Knocking on doors is a time-honored campaign ritual for election candidates. This makes for excellent photo opportunities, but it may not be the best way to build grassroots support these days.
Even large rallies covered by traditional media — TV, radio, newspapers and magazines — may not cut it, particularly when it comes to reaching younger voters.
Instead of trying to win over voters one at a time by going to their homes — or even a few thousand at a time at campaign rallies — I think that political campaigns could use social media influencers to launch what I call a “digital grassroots campaign.” This involves using social media influencers to build support for a candidate. This approach could reach millions very quickly.
The ability of influencer marketing to affect consumer behavior has quickly turned it into an industry that’s worth as much as $8 billion, and there’s nothing to suggest it only works in the for-profit world. I’m the co-founder and CEO of an international influencer marketing company that uses the tactic successfully with nonprofits to reach millions on behalf of special causes.
Perhaps the best evidence that influencer marketing can shape the political landscape comes from Germany, where earlier this year a 26-year-old music producer and YouTuber known as Rezo sent shockwaves through the country’s political landscape. On May 18, almost a week before the European Union parliamentary elections, Rezo posted a nearly 60-minute video on YouTube that accused Germany’s most powerful political party, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), of destroying “our lives and our future.” The video went viral (to date, it has more than 15 million views), and some political commentators pointed to “the Rezo effect” when the CDU lost seven percentage points in the elections. One newspaper editor wrote that “across Germany the video had had the unusual effect of opening the bedroom doors of many teenagers who had emerged from their computers to deliver ‘urgent recommendations to their parents ahead of the upcoming European elections.'” I believe this shows the power that influencers have when it comes to reaching people — particularly younger people — and inspiring them to take action.
Before I break down what a digital grassroots campaign looks like, let me explain why social media influence is so important.
Social Media Influence
According to the Pew Research Center, millennials and Gen Zers together will make up 37% of eligible voters in 2020. The challenge is getting many of these younger voters to turn up at the polls. Only 46% of 18- to 29-year-olds voted in 2016, compared to nearly 71% of voters 65 and older.
Social media is vital to not only reaching these voters but also inspiring them to vote. As reported by Pew, social media is the most popular way for young adults to get their news — “36% get news there often, topping news websites, TV (16%), radio (13%) and print (2%).”
In addition to getting most of their news from social media, many of these younger voters also gather in social media communities to debate burning topics, and they follow and trust the opinion leaders they find there because many of them consider these social media influencers to be trustworthy.
Building A Digital Grassroots Campaign
For many candidates, digital campaign strategies seem to rely on four basic approaches: candidate websites, candidate social channels, email list building and social media ads. These all make sense and can form a solid digital base, but they may not set you apart from the pack.
With a digital grassroots campaign, candidates can amplify their messages by using influencers who younger voters already know and trust on specific issues. I’m not talking about celebrities, I’m talking about microinfluencers with a following due to their expertise on issues such as immigration, health care or income inequality.
Businesses have known about the value of microinfluencers for years. I’ve seen firsthand how businesses can use them to increase their conversion rates — the number of people who actually buy their products.
Winning over voters is no different. In elections, the conversion rate simply becomes getting voters to turn up at the polls for your candidate.
To launch a digital grassroots campaign, a campaign would first want to identify influencers who share the candidate’s views. Focus on people with specific expertise or a cause who have built a community of followers online.
There are great influencer discovery and outreach platforms out there that campaigns can use to identify influencers. When picking influencers, it all comes down to knowing your target audience. First, create an audience persona, a semifictional archetype that represents the key traits of a large segment of your target audience. Based on that, you can start looking for influencers. The best influencer for you is someone whose social followership best matches your audience persona.
After you’ve found your ideal influencers, consider inviting them on the campaign bus along with the traditional media and offering them opportunities to interview the candidate. This will allow them to share their unfiltered content with their communities. Remember: An influencer’s followers usually trust them, so a candidate endorsement carries weight. It’s like getting a restaurant recommendation from a friend rather than reading a review from a stranger online.
Campaigns can also invite these influencers to their rallies and let them cover their events, through Instagram Stories or Facebook Live, and let their communities vote on campaign goals to see what resonates and where to adapt.
Regardless of party affiliation, mastering social media influence is important for any candidate. Digital grassroots campaigns have the power not only to raise awareness about the candidate and the candidate’s position but also to positively impact voter turnout. Campaigns may want to get with the times and take a page from the world of business by harnessing the power of influencer marketing.