 and 6-second looping clips. Snapchat also provides live and archived video streaming, but it's hardly unique in that offering.
As with all use of social media in campaigns, it's essential to utilize each channel's strengths. Knowing who you can reach on each, how those audiences use the channels, to what purpose(s), and what style of video works best on each will determine how effective your strategy and tactics are on each channel.
For more details on how the candidates have been using Snapchat and other streaming video channels, check out
- This run down on Trump's use of Periscope chats during the primaries
- The enlistment of Michelle Kwan to Periscope one of Clinton's rallies
- The House Democrats' use of Periscope and Meerkat to bypass Speaker Ryan turning off the C-SPAN cameras during the gun violence sit-in
- The Facebook Live broadcast of Clinton interns reading all of Donald Trump's lawsuits
As we learned many years ago when a mobile phone video of Saddam Hussein's execution shared the event with the world, live-streaming via social media over phones is a truly transformative development in politics, and this is one of the features Snapchat brings to the table for the election.
But this is clearly a crowded space with many apps streaming video in different ways and delivering video to different (and overlapping) audiences. As the campaigns explore all of these options, it's imperative that they bring a bit of strategic imperative to their choices. Will they try to use all of them or just the ones that clearly serve their mission? One only has to recall the early days of social media and presidential elections in 2008, when candidates Obama and Edwards, in particular, started out with a presence on dozens of social networks each, only to winnow them down to just the most important ones as the campaigns progressed.
And beyond the use of video streaming by the campaigns, this week I'm launching my own streaming video show on a new platform called Shindig.com. Not only will The Dr. DigiPol Show dig deep into how the campaigns are using social and digital media, but the audience will be able to interact with the guests AND with each other via video chat. Join us 4:00 p.m. - 5:00 p.m. on Thursdays, starting September 1, 2016 at http://events.shindig.com/