Marshall McLuhan famously said the medium is the message.

In the world of politics, successful politicians like Franklin Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan all learned mastery of new forms of communication to gain political advantage.

With Reagan, the revolution was one of pictures. Reagan’s advisors understood that on a television broadcast, it often didn’t matter what was said about the President during a report. The impact of the words being spoken were secondary to the images on the screen.

Today, social media still taking shape, and we are still trying to figure out all of the new ways people communicate in this new medium. This nascent form of communication and its role in our political discourse is still being discerned, with no standard or “normal” on the horizon.

Zignal Labs has partnered with Ditto Labs to try and offer a more complete understanding of what people are saying about presidential candidates on social media, and how they are saying it.

Ditto Labs uses computer vision and machine learning to automatically tag social photos for brands, faces, smiles, objects and context. Innovative marketers use this data to better understand and engage with their customers on the visual web.

Zignal Labs enables users with the power to observe and analyze trends, influence and issues across the FULL media spectrum, which includes social media. Public relations and marketing teams leverage these insights to gain operational efficiencies, protect their brand and improve marketing and communications results.

Together, we have monitored and digested the social medial conversation about presidential candidates, and how people write and post about them on Twitter.

Through its photo analytics tools, Ditto Labs looked at how many times a candidate’s image or campaign logo was detected on Twitter over a six-week period. We combined those analytics with statistics from Zignal Labs about overall Twitter traffic and frequency of emoji use for four presidential candidates — Republican candidates Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, and Democrats Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.

Total Volume

According to Zignal Labs analytics, Trump receives the lion’s share of the overall Twitter volume and is more likely to have a tweet that uses an emoji. But when it comes to photos, Sanders supporters are most likely to use images in their tweets about their candidate.

Here is a look at the overall Twitter traffic from Feb. 28 to April 9, from Zignal Labs:

As we’ve seen since Trump entered the race, the New York billionaire received an overwhelming plurality of the Twitter chatter. From Feb 28-April 9, Trump received a 49% Share of Voice — more than mentions of both Democratic candidates combined, and more than three times as much Twitter attention as his GOP rival, Ted Cruz.


And here is the division of the Tweets with images that included candidate’s face or campaign logo, according to Ditto Labs:

Ditto Labs found that images of Sanders and his official campaign logo were seen more often than those of anyone else seeking the presidency with a photo share of voice 2X that of text.

The Ditto numbers reinforce the notion of Sanders’ young, liberal base, which is more likely to be comfortable with advanced uses of social media, and offers clues about how those younger users like to communicate.

Images are processed by the brain faster, have more of an emotional impact and are remembered longer. Images like these popular tweets also count as text or photo mention for the opposing candidate, but the impact of the message is clearly in support of Sanders.

While Sanders trails Clinton in the delegate race, we see the enthusiasm of his supporters manifest online, in words, pictures and emojis. A stream of images from Twitter containing the candidates photos can be viewed on this Dittos Labs page.


Still, Trump Tweeters are more than twice as likely to emote than those tweeting about any other candidate. Over the same period, Zignal Labs tracked more than 1.3 million Trump tweets with emojis. Roughly two out of every three tweets with an emoji in it that mentioned a presidential candidate mentioned Trump. And Trump earned a larger share of the overall Tweets with emojis (roughly 62%) than his share of the overall Twitter traffic (44%).

Sanders was second with slightly more than 501,000 illustrated Tweets. Clinton had just 122,000 emoji tweets, again speaking to her comparatively older following, which is less likely to emote via social media. Cruz had about 210,000 emoji-filled Tweets over the same period, about 10 percent of the total share. (Again, Cruz underperformed here compared to his 30% share of the overall Twitter traffic.)

All of these different types of communication reveal something about the way people think about and react to various presidential candidates. With Trump, we see a high-volume and highly emotional response. With Sanders, we see signs of youthful enthusiasm, and a penchant to share the official slogan or photo of the candidate. Trump’s candidacy does not seem to have the visual breadth or scope on social media to match the text-based output.

As for Clinton and Cruz, we see traffic in all sectors consistent with a more “establishment”-like following. The communication about both candidates is more conservative, both in volume and content.

As the primary contests come down to the wire, the data reveals the Twitter audience is still far more captivated by Sanders and Trump, and is more likely to reach deeper to express themselves – with either emojis or photos.

By combining analytics from Ditto Labs and Zignal Labs, we can learn more about how people are using social media to communicate, and gain insights into what it might say about how that media behavior translates into other behaviors, including voting and brand loyalty.