Four Ways Election 2016 Is Playing Out On Social Media


By   |   November 8th, 2016   |   Reading time: 5 minutes Digital Journalism

With election day 2016 finally here, we took a look at how the election has been playing out for publishers on social media. 

For the last few months, we’ve seen how big an impact political coverage has had in news feeds. The role of social media in spreading information, and misinformation, was cast into sharp focus in this election.

Election 2016 is far from the first ‘social media election’. But in many ways, no previous election audience has found their election news from social media in this way. Back in 2012, publishers didn’t have to think about things like posting Live videos on Facebook, or their Snapchat Discover coverage. Not as much of their audience got their news on social media in the first place.

Add social media user behaviour to the theatrics and media oversaturation of this particular campaign, and it becomes clear that election 2016 is somewhat of a watershed in social news publishing.

We looked at the data over a week of election coverage to see how publishers and social media users are reacting to this campaign.

How much election related stories are news sites publishing?

First, we wanted to see how much of the sites’ coverage was election-focussed in the run up to voting. We picked ten social news publishing leaders and analysed what portion of those websites’ article output over the last week mentioned ‘Clinton’, ‘Election’ or ‘Trump’ in the headline. Here’s what we found:

How many election-related articles are there?

At the very top, just over half of the articles published by Vox.com over seven days were election-related. One-in-three CNN articles were about the election, while IJR came in third, with 32% of articles mentioning the key terms in the headline.

Almost one-in-five articles published by the Washington Post over the last week has been specifically election-related, while the New York Times’ election output was 12% of its total. In terms of overall numbers, the Fox News network published the most election stories over the week – a whopping 1,723, which still only accounted for 13% of the overall Fox News output for the week.

The Trump engagement factor

By any account, the Trump phenomenon has been a juggernaut on social media over the last year. After providing similar data to Mashable recently, we were interested in seeing how much engagement around stories prominently mentioning Trump were attracting for different sites.

We analysed the volume of Facebook engagements with articles from our chosen sites mentioning ‘Trump’ in the headline or subheading from October 31 to November 7.

Here’s what the % graph looked like for our ten sites:

screen-shot-2016-11-07-at-15-52-21

At the two extremes, 45% of Vox’s total Facebook engagements over the seven days came from articles mentioning Trump prominently, while BuzzFeed’s Trump engagement rate was 5%. Elsewhere however, it’s clear that Trump-related articles have been making up a huge overall percentage of many news sites’ Facebook engagements.

37% of the Washington Post’s Facebook engagements for the week – around 1.36 million interactions – were on new articles about Trump, while CNN wasn’t far behind at 36%, or 1.6 million interactions. One in three Facebook engagements on New York Times’ content in the last week has been on an article about Trump.

When you consider the enormous volume of content that these sites publish each week, from sports coverage to international news stories, that’s significant engagement.

Of course, ‘engagement’ as a whole doesn’t necessarily equate with positivity – of these ten sites, the most engaged Trump article was a critical op-ed from the Huffington Post that attracted around 310,000 engagements.

Differing voices for top election Facebook pages

A divisive topic to start with, the soapbox nature of social media has lent a perfect platform for voicing views of both extremese around Election 2016. More heavily right and left Facebook Pages drove big engagement throughout the US presidential campaign.

If we look at all Facebook Pages’ content that contained the keywords “Hillary”, “Clinton”, “Trump”, or “Election”, we can see this reflected in the top ten engaging pages over the week.

Election 2016 Facebook Pages

While Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton’s Facebook Pages are at the top, they are joined by political publishers and pages.  There’s a strong conservative element from many of the pages, while Fox News’ main page has over 2 million more engagements than Hillary Clinton’s.

The picture on Instagram

This year’s divisive election had politicians and publishers engaging their followers wherever they could. Both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, along with top publishers, took to Instagram to reach a broader audience.

Trump vs Hillary Instagram

In the week before Election Day, there were 43 posts to Trump’s Instagram account and 18 to Clinton’s account. Trump saw nearly a million more engagements on his Instagram content, 88,269 per post. However, Clinton’s 18 posts drove 160,559 average engagements per post. Both candidates focused heavily on photo content, with one video from Clinton, and two videos from Trump during this time period.

trump hillary instagram

The top Instagram content from Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump’s official accounts, in the week before Election Day.

Changing our scope to news publishers on Instagram, we can see that publishers also ramped up their election content in the past week. For this, we analyzed news publishers’ content that contained the words, “Trump”, “Hillary”, “Clinton”, or “Election”.

News Publishers Instagram Election

There’s a interesting assortment of publishers here. There’s a lot of the names we’d expect to see here: Fox News, CNN, BBC News, and the Huffington Post, for starters. Fox News leads the pack by over 100,000 more engagements. Newer publishers like BuzzFeed News and the Daily Show also secured spots in the top ten. Despite being tenth on this list, New York Magazine has nonetheless driven substantial comments on their political content.

TIME had an interesting tactic for joining in on the pre-Election momentum. Nostalgic, emotive content does well on Instagram’s visual platform, so TIME dug through their archives to post old photographs of the candidates.

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