Relevance & Research Question: This study is the first in the American context to compare political candidates’ social media communication across multiple social media platforms. This topic is relevant, as the large majority of digital political communication studies only focus on one social media platform. We therefore ask two research questions:
RQ1: Do political campaigns broadcast the same messages across multiple social media accounts, or does campaign messaging differ depending on the platform?
RQ2: What explains the similarity or difference in political campaigning across social media platforms?
Methods & Data: We combine three types of computational analysis – fuzzy string matching, automated content analysis, and machine learning classification – to compare the Facebook and Twitter posts of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump during the 2016 U.S. Election.
Results: Our results show a relatively high degree of content recycling across platforms. At the highest level, over 60% of Clinton’s Facebook posts were also present on Twitter, whereas approximately 1/4 of the Trump campaigns posts were recycled across the two platforms. We do, however, find key strategic differences relating to how this content was conveyed to electorate. Our machine learning algorithm categorized posts by topic issues and message type, and we found the latter to be a significant predictor of platform differentiation through chi-squared tests. That is, candidates promoted the same policy issues across platforms, but the strategic intent behind their messages differed. Most notably, the Clinton campaign messaged Hispanic audiences in Spanish solely on Facebook. The Trump campaign promoted livestreams predominantly on Facebook, while reserving Twitter for broadcasting information relating to mass media interviews.
Added Value: The added value of the study is two-fold. First, while the state-of-the-art suggests candidates use different platforms for different messaging, we find a relatively high degree of content recycling across platforms. Moreover, we go beyond the existing literature and uncover what explains differences in cross-platforms posts. It is not the policy content of messages, but rather the strategic motivations that campaigns perceive in light of the audiences on each social media platform.