Featured image of Bernie Sanders from the Bernie Sanders media kit.
At the onset of the 2016 presidential campaign season, Bernie Sanders and his anti-establishment campaign seemed an unlikely contender with the mainstream Democratic Party. But the margin is narrowing, and Sanders is gaining traction toward a Democratic presidential nomination. According to the most recent Bloomberg Politics poll, primary voters are pretty much split between Sanders and Clinton.
Sanders has also taken the lead in using social and content strategy to push his brand forward and expand the reach of his message. As the media landscape continues to evolve, the role of web content has become increasingly important in shaping political messages.
The past few years have seen substantial changes in social tools and technology. The year 2012 marked the first serious use of social media in a presidential election, and in that time, American smartphone ownership increased from 35 percent to 64 percent, according to Pew Research Center. This new state of mobile and an “always-on” connection to social is changing the way we consume news, as well as politics.
Decreased reliance on pushing messages through traditional media has changed the support structure of campaigns that previously lived inside that model, explained Anne Tillery, partner at Pyramid Communications. “With the advent of online technologies and social, where it’s really much more about a dialogue, causes and candidates have the opportunity to be content providers and generators and control their own message and own voice.”
Sanders has shown savvy across social media, using the #feelthebern tag across all social networks, and has a hand in creating his own content. “I play a very, very active role in writing, literally writing, what goes up there on Facebook,” Sanders said told the New York Times in May 2015. The authenticity of his posts ring true with his followers, who spread his shareable content and advance his key messages in significant numbers.
In fact, according to a report from George Washington University Graduate School of Political Management and Zignal Labs, Sanders was the only candidate to improve his net sentiment after declaring his candidacy. The study, which tracked mentions in news and social media, revealed that Sander’s “public echo” across the Internet continued to grow. While some of this can be attributed to several media appearances post-announcement, Sanders has effectively tapped into his online audience in contrast to Clinton and Trump, who have received much more mainstream media attention.
“[Candidates] have the opportunity to curate content in a way that was impossible when it was reliant on the filter of journalism to tell that story for you,” said Tillery. “So more and more, in many ways it’s a much more powerful tool because there’s more control.”
Democracy Daily, an online news journal specific to the Bernie Sanders campaign, publishes brief articles focused on Sanders’ key points. When announcing the online newspaper, Sanders wrote, “I see Democracy Daily as a place people can visit regularly to stay informed about the challenges we face – and what can be done about them.”
What distinguishes this platform from other news releases and rivals’ articles is that they are not solely promotional of Sanders and his campaign; rather, they focus on the core issue. By focusing on a main issue instead of the candidate, the content produces broader appeal, a wider reach, and sees greater organic shares.
For Sanders, content is a key force in shaping his personal brand — and has given him a fighting chance in the polls. “We’re entering into an era where people care more about actions than they do about words,”Tillery said. “The content that you share can’t be the hyperbolic rhetorical conditioning that sometimes permeates, because with the emergence of social and technology, people will call you on it.”