The Rise of the Candidate
as Online Influencer
and What It Means for 2020
Whether you look at Ocasio-Cortez or Trump, it’s clear that digital personalities that create online communities are driving the direction of contemporary politics. Online influencers have been a staple for many years of corporate marketing practice. Corporate influencer marketing is slated to become a $5-10 billion market in the next 5 years. An entire ecosystem of influencers, agencies and tech startups has created a cultural phenomenon among America’s moms, millennials and minorities that steers trends, fashions, fads and purchasing decisions. Witness the rise of Upfluence, Hive, Neofluence and other companies whose sole purpose is connecting brands with the influencers (often younger women) who make a difference with their target audiences. It’s little wonder that those same growing & overlapping demographics are attracted to candidates savvy about digital engagement for their voting decisions.
An Xiao Mina and Ray Drainville’s analysis of online influence goes in depth on Ocasio-Cortez’s innovative audience on Instagram:
“What’s striking about Ocasio-Cortez’s style is just how digitally native it seems. Sprinkled with emoji, cute stickers, hand-drawn illustrations on top of content, colorful fonts, and not a small number of selfie videos, she embraces all the affordances of Instagram. On Halloween night, for instance, she started up a live stream while she prepared ramen in an Instant Pot. As she chopped up vegetables, she answered questions from her followers about her thoughts on politics and the midterms. A portion of the video used the VCR filter, which created a grainy image along with a timecode, and she then posted the results of her meal (yes, it looked tasty), along with a recipe on her Pinterest account.”
Women over-index in terms of both accounts and usage on social media platforms. Therefore, it should be no surprise that female candidates seeking to motivate diverse and younger voters (including women) to the polls would focus on social media and other smart ways of persuading them. After all, 7 of the 10 most popular Instagram influencers are women (as of today) and more women use the platform than men, according to Hootsuite.
Furthermore, progressives tend to use social media for political participation:
For winning candidates like Lauren Underwood, Lina Hidalgo and Elissa Slotkin and competitive candidates like Amy McGrath, our team at Do Big Things helped them to define their unique voice online to reach voters who have tuned out TV. Results like McGrath, Beto O’Rourke or Stacey Abrams, which were extremely tough races that became competitively razor-close, it’s clear that the candidates that broke through the cloud barrier were ones who could tell a personalized story using digital. A new model for candidates is emerging in which you can amplify a digital presence such that local and even national communities online form to support them. If Beto and Abrams’ stories feel heartbreaking, it’s in part people got invested in the candidate and their story. And people want to know what’s next for losing but compelling candidates like McGrath – win or lose, she was able to build a profile that is a national brand. (People are already thinking openly about her next move.)
Candidates can strengthen their ability to win next time if they maintain and build upon their robust online communities rather than seeing them as a temporary effort geared toward the election deadline. Building a personal presence online is great for your overall candidate career long term. The effort to employ innovative, direct to the people communications via digital helped to create the rising tide of the blue wave, especially for women.
Younger people are spending more time on digital, less on TV and less on most forms of media (Nielsen Total Audience Report Q1 2018).
And U.S. consumers are more likely to block ads and more likely to trust micro-influencers over an ad or a celebrity.
At Do Big Things, we are working with candidates and organizations to tap the power of digital influencers to persuade, educate and motivate their fellow citizens to positive action & attitudes. The most influential people within your email list or the popular followers on your social channels can do more to support your mission than you might imagine and carry your message in their own vernacular to exponentially more people. We believe this is an important trend to note for Election 2020 & Census 2020 and we expect to see the phenomenon of candidates and key org spokespeople acting powerfully as online influencers on the rise.