As much as the 2016 Trump campaign is remembered for the variations and testing of its Facebook ads, the 2020 Biden campaign may go down in history for its pioneering use of digital partnerships.
Relationships with publishers, influencers, and new platforms helped get Biden’s message out to audiences beyond the campaign’s managed channels. For those looking to replicate its strategy, Christian Tom, who directed digital partnerships for the Biden campaign, said look no further than the tie-ups inside Animal Crossing and Fortnite.
By getting a map in the later and a “no malarkey” shouting avatar on an island in the former, the campaign then had “a way to engage with influencers” in the gaming space. “It gave us an asset to leverage in that world,” said Tom, who still remembers the Trump campaign’s mocking response.
“All of the numbers — third-party research — establish how big of an audience gaming is, especially this year when people spent more and more time at home,” Tom said. “You disregard the gaming community and gaming avenues, and time spent there, at your own risk.”
Now, when it came to other partnerships, such as working with Instagram influencers or YouTube creators, the campaign had to balance control of the message with the authenticity of the individual’s voice.
“We would sometimes give people assets fully baked, sometimes talking points,” said Tom, who worked at Twitter’s New York office and more recently Group Nine Media before joining the Biden campaign. “At the same time, people owned these channels, they have the ability to say whatever they want.”
Ultimately, Tom said there was a healthy amount of appreciation across comms, digital, and legal for his department’s experimentation.
“It required consulting with everyone,” he said. “But we got it done.”
And now other campaigns have a model to follow: “The idea of leveraging partners to extend reach, especially if there will be some ads blackout in the future, takes on an even more important presence” after 2020, Tom said.
For those looking to put a similar strategy to work, here’s what he suggests:
- Take the program seriously as a part of your digital strategy and invest in tools.
- Invest in team members who can speak fluently to influencers and can speak fluently over email or DM about your candidate’s policy.
- Treat these as the relationships that they are. There are influencers who may become effective talkers or communications partners of yours throughout the campaign. It shouldn’t be thought of as a one-and-done or applied against one particular policy plank and then the campaign moves on.