Does Social Media influence the outcome of elections?

As most are aware, there is a fiercely entertaining (though serious) competition currently underway around who will become the next president of the United States.  Our candidates could not be more different.  One - Senator Hillary Clinton - is an experienced politician with decades of experience (and public criticism) under her belt.  The other - Mr. Donald Trump - is an economic powerhouse with decades of (sometimes questionable) business experience, as well as multi-media experience in his corner.  Albeit their approach to politics seemingly could not be more different, some may argue that it will not be their platforms that win them the presidential race - but rather, how they engage with public perceptions.

When it boils down to it, one could look at the presidential race as (quite possibly) the world's most influential Reality TV show - something that Mr. Trump has years of experience with, with his television series The Apprentice.  There is significant importance placed on public perceptions in this 'game', and how people view you and your candidacy as 'the winner'.  Organizations, in turn, are able to influence  the public in favor of their candidates in a number of ways, but one of the most influential ways to do this is through user engagement on social media.

For example, hashtags (#) on Twitter have become renown for their ability to allow the public at large to voice their opinion about a given issue publicly.  When you look at the Twitter threads created using one of the hashtags that contain this year's presidential debate, #debate2016, you'll find a number of expressive (and very relevant/recent) political affiliations being expressed by a large cross-section of users (some more serious/coherent than others).  This is an important thing for organizations to be aware of, as this allows them to gauge public perception about their business (or in the case of the presidential candidacy, their political platform), and in turn, afford them the opportunity to mitigate where necessary.

There is a mantra for organizations to "meet consumers where they are".  So, if consumers (ie. voting US Citizens) spend a lot of time on various social media platforms, it seems only fitting that organizations would spend time (and resources) on promoting their 'brand' to the public through social media.  The user engagement factor is also important because if users feel like they are able interact with an organization through their social media, then users will develop a more engaged rapport with those organizations.  This can certainly work for the benefit of organizations, but they must also be aware that this can work against them as well - if they are not keeping on top of their perceptions and presence on social media, truths (and non-truths) are able to blown out of proportion.  

This is the power of public perception, as influenced by every day people on social media.