No matter where you fall on the political spectrum, you probably haven't seen anything quite like the 2016 election cycle. Technology has created an unprecedented level of transparency among the candidates - whether they want it to or not. Hillary Clinton's emails and Donald Trump's tweeting habits come to mind right away. Social media, in particular, is driving conversations, clarifying facts, and adding another layer of complexity to the process.

The Role of Social Media Has Changed this Election Cycle.

Social media played a major role in the 2012 election, but much is different in 2016. More users are comfortable interacting on popular platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, and Instagram, and they'd be hard pressed to identify two more contentious candidates than Clinton and Trump.

Both candidates are playing an active role on multiple social media platforms. They both post on verified Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram accounts. In 2016, more voters are also using big data to identify trends in candidate activities and digital records to separate the truth from the lies. Here are some of the major social insights businesses can learn from during this interesting election cycle:

1. Social media connects people on a personal level.

At a campaign rally, a town hall debate, or a meet and greet, voters don't often have an opportunity to engage with a candidate on a personal level. On social media, candidates can showcase their personalities and interact with voters in a public forum and on a personal level. Hillary Clinton has used the election period to help voters see her as a real person and not a cold politician. Trump has famously tweeted at 3am on multiple occasions, giving people a personal insight into how he lives his life. Businesses and professionals can see these highly personal approaches, and explore how they can do something similar to create a connection between brands, brand stories, and consumers.

2. People often go to social media first.

In today's world, social media influences traditional media. Reporters often go to social media sites to find inspiration for stories and to provide their readers with comments and perspectives. The election is no different. Voters often go to Twitter and other websites to fact check candidates and discover real-time trends among like-minded individuals.

Social media may not be completely authoritative, but it does provide gut reactions that often drive the decision making process of candidates and voters. Want to know what most social media users are following during the election? Some of the most popular hashtags of the cycle include #Syria, #Election2016, #Trump, and #Hillary. Brands can use such social media insights to their advantage as they develop products and digital marketing campaigns. Using social media tools, you can learn much about voters and candidates this way, as well as your customers and competitors on an ongoing basis.

3. Go for a social media win, but keep your real goals in mind.

A negative campaign ad from Trump supporters made reference to Hillary Clinton playing her "woman's card." In a calculated response, Clinton fired back with some good-humored repartee. While this move paid off for Clinton with her supporters, not all strong reactions do. You must consider the ramifications of most comments you make carefully. As we've seen this cycle, one wrong comment could send a campaign into a nosedive.

4. There's always at least one fact checker.

Before people had access to years of history online, fact checking generally came in the weeks or even months after a speech. Today, voters see it in real time. Several media outlets, private individuals, and nonprofits provide fact checking updates during campaign events. If a candidate lies or bends the truth, voters find out soon enough. While businesses and individuals may not come under such heavy scrutiny, you never know who's watching. The lesson is that lying or exaggerating on social media can be a recipe for disaster. As Donald Trump learned during a Republican debate in March, journalists may share evidence disproving a statement in real time.

Social media now serves as a major channel for businesses, and you can learn a lot from how political candidates use it to interact with their audiences. Since social media supports interpersonal communication, a well-maintained online presence can personalize and humanize an individual or professional brand. This election cycle is certainly one for the history books, but one of its lasting legacies may be in teaching us how to do our social media work more effectively and with greater integrity.