Mary Keane-Dawson: how influencers moved into politics

With only a few days until the US presidential election, the candidates will be looking out for any final opportunities to gain some important votes – including using social media.

Barack Obama first popularised it in politics when using Facebook in the run-up to his first term election to grow awareness of his campaign. The approach proved a success, with almost 70% of those under 25 voting for him.

Fast forward to the present day, and Donald Trump’s almost hourly use of Twitter has become a staple of his presidency.

And, whether you agree with it or not, Twitter has been a highly effective tool for him to deliver his message to a growing number of followers while building an engaged fan base. But what is the future of social media in politics?

With the growth of the influencer marketing industry – set to be worth $15 billion by 2022, almost double its value in 2019 ($8 billion) – there has naturally been interest in it from a political as well as a brand perspective.

Earlier this year, Mike Bloomberg spent more than $1 billion on his campaign to become Democrat nominee – 70% of which went towards marketing, including influencers. And presidential nominee Joe Biden also integrated them into his campaign strategy, holding interviews to discuss policies with talk show host, Keke Palmer and YouTuber Bethany Mota, who have a combined 14.2 million followers on social media. 

This came in response to a growing demand from consumers for influencers to engage in politics, and it’s a trend that’s likely to accelerate in the future. Our latest white paper – Into the Mainstream: Influencer Marketing in Society – surveyed over 3,500 marketers, consumers, and influencers across the US, UK and Germany. The results showed that almost half of all social media users (41%) want influencers to voice an opinion on political, social and ethical issues. 

Harnessing potential

But with this power comes responsibility – as the saying goes. While we expect more politicians to turn to influencers in the future and budgets to increase, a cautious approach is wise.

There has been growing concern about the spread of misinformation on social media following Russia’s interference in the US election in 2016. This culminated in Facebook appearing before US Congress in July.
With a quarter of all consumers (25%) saying they regularly source news updates and opinions from influencers over journalists and established news outlets – rising to more than a third of 16-44-year olds (37%) – there is a need to ensure that the information they share is as accurate as possible and responsible.

This will require a combined effort: strict guidelines from the government and trade bodies such as the FTA and ASA, regulation by the social media platforms, and a willingness to comply from the influencers. If this can be achieved harmoniously, then influencer marketing stands to be a hugely powerful tool not just for advertising but also for politics.

Mary Keane-Dawson is group CEO of influencer agency Takumi.

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