How to win friends and influence people (online)

BY MADISON FERNANDEZ, reprinted from PoliticoPro Morning Score

The internet isn’t real life. But it isn’t not real life, either.

Some political campaigns have infamously struggled to message on social media, sometimes stuck in a bind between following the whims of very online staffers and actually reaching voters who don’t live-and-breathe politics.

Enter Stuart Perelmuter, the founder of atAdvocacy, a firm that connects social media influencers to progressive campaigns and causes to spread their message. He argues that outsourcing is the key. He said that working with influencers is a tool that could help those who are social media savvy amplify their message — and help those who aren’t communicate their message more effectively.

The firm works with close to 200 accounts with a combined audience of over 50 million, and has worked to promote highly watched candidates over the last year, including Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice-elect Janet Protasiewicz in the race that determined ideological control of the court.

“I think we’re only a cycle or two away from people saying, ‘What are you doing with influencer advocacy?’” Perelmuter said. “And if the answer is, ‘We haven’t thought about that,’ then it will be political malpractice. But right now, people want to see the results.”

Your host spoke with Perelmuter about the role of political influencer marketing heading into 2024.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Why do you think that using influencers in this way is effective, specifically for progressive causes?

On social media, people can smell phony a mile away and it doesn’t resonate. If people are speaking what they truly believe, people listen. The other thing is, social media influence versus social media ads, there’s a huge credibility gap. The people that we work with have built credibility so that when they speak on a topic, their audience has already invested in those people. … We’ve seen what happens when posts go viral, is they take on a life of their own. And so I don’t think that there are many other avenues that can build so much starting from so little.

What do you think is the most important thing for a campaign to know if they haven’t done this before, but they want to utilize influencer advocacy?

Whether you love it or hate it, social media is a major part of everybody’s life and people are being influenced in ways that they know about and don’t know about. And if you as a campaign are not taking an active role in that arena, then you’re ceding that ground to somebody else.

Do you see this happening on the right, or is the left is owning this space?

No, it is happening on the right in a big way and in my view, in a much bigger and more nefarious way. … When I say ceding that ground to somebody else, that’s what I’m talking about, is you kind of have to work overtime to combat lies with truth. … I also think that a lot of what we do is not just getting facts out there, combating falsehoods, but it’s building enthusiasm and building the ways that people talk about certain things. So I always look back to my roots on the Hill and the Affordable Care Act and how the messaging around this very life-changing bill was botched because people couldn’t agree on how to talk about it. So that’s what we have the ability to do, is organically work into the mainstream effective ways to talk about the ways that Democrats are helping the American people.

What are some of the challenges that come along with influencer marketing?

I think the biggest challenges are what is happening on social media from day-to-day behind the scenes, algorithms shift. And I think that that can make all the players a little bit squeamish as they worry about what’s going to happen to their posts and their platforms. We’re multi-platform and we work with creators, we’re not focused so much on the accounts. … We sort of view it as like vaudeville television. We have relationships with the performers, with the creators, and we’ll travel with them wherever the next wave of social media takes us.

President Joe Biden’s approval rating is relatively low among young people. How do you think that plays into this type of outreach to young voters?

We’ve seen poll after poll that says that people aren’t feeling [the impacts of Biden’s policies] or aren’t aware of it. … I think that our job, number one, is both to communicate to young people how much the president has done to benefit them now and in the future, and how much more he can do if he was reelected.