Four things to watch as Election 2016 ramps up

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The 2016 election that is set to pit Hillary Clinton and  Donald Trump against each other for the highest office in the land will probably see the most vigorous online activity of any presidential election before it.

Here are four aspects of the digital campaigns to keep an eye on.

Use of email

Winning an election requires candidates to rally supporters, solicit campaign donations from them, and ensure they vote. Perhaps no digital channel is more powerful in this respect than email.

While Trump appears to have a social media advantage over Clinton, according to email analytics firm Return Path, Clinton’s email list has doubled in size in less than a month and is 1000% the size of Trump’s.

Even more worrisome, Trump’s use of a new domain to send email appears to have resulted in a whopping 79% of his emails being caught by spam filters and just 12% opened a fundraiser email.

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Where is Clinton getting her emails? That isn’t known, but assuming she doesn’t see a significant uptick in spam reports, her significantly larger email list could be a formidable asset and give her a real digital advantage over an email-challenged Trump.

Ad spend versus earned media

According to AdAge, Hillary Clinton’s campaign and political action committees (PACs) supporting her have already spent $192 million more than Donald Trump and PACs supporting him.

While Trump’s fundraising efforts are now just getting started, the early numbers are stark: Hillary and supporting PACs have spent over $217 million on broadcast, cable and satellite television, and radio. By comparison, Trump and his supporters have spent just under $25 million to date.

Trump’s spend on paid media will no doubt increase significantly in the general election, but the presumptive Republican nominee has repeatedly taken pride in all of the attention he has been able to garner from the media without spending money.

In fact, the value of the earned media he received so far is estimated to be in excess of $2 billion. That might explain how Trump was able to win the Republican nomination even as his Republican primary opponents and anti-Trump groups spent over a quarter of a billion dollars on their own ads.

Conventional wisdom suggests that a presidential candidate can’t win a general election without hefty investment in paid media, and it will be interesting to see if the Trump campaign puts that to the test.

Agility

Capitalizing on the news cycle could be crucial to each of the candidate’s ability to reach voters through digital channels, especially social media.

Here, despite a team that has undergone a recent shake-up, AdAge’s Simon Dumenco says Trump’s campaign is demonstrating an ability to create content rapidly as news breaks and Clinton should be concerned.

As an example, on Tuesday, just hours after the director of the FBI announced that he was not recommending criminal charges be filed against Clinton over her handling of email during her tenure as Secretary of State, Trump posted a video ad to his Facebook Page that pitted Clinton’s words against those of the FBI director.

The ad, while simple and, as Dumenco notes, “remarkably restrained” by Trump standards, has already racked up nearly 12 million views.

Social media blunders

Agility could be a double-edged sword, however, particularly for Donald Trump. His prolific and sometimes seemingly unrestrained use of social channels like Twitter almost certainly helped propel his campaign in the Republican primaries, but he has more than once found himself facing significant criticism for posting or reposting controversial and offensive content.

Such content could be very problematic in the general election, and Trump should expect that the Clinton campaign will look to make him pay politically for any controversial tweets he posts now that the general election campaign is effectively underway.

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