Welcome to FWIW, ACRONYM’s weekly newsletter breaking down digital strategy and investments across the political spectrum. Each week, we look at how campaigns are – or aren’t – leveraging smart digital strategies to drive narratives and win elections.
For what it’s worth, some of it might surprise you.
With over 100 million users in the United States, half of whom are aged 18-34, Instagram is an important tool for Democratic presidential campaigns to build support and stand out among a crowded field of 24 candidates. So who’s using it better than the others? How should campaigns optimize their content on the platform to reach more prospective primary voters? We take a look in this week’s FWIW.
2020 by the numbers
If you’re a longtime subscriber to FWIW, you’ll know that occasionally, our friends at Google have difficulty updating their Transparency Data on time. Google was unable to provide new spending totals for the week of May 19 – 25, so this week’s issue will just focus on Facebook spend. As soon as Google provides the new data, we’ll have it uploaded into our FWIW Digital Dashboard, so check back next week! Also, refer to last week’s issue of FWIW for the latest cumulative spending charts.
Donald Trump’s campaign continued significantly outspending his Democratic rivals on Facebook advertising this week, with most of his ads focused on small-dollar fundraising and list acquisition by asking supporters to “sign his birthday card.” Meanwhile, Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg, and Michael Bennet continue to lead the Democratic field in Facebook spending week after week.
Interestingly, Kamala Harris’ campaign hit pause on their Facebook advertising during the same time period, running only two ads promoting a small event in Iowa.
Deep Dive: Insta-famous 📸
This isn’t the first cycle that presidential campaigns have used Instagram to reach voters. But, platforms change rapidly, and since 2016 Instagram has significantly grown its active user base while releasing new features to keep users engaged within the platform. With over 100 million users in the United States, half of whom are aged 18-34, Instagram has become a critical tool for Democratic presidential campaigns to build support and stand out among a field of 24 candidates. Here’s how the campaigns are using the platform so far:
By the numbers
Before digging in, we took a quick look at where the presidential candidates’ campaign accounts’ following and growth stands on Instagram year-to-date:
Predictably, candidates with universal name ID like Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders lead the field in terms of followers. It’s notable that since January, Donald Trump has added another 1.8 million followers on Instagram, as his base of support tends to be among older, less tech savvy audiences. Kamala Harris and Pete Buttigieg have gained significant steam on the platform, each adding over 500,000 new followers. Cory Booker has prioritized Instagram as a key channel to reach his base as well.
Bill de Blasio, despite being a well-known public official, is starting from scratch with a new campaign Instagram account, as he’s previously used the official @nycmayor account.
Instagram’s IGTV, which launched last summer, allows accounts to upload high-quality, long-form (up to 60 minutes long) vertical videos that remain archived on the campaigns’ “channel.” IGTV is also a standalone app, where viewers can be continuously fed one video after another. For Instagram, this keeps users spending more time on the platform through autoplaying video and continuous content, and for campaigns, it provides a new opportunity for engagement.
Most of the presidential campaigns are still figuring out how to use it – only 9 out of the 24 candidates have set up IGTV channels so far. But a few candidates have already begun to leverage the feature to drive their message.
Cory Booker, Kamala Harris, and Bernie Sanders have taken advantage of IGTV to share unique, high-resolution, vertical-oriented videos that tell stories and keep feeding their supporters content within the platform – instead of just sharing the same old horizontal videos that appear elsewhere on the candidates’ other social accounts.
While a couple other candidates’ IGTV channels are prolific, nearly all of their current video content is in horizontal format recycled from other social platforms. It’s not enough to just upload any video to any social platform. To maximize engagement, at the very least campaigns need to know what type of video goes where. Users consume video content in different ways, and if a campaign’s targeted audience is watching a long form video on their mobile device, the content needs to be optimized in order to keep the viewer’s attention.
Live on Instagram
Political campaigns are no strangers to Instagram’s Live video feature. From Alexandria Ocasio Cortez assembling IKEA furniture, to Beto O’Rourke getting his teeth cleaned and Elizabeth Warren grabbing a beer after announcing her candidacy, candidates have gone live to address their supporters in a candid, casual way.
There are some clear advantages to using live video. If campaigns in 2019 are about showcasing authenticity, then there’s little else more authentic than seeing a candidate answer questions directly from supporters in a live, unedited environment. And in technical terms, platforms provide incentive to users who go live: starting a live video sends a push notification to your followers telling them to tune-in, as well as provides a prompt for viewers to ask the candidate questions directly.
Stories + Highlights
Instagram stories, which are 15-second videos that can be uploaded one after another, are a key fixture of the platform in 2019. Nearly everyone uses them, and they allow for engagement through stickers and swiping. The 2020 presidential candidates have relied on them to link to policy proposals, show off their organizing events, and even ask for donations.
However, knowing the boundaries of the feature is important, and If a candidate has too many short stories running on their account at the same time, their followers may get bored, swipe left, and skip the rest of their content.
Highlights are a way for a campaign to archive their stories, which disappear after 24 hours, into a place where their followers can continue to view them over time. Elizabeth Warren’s campaign started a trend of creating a new Instagram story “highlight” reel for each state featuring her campaign’s on-the-ground organizing there.
That strategy has been picked up by other candidates, and now many leading contenders’ Instagram pages feature state-specific highlight reels that show off their events in each key primary state.
Read + share 🤳
That’s all for this week. But before you go, we want to make one ask of you – if you love FWIW, forward this email to three friends. They can sign up for weekly updates at www.anotheracronym.org/fwiw, follow us on Twitter and email us with ideas of what we should dive into next.
– the team at ACRONYM
P.S. You can find today’s issue of FWIW here and read this week’s edition of FWIW Virginia at this link.