May 18, 2015

2016: The Instagram Election


The launch of a handful of high-profile presidential campaigns in the last five months has given way to a noteworthy trend: Instagram appears positioned to be the most contested platform of the 2016 election cycle.

The political movement towards social isn’t new: Both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama launched their 2008 campaigns on social media sites (moves seen as cutting-edge at the time), and Obama went on to claim an historic underdog victory over Clinton through a social-driven grassroots campaign. The medium’s role in politics has grown remarkably since: For perspective, in 2008, Obama’s victory Tweet was retweeted 157 times, while in 2012 a similar post was retweeted more than 800,000 times [Washington Post].

Given the evolving nature of campaign communications, it isn’t surprising to see other platforms like Instagram enter the fray. Still, it’s fascinating to see the extent of its political adoption. Here are a couple notable examples:

  • Hillary’s Instagram Aesthetic: Not to be out-socialed for a second time, Clinton’s 2016 campaign (Hillary for America) is making efforts to claim Instagram and its distinct look. You know the one: Tabletops strewn with the #essential ingredients of your perfect day – coffee and a newspaper, a smartphone or tablet with a bit of carefully-placed clutter – all to give the impression of a busy but relaxed, tasteful but very real person behind the image. These types of photos are popular on Instagram because they’re fun, attractive and tell a relatable story (as The Washington Post puts it, “They express a life lived”), and it’s no surprise Clinton is co-opting the aesthetic to spread her campaign message (essentially, “I’m just like you!”).
  • Bush Bets on Double-Taps: On the other side of the aisle, Republican frontrunner Jeb Bush recently made an Instagram-optimized announcement of his Right to Rise Super PAC (an unofficial indicator of his intent to run for president). The video itself is surprisingly informal, just like the medium: Rather than being professionally lit and scripted, as in Clinton’s and Obama’s 2008 announcements, Bush’s video looks almost homemade, making it a natural fit for your Instagram feed. But the most telling evidence of Instagram’s crucial role in Bush 2016? The Right to Rise website signup form asks for a user’s name, address, and yes, Instagram handle (notably, there’s no field for Facebook or Twitter).

Why all the fuss over Instagram, and what does this bode for its future?

  1. Instagram = Authenticity: Campaigns believe that the more candid and accessible a candidate seems, the more likely we are to vote for them. Instagram provides the perfect venue to showcase a person who is purposeful and informed, but also lovably imperfect and approachable.
  2. Campaigns Are Going Mobile: Instagram is largely a mobile platform, and it isn’t a coincidence that candidates are investing heavily. Campaigns realize the place to reach voters is increasingly on mobile devices: Did we mention that the “Instagram aesthetic” usually features a tablet or smartphone?
  3. Instagram Is All Grown Up: Instagram’s adoption by major 2016 campaigns shows that this very millennial platform has entered the cultural mainstream. With expected 2016 presidential campaign spending of $5 billion (via The Hill), Instagram has a crucial role to play in a high-stakes, big money contest. So, not surprisingly…
  4. You Will Soon See Political Ads In Your Instagram Feed: Sorry guys!


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