The era of the high-profile campaign manager or star media consultant is giving way to one where digital practitioners on campaigns up and down the ballot are claiming the spotlight.
Beyond a recognition of industry trend lines, digital staffers developing their own online followings is a tactic that some top practitioners on the left believe could be a difference-maker.
Navigating the personal and professional on staffers’ social media accounts has long been a challenge for campaigns. But allowing your digital team more leeway in what content they post and how they interact with supporters on social platforms could help expand a candidate’s reach, according to Stefan Smith, former online engagement director at Pete for America.
“If you were raised and grew up and cut your teeth in traditional politics, you were raised on the axiom that all roads have to lead to the candidate,” said Smith in an Exit Interview released Monday by the non-profit Democratic digital group ACRONYM.
On the Buttigieg campaign, Smith said there was push back on giving staffers more freedom to “be themselves online,” but the strategy was ultimately adopted, allowing staff to highlight “the things they were working on.”
He recalled how computer engineers would highlight parts of the campaign website that they built, and individual editors could tout their work on a video. Smith himself said he helped fundraise through his online following.
“If we can create a bigger digital ecosystem that isn’t just the candidate, it’s the stars around it, we put more points of contact and the candidate doesn’t have the wear the full weight of supporting the entire campaign online,” said Smith. “Let staffers step up and do it. It’s no longer just the principal.”
Alexis Magnan-Callaway, national digital mobilization director of Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand's presidential campaign, said that freedom should also be extended to volunteers.
“Both volunteers and staff can be handed the keys,” said Magnan-Callaway.
In her interview, which was also released by ACRONYM on Monday, she advocating going a step further and providing volunteers insight on campaign strategy.
“We can pull back the curtain a lot more on what we’re trying to do, rather than just giving them programming that’s very like, ‘Step one do this, step two do this, step three do this, and these are the metrics that we’re going to be looking for.’”
Magnan-Callaway also shed some light on the strategic impact of the DNC’s shifting debate stage criteria during the Democratic presidential primary.
Having to hit certain milestones to remain on the DNC debate stage caused the Gillibrand campaign team to focus on low-dollar fundraising and raising her poll numbers in early states — to its detriment, Magnan-Callaway said.
“Very quickly our goal shifted from telling the story of who she was to, we need to make the next debate stage. It seemed to kind of eclipse everything else that we were able to do and really dominated the day to day of a lot of our programs."
Even the campaign’s mobilization program became part of the low-dollar fundraising effort.
“Very quickly it went from all these kind of more fun, interactive get to know each other, community building, coalition building, organizing events, and pivoted straight to, ‘Who do you know that can donate a dollar to Kirsten Gillibrand?” she said. “This really overshadowed it all.”