5 Ways Bernie Sanders is Using Social Media
Before the campaign for the 2016 presidential primaries began in earnest, no one thought much of Bernie Sanders. Indeed, why would they? He was a senator from Vermont, known best as the one politician who openly considers himself a democratic socialist. Hillary Clinton was considered the presumptive Democratic nominee for President before she ever declared herself a nominee, while Sanders lacked broad name recognition and seemed too old and too liberal to mount a serious challenge.
Now, of course, we see the race differently. Clinton remains the front-runner, but Sanders has actually topped her in some polls. Many view him as more trustworthy than she is, and he has adopted a populist mantle that continues to build excitement among progressive-minded people across the country. And his appeal is reaching younger voters in a way no one could have guessed he would achieve.
So how is he doing it? This election cycle in general has made prognosticators look silly more often than not. The narrative media members came in prepared to tell just isn’t panning out, on the side of either party. Simply put, Bernie Sanders is delivering a message to the United States, something wildly different from the usual pre-packaged politics to which we have all been accustomed. And to deliver this message, he has relied heavily on social media platforms. Sanders’ use of Facebook and Twitter to help tell his story has been impressive, with over 1.4 million Facebook likes and over a half million Twitter followers—numbers that grow by thousands daily.
Social media will not tell the whole story of Bernie Sanders when all is said and done. He faces challenges personal and political, and his odds of winning the nomination remain long. Still, his work to date has raised his profile and gives reason to examine how he has been so successful so far. Bernie Sanders’ social media campaign provides some great lessons in how a business can use these tools to improve its marketing performance.
1. Grassroots in an Online World
The word “grassroots” traditionally refers to a local movement, where something starts building on a community level and grows into something bigger. You may find it difficult to think of a multi-million dollar campaign in grassroots terms, but in many ways, Bernie Sanders’ run toward a potential presidential nomination can be considered that. His campaign runs on an idea—one that not everyone will agree with, but has a mass appeal to it.
The difference, of course, is that the community here is not a small town where an idea is bubbling up to the surface. Instead, the internet represents that community, and it reaches much farther than the state of Vermont. Bernie Sanders delivers every day a concept simple enough to grab hold: the idea that the government can and should take an interest in economic fairness. And he is letting it grow organically, nurturing and spreading it but relying on his processes to get that message out.
To accomplish this, Sanders has turned to Facebook and Twitter in particular. He has engaged with the public, commenting on important issues of today with a steady message. He eschews quick, attention-seeking posts, instead creating content that fits his messaging. This gives him an advantage because it does not depend on short-term bumps from sensational headlines. He builds through content, letting his followers and fans spread his ideas through their own social networks.
In short, Bernie Sanders is succeeding with social media by moving his content through the platforms at his disposal. Your company can take a similar approach by focusing your social media marketing on content that makes sense for people who want the products or services you provide. Grabbing attention with highly clickable headlines can be good, but unless you are providing valuable information that people who can be your customers want to share and discuss, you are losing an opportunity to build over time.
2. Using Multiple Platforms
Part of the approach Sanders has taken is to spread his message across multiple social media platforms. He has Facebook pages for both a personal account and his campaign, and he uses them both regularly. He also has a Twitter page, and posts multiple times every day. Rather than relying exclusively or even primarily on campaign stump speeches, he gives himself many opportunities every day to deliver the information people want and need.
This approach has some key advantages. Facebook and Twitter allow a person to deliver messages in very different ways. Twitter serves up brief statements, 140 characters or less. For people who only take the time to read a quick note, it provides a platform that gives them that kind of delivery. Sanders uses this masterfully, pushing close to the character limit but staying within it, between five and ten times almost every day. A thought of the moment, a response to a news story, or a link to material he believes is instructive can provide the inspiration for a tweet. He posts often and keeps his audience watching.
Many experts believe Facebook should be used the same way, with very brief posts that flash across a screen without requiring much investment from the users. But for his enormous Facebook audience, Bernie Sanders gives longer, more thoughtful posts that deliver more of his message. His Facebook posts often surpass 200 words, with links to more information. Rather than duplicating his Twitter feed in style or substance, he complements the other platform.
When you are building a social media marketing campaign, this approach makes sense. You are building audiences with different tools. Even though they fall within the rubric of social media, the smart marketer—much like the most successful coaches in sports—will use what he or she has to do the most each piece can do. Multiple platforms give you more than the ability to add more users on the periphery of your customer base; they allow you to message differently for different kinds of online followers.
3. Focused, Consistent Messaging
Even though Sanders splits his message and delivery style among different platforms, he remains focused on the things he wants to say. Social media platforms can tempt you to stray from your core concepts into the realm of the cute and the personal, or to ideas that don’t relate to your central messaging.
Bernie Sanders has succeeded in building a social media campaign that adheres closely to his campaign message. The world of politics is fraught with “gotcha” moments, in which ideas from an entire career might be brought up and compared against each other for inconsistency. A glib comment in one social media venue can tear down an entire campaign.
To prevent this kind of disaster, Sanders focuses intensely on the ideas on which he is running. You will not see kids, pets, and funny pictures in his feeds. He talks instead about economic programs and proposals, about health care reform, about higher education initiatives. If you go to social media profiles looking to laugh or enjoy goofy videos, you will be sorely disappointed. If you want to know where a major candidate stands on economic and social policy issues, though, you will find it here.
Again, this approach to social media can do much to inform your own social media marketing strategy. When you stray from your message, you lose credibility. Your online presence should not be about telling jokes and talking about things that have nothing to do with your company’s reason for being. You should instead stick to what you do and what you know about. Let people know what you can do for them, or what the best ways are to use your product or service, or how your company can make their lives easier. If you stay on point, you will give people who need what you provide reason to keep coming back. They will learn more, and you will earn more of their business.
4. Connect with People
Social media marketing differs from other marketing specifically through its social component. Bernie Sanders’ network is growing not only through his own content, but through his encouraging and re-posting content that others produce. If you look at his Twitter feed, for instance, you will see a high number of retweets of what others say about him. This accomplishes two important functions: it adds content to what he is producing, and it connects his accounts to the networks of those other users as well.
Sanders’ Facebook account builds similarly. His followers share his content, and this helps him spread his message and build his following. Conversely, he shares content from others that fits his message as well. This might be an anecdote he can use to support an argument about income inequality, or it may be a direct campaign point expressed in a way that allows him to build and spread to new networks. He reads posts from others frequently, and as such misses very few opportunities to let others’ content help support his platform.
By connecting with his followers, Sanders not only lets them help him build up his campaign, but he also helps them feel directly connected to his campaign success. In a world where many wonder whether they can have any impact on the political machinations of the day, this strategy gets people directly engaged and invested in his success, and indeed the success of the entire movement. Every comment, share, and retweet helps spread the information Sanders wants people to have. And every time someone does so, that person becomes more invested and more inclined to help more to advance the campaign.
For business owners, the application here may be obvious. Any successful company has customers who love what they purchase enough to tell others, who spread your marketing message through word of mouth. Social media provides a powerful megaphone to help this process. Some marketing campaigns become something of a voice in the wilderness, talking without anyone there to hear, much less interested in hearing it. When you set your social media marketing up to allow others to participate, the participants both pay more attention to your message and spread it in a way that more people will hear, receive, and act on it.
5. Create for Your Target Audience
Of course, this approach is only productive if the content delivers the message you want. For Sanders, this means retweeting and sharing only the content that fits with his message. Every time he retweets, he is building onto his narrative of working to help middle America, of helping the middle class get stronger. He does not retweet jokes, however much he may enjoy them. He doesn’t share stories about cute kids or videos of cats chasing yarn. He shares stories that he might have written himself, carefully selected to help him tell his story.
Similarly, Sanders is creating content for an audience of potential voters. This does not always mean writing what people want to hear. If he were to stick solely to one-liners that zinged the opposing party or other Democratic candidates, he would likely succeed in keeping the followers he has. His target audience, though, crosses much more of the American populace. For him to succeed, he needs to reach not only those who already are likely to vote for him, but those who are considering voting for Clinton as well. He needs to reach those who might vote for Donald Trump or Ben Carson, voters who know they want someone different from usual politicians but don’t know yet which direction that may lead them.
This helps explain Sanders’ more verbose approach to Facebook. He needs to tell a story that says more than “Vote for me”; he needs to tell people why. He needs to tell what he sees as wrong with the country in its current state, and then go on to tell how he would change it and why it would work. Any candidate who wants the United States to be more like Denmark, who describes himself in terms that would normally be anathema to political success, needs to give people a reason to vote for him.
Your company’s social media platform needs to set its target in similar ways. You want to keep your current customers, and keeping them engaged matters a great deal for your continued success. Still, without gaining new customers, your long-term success becomes much more difficult, if not entirely untenable. You need to create content that tells people what they need and why, and then tells them how you can give that to them. The more targeted your content remains on what people who might buy from you need to know, the more successful you will be in bringing in new customers.
Building Social Media Marketing Like Bernie
When you are building out your marketing programs, looking outside the box to see how others attract and build followings can be very instructive. Bernie Sanders, with a big boost from his work on Facebook and Twitter, has risen in less than a year from being a relatively unknown, highly unlikely candidate for president to being a legitimate challenger to Hillary Clinton. His focused, deliberate messaging and his connectedness to his fans and followers have helped him emerge in a more powerful way than anyone thought possible.
The lesson for business owners is not to run your business like a political campaign, but rather to take some of the tactics that have worked for Senator Sanders and use them to grow your own customer base. People want information, and if your business provides something of value, connecting those who value it to the information you have does them a great service. And it does even more for you, because when you spread your message through social media, you give them an opportunity to help spread it further. You can build your customer base and expand your offering to grow over time.
Focus and messaging are the most important aspects of this kind of social media campaign. Unfortunately, while Bernie Sanders does this as a significant part of his job, for many business owners, creating marketing content can be more of an interruption to what you do than an extension of it. Hiring the right company to help launch and run your social media marketing campaign can make all the difference. 1st in SEO will work with you and develop your social media presence to help you take advantage of the opportunities these platforms provide. Contact us today to get started.