Blurred Lines: Social Media & Earned Media Fight for Airspace at the 2016 Conventions

August 1, 2016

Blurred Lines: Social Media & Earned Media Fight for Airspace at the 2016 Conventions

While some could argue the 2016 election has lacked substantive policy discussions between the major political parties, it has more than compensated for this marked deficiency with Twitter wars, well-publicized email snafus and a veritable arms race in paid digital advertising. True to form, this year’s RNC and DNC proved no different. Both presidential candidates used each other’s convention speeches as ammunition for scathing tweets and eleventh-hour fundraising emails, deriding their opponents’ platforms and platitudes in real-time. 

This kind of online gamesmanship – and close coverage of the candidates’ every social media move by traditional media outlets – points to the continually blurring lines between earned media and social media. Case in point: Facebook partnered with ABC News to set up 24-hour livestreams for both conventions. Twitter kept pace with its own livestream, while Snapchat teamed up with The Daily Show for a series of convention-themed specials. 

These partnerships represent a shift in production power that is reflected in the way people consume information today—as quickly and efficiently as possible. Traditional media outlets have recognized the need to join forces with social media outlets to increase the size and engagement of their audiences, whose attention spans are perpetually shortened by technological advances in the digital sphere. 

Meanwhile, social media outlets promote trending topics from major news outlets to ensure users can get their news, live vicariously through friends’ vacation photos, and watch cute cat videos – all in one place. This symbiotic relationship continues to become more one-sided as social media outlets assert themselves as users’ main sources of breaking news and relevant commentary.

In the case of this year’s conventions, social media provided us with the highlights from an old-fashioned forum that is slowly adapting to a social media world. From the RNC displaying tweets live throughout Quicken Loans Arena to Michelle Obama’s speech at the DNC quickly becoming the most-tweeted event of the week, the conventions themselves were often relegated to sideshow status in favor of the battles being waged online. 

The result? A far more engaging pair of events than in previous years, as incisive commentary and juicy soundbites helped make sense of convoluted party platforms and a multitude of speeches from unknown quantities. We can all appreciate the fervent chants of “USA” from the mosh pit of attendees, but sometimes, we just want the headlines.  

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