In many of my recent conversations about the political fare of this round of elections the topic seems to be about Trump, and how no one seems to understand why he’s doing so well. I think what people fail to realize is that it’s not Trump that’s doing well; it’s the exhaustion of those who follow him with the traditional establishment that is doing well. Trump has known how to capitalize on that exhaustion by capitalizing on something he attained through his experience in the entertainment industry and that is the reach that only new media can get a platform nowadays.
Traditional media has passed from being an influencer to a back-seat driver in this election.
What pundits and pollsters seem to fail to understand is that the “Now Generation” a.k.a Millenials communicate in a vastly different manner than what previous election cycles have been used to. This thunder of change has been resounding since the last round, where Obama’s digital team capitalized on digital media and reach to drive voters to the primary and then translated it to the general. However, that was just the Thunder, the warning, of the winds of change that were blowing into this election cycle. Back then, using networks like Facebook and Twitter with Memes or Viral Video was enough to engage a population that was learning the new meaning of community. That has since changed, the generation that was teaching that generation has grown up now and thus has become a part of the electorate.
That new electorate is not only digitally savvy; they’re communication mavens and they’re speaking a different language, from a different perspective and with different tools.
Don’t think that this is restricted solely to Trump and the Republicans. If the wing of the Democratic party that thought that “Ready for Hillary” was all they needed to do to get Hillary’s machine getting out the young vote, as they continue to be tone deaf to the evolving media landscape, then the Bernie voters are going to make that machine really “feel the burn”. Hillary’s machine will be a use case. They have had the reach for a long time, with glimpses of knowledge of how to leverage it, like the time they sent out that image of Hillary on the now infamous blackberry and the sunglasses (or was that just luck?). After that, they’ve absolutely misused her reach and it’s obvious with the rise of the Bernie machine which has absolutely drowned her message.
My point here is that in the case of Trump, his reach and availability made him personable at the beginning of this cycle. The social crew knew that they could always find out Trump’s perspective, directly from the horse’s mouth, during any event. When he was speaking, when Hillary was speaking, during a debate of either party. I swear I think he was tweeting from the podium more than he was answering questions from the moderators. He seems to understand how to hook the audience, and not only how the audience wants to talk during this cycle but how they’ve grown accustomed to communicating. That’s the key difference here. In the previous round, the new electorate was learning how to communicate through social media whereas this round the new electorate has only ever communicated through this medium. In this environment where the traditional electorate (the mailers – dying off, the print media readers – don’t have the energy anymore, the TV viewers – not able to align themselves with the values of either party anymore and are really just tired of the extreme antics on both sides) is not the driving voice of passion and engagement, the new electorate is key. Why? Because it is not Trump’s words that matter, it is that he knows how, where and when people are listening. It is also not really Bernie’s policies that are influencing his placement; it’s the army of social communicators and their user-generated content that are making Bernie a brand to watch.
The challenge of these traditional media campaigns, with all their millions of dollars, is to understand that it is not in traditional media or even social networks where you’re really going to win. It is in the voices of the individualistic generation encompassed by the now generation and the founders (also referred to as the Millenials and Generation Z). The generations that use Instagram because it’s all about showing people how great you are and the great places you go to. They use Snapchat because they want their friends to get a quick view into what they’re doing. They use Twitter and Periscope as journalistic vehicles. These generations did not grow up in front of a TV screen; they grew up on an iPad. They don’t sit and discuss politics, they post passionate three word rants that make a statement. Yes, three word rants, nowadays not even rants are long, remember when people thought Twitter would fail at becoming a medium because of the 140 characters? Well, try and say something now without a hashtag.
We’re in an era of individualistic communication, of people expressing their views from a more visceral perspective. Bernie’s machine is the burn that his supporters are driving for him; he doesn’t need the news cycle. Trump leverages his influence and reach to control the news cycle because the Republican party is the older generation so he uses his mastery of new media to control the conversation. Hillary is quickly losing people because no one can hear her or her message which is being drowned out by the perceived views of people that have heard enough about her on new media to make their own conclusions.
My intent with this post is not to make a partisan statement. This is not about who should or should not win, run, be the candidate or not be the candidate. My point here is that there’s a pragmatic shift in communication that’s evident. My hope is, that it will mean that it is neither party that wins this cycle but the will of the people. Because it is the people and not the parties, even with their millions of dollars, that can win this election. Their perception campaigns will run dry in a community that can see the difference between an organic viral video and a paid advertisement.