When Bernie Sanders officially announced his candidacy in the 2016 presidential race on May 26, he did it the old-fashioned way…in a speech in his home town. Since then, though, he has become an overnight celebrity on Facebook with his plain statements about where he stands on issues facing the American people. The 73-year-old Vermont senator is known as a no-nonsense, tell-it-like-it-is type of guy and his Facebook posts reflect that. He usually uses original quotes that he says he often comes up with in the shower. He’ll often use a picture of himself, even if he’s not perfectly coiffed or his tie is a tad crooked. He also features photos of himself with everyday people and at speaking events. An example: “We must rebuild American manufacturing and rewrite our trade agreements so that our largest export is not our jobs.” He has taken “hope and change” to the next level: Revolution.
Hillary Clinton is Bernie’s most formidable opponent for the Democratic nomination and at this point, Bernie is definitely the underdog. Her resources far outweigh his, and she threw her hat in the ring about six weeks before Sanders. (Although Sanders did informally tell reporters back in April that he planned to run.) However, Bernie is certainly making a dent in the social network. Statistics on Facebook interactions between May 13 and June 13, put Clinton on top and Sanders at second. Early primary states, such as Iowa, show that Clinton had 289,000 interactions and Sanders had 153,000. In New Hampshire it was Clinton 145,000 to Sanders 123,000. In South Carolina, though, Sanders was crushed by Clinton with 460,000 to his 116,000. Of course, Bernie hadn’t even officially announced that he was running yet. (Source)
His social media strategy is based primarily on his own personal philosophy. He is quoted as saying, “I’m not some kind of tech nerd, I really am not. But I have always believed in communication, and not just photo ops and stuff, but educating people, and communicating with people about the real work that we’re doing.” His social media campaign has been somewhat organic. His quotes and ideas have been spread by social media users in a kind of grassroots social media movement. This has been especially apparent on the site Reddit, where readers vote posts to the top of the heap. “Among politicians, he is one of the most frequent posters to the site, and nearly a quarter of the top most-voted politics posts of all time on Reddit are about or by Mr. Sanders.” (Source)Tweets to #feelthebern appeared 6800 times per day between June 25 and July 1. #Hillary2016, only 2700. (Source) Sanders isn’t only using his own social media skills, though. He’s got help from the digital firm Revolution Messaging, including four members of the team that helped get Obama elected in 2008. (Source)
One of Bernie’s biggest assets when it comes to social media is consistency. And consistency builds trust, both of which aren’t always easy to come by in today’s politics. Anton Vuljaj, director of advertising at a consulting firm says, “He’s matching what he’s saying online to what he’s doing offline.”(Source) On July 1, Bernie had 10,000 people turn out in Madison, WI for the biggest political rally seen so far in this campaign. On July 6, it was followed by the biggest Democratic rally in Maine in 25 years, where 9500 turned out to support Bernie.
People are listening and feeling listened to. People are excited. Nathan Rieck, a sophomore at UW Madison attended the rally there. He says, “The atmosphere was electric. Politics isn’t a game for him. He speaks straight forward and just wants to bring good ideas to the table that will benefit the common person. I’m very excited to see how he can change American politics.” Bernie’s consistency, along with a social media team with a proven track record of success, and the momentum of his enthusiastic supporters might be the combination that will take him from Vermont to the hearts of the American people and on to the White House in 2016.