Can 140 characters affect the 2016 presidential election?

Donald Trump (L) and Hillary Clinton (R).
Getty Images

Candidates in the presidential race are hoping to tweet their way into the Oval Office. Will it work?

All of the front-running candidates have a social media presence, often on more than one platform. In an effort to tap the millennial market, these politicians have diversified their advertising strategies to fit a 140 character limit.

Of the candidates, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have the strongest presence on Twitter. Clinton has more than 4.6 million followers on the social media site, just behind Trump, who has more than 4.7 million. All other candidates have fewer than 1 million followers.

"Just because you have a follower doesn't mean you have a vote," Brigitte Majewski, research director at Forrester, told CNBC. "It just means that you have caught their ear at some point in the past. ... It's a good signal, but at the end of the day, a signal is not a vote."

While some analysts suggest that the discrepancy between Clinton and Trump's massive following and other candidates can be attributed to how long they have been part of the social media platform, that notion does not hold true.

Clinton was actually the last candidate to join Twitter. Her account was created in June 2013, while the majority of her rival politicians joined between 2008 and 2010 — likely a result of President Barack Obama's successful social media campaign during the 2008 election race.

Here is how the current front-running candidates compare on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook:

Social media is a new form of personal marketing, allowing candidates to engage with followers, spark conversations, and make emotional connections with voters.

"There is a strong parallel between a political candidate and a brand," Majewski said, explaining that platforms like Twitter can be used to bolster a candidates message to a new, younger audience.

Sen. Bernie Sanders' social media campaign has been overwhelmingly successful so far during his campaign for the Democratic nomination.

Perhaps the most successful aspect of his social campaign, and something that no other candidate has seen, is that his followers are the ones who are creating viral moments.

Just because you have a follower doesn't mean you have a vote. It just means that you have caught their ear. ... It's a good signal, but at the end of the day, a signal is not a vote.
Brigitte Majewski
research director at Forrester

The hashtag #FeelTheBern, which was created by his Twitter followers, has been used more than 401,000 times in the last 30 days, averaging more than 13,000 mentions per day, according to Topsy.

In comparison, Clinton's #Hillary2016 was mentioned 156,000 times in the last 30 days.

"The slogan is an indication of the real grassroots energy that is behind our campaign, that you can't find behind any other campaign," said Kenneth Pennington, digital director for Sander's campaign. "The slogan represents the energy that you are seeing, especially among millennial voters and younger social media supporters behind Sen. Sanders."

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks at The New School on July 13, 2015, in New York City.
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Sen. Marco Rubio and Paul Singer.
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Hillary Clinton at a town meeting event at Exeter High School in Exeter, N.H. on Aug. 10, 2015.
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Each mention on social media is, essentially, an advertisement for a campaign. However, it's not always an endorsement.

More than a few presidential candidates have made social media mistakes and incurred the wrath of Twitter users.

Jeb Bush's attempt to revitalize his campaign with the new slogan "Jeb can fix it" was slammed by Twitter users on Monday.

While some users took the opportunity to photoshop Bush's face onto the "Bob the Builder" cartoon, others lambasted the candidate over his purported involvement in the 2000 voting scandal in Florida.

Bush's campaign did not immediately respond to CNBC's request for comment.

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"Bernie's campaign was community driven," said Liane Caruso, president of the Crush Agency, a marketing firm. "So, his followers and fans created that for him. Jeb Bush is trying to push a positive message and it's being taken the wrong way. ... The difference is how the two campaigns were created."

Clinton was criticized in August after asking followers to tweet three emojis describing how they felt about their student debt. Users of the social media site responded negatively, accusing the former secretary of state of being out of touch and insensitive to the plight of millennials.

Clinton's camp did not immediately respond to CNBC's request for comment.

Trump has come under fire multiple times in the last year for questionable and inflammatory posts.

In July, his campaign tweeted an image featuring Nazi uniforms. In August, one of his aides was fired over racially charged statements on Facebook. In October, Trump's social media team blamed an intern for retweeting a post that suggest Iowa voters had brain issues because of the corn that they eat.

And on Tuesday, the billionaire tweeted an image of a Nazi swastika next to a picture of Bush.

Trump's campaign did not immediately respond to CNBC's request for comment.

"Social has a degree of risk that other communication channels do not. Social is a fickle master. We've seen the masses turn, like they did on Jeb, and it's not controllable," Majewski said.