The State of the Union (SOTU) address is a prime-time occasion for the President to present his/her political agenda for the next year. In an election year, an incumbent president has the opportunity to lay the foundation for their campaign and, more strategically, define their challengers on a national stage. In the social media era, citizens, journalists, and presidential contenders have a platform to respond immediately to the President’s statements in posts and tweets in real-time.
However, the leading 2020 Democratic presidential candidates were surprisingly...silent…on social media during President Trump’s SOTU address. Bernie Sanders posted about his win his lead in Iowa on Instagram and tweeted three times after watching the speech (10:43pm EST). Pete Buttigieg’s Instagram posts and tweets also focused on the Iowa results rather than the SOTU speech. Instead, he reacted to the SOTU speech via social media the next day. Elizabeth Warren posted about the SOTU on Instagram and Twitter prior to the speech but did not offer real-time reactions to Trump’s statements.
Amy Klobuchar focused her posts on the Iowa and New Hampshire primaries during the SOTU and later posted about the Democratic response delivered by Gov. Whitmer.
Overall, there was no real-time reaction from the Democratic candidates to Trump’s SOTU. This social media silence is puzzling. Perhaps the Democratic candidates were more focused on the botched Iowa caucus results and looking forward to the New Hampshire primaries? Or maybe the Democratic candidates wanted to give respect to the President’s State of the Union address? Or possibly the candidates felt there would not be enough attention to their digital rebuttals among the jumble of #SOTU posts?
This is a missed marketing opportunity. This televised speech is the perfect chance for candidates to debate a challenger on the issues in a one-way, digital forum before the actual debate stage. Challengers can also set the media agenda, placing importance on their platform rather than the incumbent, before journalists and talking-heads analyze the speech for the public.
Proposed marketing strategy: Campaigns should prepare social media posts before the SOTU as well as other major campaign events (e.g., televised President Trump rallies). It was predicted that President Trump would begin his speech with statements about the booming economy, low unemployment, and a rising stock market. Candidates should craft social media posts with text-integrated images, including quotes indicating their view of the economy, short messages about how they would strengthen the economy, and offer examples of how they compare/contrast with President Trump’s economic policies. (See Munoz and Towner 2017 article for examples). Then, post these messages on social media during key moments during a challengers’ campaign events – in real-time.
Candidates can easily re-post material to reinforce their message. For example, Elizabeth Warren’s campaign can re-post (re-gram) the Instagram posts below when President Trump’s discusses debt and creating jobs. Tweets on the topic can be retweeted with the #SOTU2020 hashtag. For instance, candidates can simply tweet a web link to their campaign website “Here’s my approach to creating jobs…”. These real-time posts allow competing candidates to influence the agenda on social media and the mainstream media, perhaps influencing public opinion during a time of heightened public attention (See Feezell 2017; Towner and Munoz 2018).
Key Takeaways: Candidates should use their challenger’s campaign event to their marketing advantage. Social media offer a free space to challenge your opponent in an open, digital forum rather than a structured debate stage. It is a chance for candidates to turn the spotlight on them.