Amanda Stitt: In 2018, more politicians decided to ‘be themselves’ on social media

December 11, 2018 10:01 am

U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) (C) during a news conference in front of the U.S. Capitol February 7, 2019 in Washington, DC. | Alex Wong, Getty Images

The rise of digital media means people expect unfettered and immediate access to celebrities, their friends and political candidates.

If you don’t keep up, you’ll hear about it. Right away. On Twitter.

The 2018 election has ushered in a new age of social media communications. Some politicians, especially millennials, have embraced the medium and have been rewarded with viral followings. Some of the breakout social media stars are U.S. Rep.-Elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), U.S. Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Beto O’Rourke, who lost his U.S. Senate bid in Texas.

What’s their secret? Authenticity. It’s always been valued among voters, but now that we’re in the digital age, authenticity looks different than it has before. New technologies allow candidates to interact directly with voters, give us more more information than ever before about any given candidate’s life, and allow anyone to easily search for voting records and history. And voters expect that access.

“Authenticity” has been discussed so much in progressive politics that it’s become a buzzword. There’s a distinct connotation that’s been replicated — or attempted — over and over again. Many candidates follow the same pre-packaged instructions:

  • Use social media as much as possible
  • Hire an intern who understands memes
  • Get on Facebook Live and Instagram Live once in a while
  • Pick up a skateboard?

However, very few candidates have had success with being authentic online. Now everyone is doing the same things to try and recreate the success of those that did.

The gimmicky nature of politicians trying to appeal to a new and emerging audience actually turns people away from many candidates. Now that the digital space is so crowded with candidates trying to go viral, we’re all tired of it.

And this rinse-and-repeat formula that’s oversaturating our feeds often isn’t really authenticity. It’s just people copying what’s worked in the past.

Because really, what voters want isn’t a new wave of politicians trying to desperately appeal to them on new technology with new slang. What people really want is to know what’s going on. They want to be able to talk to their member of Congress at a town hall. They want their senators to have a good grasp on the issues that affect them. They want to donate to candidates they really believe in, and they want to vote for politicians who are real people — just like them.

Candidates who have been successful on digital are those who are authentic in the true meaning of the word.

The reason Ocasio-Cortez’s Instagram Live Instant Pot recipes are a hit isn’t because she’s using that platform. It’s because she uses it as a tool to be more approachable, to demonstrate her knowledge of issues and to interact with her constituency in a novel way.

O’Rourke’s Facebook Live videos became popular not because he used social media, but because he used it to increase accessibility to his voters, his donors and the whole country in a way that we hadn’t seen before.

And Booker’s Snapchat and Facebook presence is uniquely authentic. Although he’s communicating with voters, donors and constituents, he’s not afraid to show that he’s a real person and to even look silly once in awhile.

We’re already gearing up for the 2020 cycle. It will be interesting to see who’s part of the new class of social media breakout stars and what voters respond to.

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Amanda Stitt
Amanda Stitt

Amanda Stitt is the CEO of Lansing-based Change Media Group, a full service digital and creative agency working with progressive candidates and causes across the country.