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3 Impacts to Social Media in an Election Year (& How to Dodge Them)

Here are three metrics impacts to keep an eye on as November 3 approaches, as well as corresponding suggestions to work around the problems.

3 Impacts to Social Media in an Election Year (& How to Dodge Them)

Social media professionals, we have to talk.

It’s about the election.

I know, I know: No one wants to have this conversation.

We’re tired.

The world is on fire and it’s all we can do to stay upright throughout the course of the day.

Our heads are spinning with the stuttered start-stops of our campaigns this year, paused and then unpaused and then paused again, making sure that we don’t distract from critical events or center ourselves in crises.

Then layer that in with all the major social platform leaders in the news threatening to make yet another round of changes to the algorithm in the weeks leading up to the election. It’s plenty.

But this is the job.

We have to be able to keep our heads on swivels and pivot with the world and adapt or be left behind.

And in election years, that directive is particularly important.

Why?

Because elections present their own set of challenges to marketers, even if your brand has absolutely nothing to do with the election at all.

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You don’t want to be blindsided with the fallout to your brand’s social media efforts, so this is why we have to have this talk now.

Even though the election is two months out, we need to start preparing stakeholders and clients now for the changes they’ll see to their social performance metrics.

Here are three metrics impacts to keep an eye on as November 3 approaches, as well as corresponding suggestions to work around the problems.

1. Increase in Noise

With every election, but especially a general election, there is a dramatic uptick in new noise that your brand has to compete with.

Nowhere is safe from the new noise, not our mailboxes or our television sets or our text messages; we can’t get away from it.

Every candidate, policy initiative, and publisher is competing for our eyes and our dollars, and they’re utilizing every medium possible to get in front of us.

While candidates, policies, and publishers have been steadily ramping up their digital activity over the last several months, it starts to see an exponential increase the closer we get to Election Day.

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Brands can expect to try and compete with an influx of new organic and paid social media posts surrounding everything from candidate promotion to news stories to policy platforms, all crowding the playing field just enough to inch out the brand messaging you’ve been working so hard on.

This is all before we even get into the users themselves.

Elections are a heated time for all citizens, and plenty of users are posting more about their preferred candidate or policies during this time.

Remember that the algorithm favors personal users over business pages – you may find your brand is also competing with the very people it’s hoping to reach.

Pivot

As with holiday seasons, make sure your stakeholders and clients understand that their competition for eyes and clicks is getting steadily more intense as new (but thankfully temporary) players enter the wider digital conversation.

Understanding the new competition in the field will help you plan for success in spite of how loud they might be.

Your brand may need to spend more money to cut through the noise more effectively or post more often.

2. Decrease in Organic Performance

With increases in noise come increases in social media users that simply don’t want to deal with it anymore.

As previously mentioned, plenty of individual users are going to be posting more often, likelier with greater fervor and less of a filter than brands.

For many users, this passion in their feeds can feel overwhelming and inspire a need for a social media break.

The data bears this out.

According to the Pew Research Center, 46% of social media users were already feeling exhausted by political posts on social media… a year ago.

This data collected a year before the election even takes place is a clear indicator that, even more so than 2016, people are finding themselves in need of a break from social media.

Intense conversation around politics can be stressful, and especially in a time that already feels centered around pandemic uncertainty, we should expect that our audience drops off a little bit for some “me time.”

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If users are taking breaks, whether they are days or weeks or months at a time, we can expect to see a dip in organic metrics.

This means that KPIs like reach, engagement, and even followers can be impacted by a reduction in both daily active users and time spent on each social platform.

Pivot

Conversely, users may spend more time on platforms they perceive to be less inherently prone to political discussion.

If your brand is seeing a decreased performance on Facebook or Twitter, for instance, it may be beneficial to get more active on a platform like Instagram, TikTok, or Snapchat.

Also, don’t underestimate the power of just accepting that low metrics sometimes happen due to variables outside your control.

They don’t have to be permanent, and sometimes you just need to ride them out.

3. Increase in Ad Costs

If you’ve been in the social media game for any number of years, you know that ad costs have been steadily on the rise for each of them.

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A dollar just doesn’t get you what it used to on any of these platforms.

But in an election year, you can count on those ad costs spiking even more, in no small part due to the aforementioned challenges.

As noise increases and competition increases, so too will your costs.

Now you’re bidding against a whole crop of new advertisers, all eager to spend large budgets to get the word out prior to the day we vote.

On top of that, as user counts and time users spend on the platforms decrease, your targeted audience shrinks, meaning more dollars for the same results you are used to getting for much less.

Pivot

This one can be tough to bear, especially when the typical answer is, “you just have to spend more.”

If your organization is able to invest more in ads to achieve the same results and effectively ride the wave through November 3, do that.

But that’s not the only option. Get creative about your strategy:

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  • What platforms can we use this time to explore?
  • Could we play off of the current climate in a tactful way that generates interest in our brand?
  • Is there a campaign we can use that can focus on a highly targeted segment of our normal audience?
  • Speaking of audiences, when was the last time we evaluated ours and really dialed in on our targeting?

The answers to these questions may help you survive a temporary ad cost spike mostly unscathed.

Final Thoughts on Social Media in an Election Year

We are sitting in a precarious position, watching tragedy after tragedy unfold in front of us this year.

If you’ve looked out your window recently, you’ve noticed that, in 2020, life is coming at you faster than before.

In the middle of dark times, social media can provide a decent news source, but can also feel incredibly taxing to our psyches.

We must be kind to ourselves and sensitive to the exhaustion felt by our audiences as well, careful to not try and be in the spotlight in a tone-deaf way.

But we also have clients and stakeholders we are accountable to, and we need to ensure that our social media strategy and efforts survive the year.

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Start having conversations with those people now and set expectations on what performance may look like over the course of the next few months.

We may not be out of the woods… but we’re also not out of time to come up with alternative approaches.

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Danielle Bilbruck

Principal Strategic Consultant at BROAD Digital Consulting

Danielle is a seasoned sales-professional-turned-marketing-strategist specializing in holistic, integrative digital strategy. She has worked for companies in 14 different countries, ... [Read full bio]

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