Investing early in acquisition and in “micro-influencer engagement” were two of the keys to the Biden campaign’s digital strategy, according to those who ran the effort.
At its core, the Democrat’s online outreach effort was designed to overcome the loss of one of Biden’s largest assets — his ability to work a rope line and connect with voters — plus the GOP’s advantage of organic content distribution on platforms like Facebook.
Speaking Tuesday during a post-mortem panel organized by Bully Pulpit Interactive, Biden Digital Director Rob Flaherty described how the campaign focused on “micro-influencer engagement” to disperse its content organically on platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube. In some cases, that meant outreach to an Instagram user in North Carolina with 5,000 followers, the vice president sitting down with YouTube creators for interviews, or the campaign building up a network of left-leaning Facebook pages to distribute selfie videos.
“There was a lot of pressure to do the millions of variations thing,” Flaherty said of replicating President Trump’s 2016 Facebook strategy. Instead, the campaign decided: “We can do a lot with a lot less.”
The campaign pre-tested digital creative to see what caused “attitudinal shifts.” Then, via Facebook, it identified lookalike audiences to the ones who were moved by its tested content. “We used that for a number of experimental programs,” Flaherty said.
Ultimately, he credited the success of their partnership program to Christian Tom and Madeline Twomey who answered the question: “How do we fan out and reach people all across the internet in the parts that they are?”
That led to the campaign moving into video games and other channels that political marketers often neglect. “It was all about, ‘how do we reach these people in these communities?’”
The campaign’s second most viewed video platform was TikTok, which it didn’t even have an official presence on because of cybersecurity concerns related to the app’s ownership. Looking ahead, Flaherty said that future campaign media plans need to include some form of “micro-influencer engagement.”
“That work of finding people with really powerful, local audiences and getting them to share stuff …. that work needs to be as permanent as the earned media work.”
The “biggest risk” the campaign took on digital? That was investing early in acquisition, according to Flaherty. Here he credited Biden Campaign Manager Jen O’Malley Dillon with putting sufficient resources behind acquiring online donors.
“It paid dividends. … As a percentage of our raise, the names it brought in were a huge amount of our digital revenue, and the value of us catching up on that list could not be overstated.”
When it came to disinformation, Flaherty said the campaign used “targeted intervention.” The criteria for intervening was when a story jumped from “the fever swamps to the mainstream,” such as the narrative around Biden’s mental capacity.
“There was a real concern there and I think that there were voters there who were seeing that and believing it,” he said. In response, the campaign targeted those audiences with “creative that showed Joe Biden talking directly to camera.”