How Social Sharing is Reshaping the 2016 Race: Key Takeaways from Our Research for BuzzFeed

The majority of voters in the last election were under the age of fifty, and reaching them is becoming both more important and more difficult than ever. As increasing numbers of young voters move away from traditional forms of media, campaigns aren’t always sure how best to reach them. BuzzFeed partnered with Echelon Insights and Hart Research to better understand how younger audiences get their news and share it with their friends, conducting an online panel study of 1,200 adults aged 18–49.

Social Media Use is Nearly Universal & More Than Half of Likely Voters Share Every Week

Fully 90% of all 18–49 year old adults use at least one form of social media, and 49% use these accounts on a weekly basis to update their friends with news, links, and photos. Sharing rises to 54% amongst those who say they will definitely vote in the 2016 election, and fully 40% of committed 2016 voters 18–49 also say they share political news and information on a weekly basis.

All this sharing is transforming how Americans get their news. Social media is the primary way our 18–49 year old respondents discover news online, at 33%, followed by search at 23%, visiting a news organization’s website at 17%, and email at 7%. People are not only getting more of their news through social media, but when it’s shared by a friend, they trust it more. Information about politics and current affairs shared by a friend that a respondent trusts and respects is rated trustworthy by 57%, versus just 4% who distrust it. This compares to a trust/distrust ratio of 48% to 12% for other forms of news delivery we tested.

BuzzFeed’s Role in the Political Ecosystem

The right delivery vehicle is only one piece of the puzzle when it comes to political persuasion. Political campaigns and causes are devoting increased attention to crafting content in a unique and compelling way that resonates with today’s audience. With a platform that serves as the starting place for the world’s biggest viral cultural hits, BuzzFeed wanted to understand the unique nature of its audience and the impact of its content as compared to traditional forms of political content. Here’s what we found:

  • BuzzFeed Can Reach Politically Engaged Young Voters at a Scale Unmatched Almost Anywhere Else. More BuzzFeed readers are registered to vote than non-readers in their age group (83% vs 76%). BuzzFeed readers aged 18–49 are more likely to be paying very or somewhat close attention to the 2016 election (75% vs. 55% for non-readers) and are more than twice as likely to say they’ve taken civic or political actions like contacting a legislator (22%, vs. 11% for non-readers), donating to a candidate (21% vs. 9% for non-readers), or volunteering for a campaign (15% for 6%) for non-readers. And BuzzFeed offers political campaigns significant scale: 54% of 18–49 year old registered voters have visited BuzzFeed, 41% in the last month.
  • BuzzFeed Partner Content Rates Higher Than Traditional Online Advertising. BuzzFeed has partnered with political organizations ranging from the Bernie Sanders campaign on the left to Our Principles PAC on the right on native content that delivers a political message in BuzzFeed’s unique style. When we tested this content side-by-side with traditional online banner advertising, BuzzFeed content was rated at least twice as positively on dimensions like informative (3.6x), entertaining (2.5x), interesting (2.2x), engaging (2.2x) and unique (2x).
  • Readers Know BuzzFeed For Its News Coverage. When people think of BuzzFeed, they often think of The Dress, exploding watermelons, or cute animal GIFs. In recent years, BuzzFeed has also become known for its news and political coverage. When we asked directly what people liked about BuzzFeed, its news coverage was one of the first things brought up. Here’s a snapshot of what some readers said, in their own words:

“It speaks my language and traditional media like NBC and ABC don’t tell the whole story as well.” — Male, 21 years old

Their political and news coverage has rapidly become go-to material for me over the last year and a half or so, especially during the current presidential campaign. I don’t bother with the cutesy stuff, but I love their solid journalism.” — Female, 40 years old

“It lays out information in a quick, fun, informative way that makes it easy and interesting to get quick access to the information I am looking to read.” — Female, 26 years old

“The site is starting to do good original reporting and regularly breaks news that I want to know.” — Male, 45 years old

Why This Matters: Younger Audiences No Longer Primarily Watch Live TV

For decades, traditional broadcast advertising has dominated political campaign budgets. “Cord-cutting” is sometimes dismissed as a fringe phenomenon, but more people aged 18–34 are watching television in non-traditional ways than watch it live, meaning they’re much less likely to be exposed to 30-second television ads. Just 40% of audiences 18–34 report they primarily watch TV live, compared to 38% who watch it streamed through services like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, or YouTube, 15% who primarily watch time-shifted or recorded TV, and 7% who don’t watch TV at all. For audiences aged 35–49, 61% primarily watch live, 19% primarily watch streaming or on-demand, 17% primarily watch recorded, and 3% don’t watch.

What about these 60% of millennials who can’t be effectively be reached through TV advertising? A majority of those have visited BuzzFeed, and fully 31% of all adults 18–34 no longer watch live TV but have visited BuzzFeed. These 18-to-34 year olds are a key target group in November, and are expected to make up more than 20% of the electorate.

The Shifting Media Landscape in 2016: Three Key Takeaways

  1. Don’t just create content that lives “online.” Optimize for sharing. Social media is the number one way adults 18–49 find news online. Social sharing not only gives organizations new ways to reach an audience, but an opportunity to recruit advocates from the 40% of likely young voters who share political news on a daily or weekly basis. To stay on top of this trend, organizations must not only be on all the major social networks (like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram) but can partner with publishers like BuzzFeed to create compelling content that supporters are more likely to share with their friends.
  2. The end of live TV’s dominance is not just coming. It’s here for younger audiences. 60% of millennial audiences, from 18 to 34, no longer primarily watch live TV, meaning they can’t be reliably reached through TV advertising. This is true even amongst 39% of audiences aged 34 to 49. Collectively, these two groups represent more than half of the 2016 electorate.
  3. Campaigns can go beyond static banner ads to native content that engages audiences and tells a story. As political campaigns consider how to replace the lost reach of TV amongst younger audiences, they also need to look beyond traditional online advertising formats to engage and persuade young audiences. Native content on BuzzFeed can be one part of an integrated strategy for reaching these audiences, with respondents rating sponsored content on BuzzFeed’s platform as more appealing than traditional online advertising, especially on dimensions like “informative,” “entertaining” and “interesting.”