The following online campaign tactics worked
In a midterm election that many were calling the most important in a generation, effective digital campaign strategies and social media use made a difference in a number of key races. According to Borrell Associates, $1.77 billion dollars were spent on digital advertising during the 2018 midterm election making up 20% of the total ad spend — indicating that social media continues to gain on broadcast TV as the primary way candidates reach voters.
An effective investment in social media means more than just sending a few well-worded tweets. From running ads on social networks to crafting creative social content, these four campaigns rode social media to victory:
Mike Braun, Indiana
Coming into a contentious Indiana Senate race, Republican Mike Braun framed himself as a political outsider ready to take on the establishment. To explain his business background and tell his story, Braun turned to social media. On Twitter, he highlighted his charitable behavior — including volunteer work and sizable donations — more than any other candidate in either party. He also outpaced his Democratic opponent on Facebook, earning significantly more Facebook interactions, particularly during the crucial home stretch of the race. This digital campaign strategy added up to victory for Braun, who unseated incumbent Joe Donnelly in a race many saw as a toss-up.
Ayanna Pressley, Massachusetts
Few thought Democrat Ayanna Pressley had a chance against 10-term incumbent Congressman Mike Capuano. Unlike her deep-pocketed opponent, Pressley’s campaign didn’t have the funds to run TV ads, so they instead created a 90-second ad that went organically viral on Facebook and Twitter. In this ad, Pressley rides public transportation across her district to highlight the economic disparity in the area. The ad reached a young excited demographic on social media and introduced Pressley to voters in a memorable, creative way. Her shocking 17-point victory against such an established candidate shows the cost efficiency of investing in social media advertising.
Josh Hawley, Missouri
The Missouri Senate race got fairly ugly this cycle, pitting incumbent Claire McCaskill against Attorney General Josh Hawley. Hawley’s eventual victory is a testament to the way a controversial ad can go viral and reach across media platforms. The ad that turned heads was Hawley’s controversial ad about pre-existing conditions, which was covered across the media landscape, from newspapers to cable news. Although not all voters had a positive view of the ad, it got people talking, which can still drive attention to a campaign. Hawley’s approach shows that an ad that strikes a chord online can reverberate beyond digital and pave the way to victory.
Sherrod Brown, Ohio
Every candidate has social media accounts — but how many are actually using these platforms creatively? During his re-election race, Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown innovated, taking to Instagram live to answer questions and react instantly to the latest news (it also didn’t hurt that his adorable dog Franklin made frequent cameos). While Brown’s race wasn’t particularly close, social media helped him maintain a close relationship with his constituents, one that will be ongoing in subsequent campaigns — or during a future presidential race.
The elections in 2018 altered the political landscape, resulting in plenty of upsets and history-making victories. At the heart of so many victorious campaigns was a commitment to developing a comprehensive digital campaign strategy and reaching voters on social media. It helped campaigns connect with their target audience, overcome disparities in campaign finances, and prepare them for re-election campaigns that are around the corner. It’s clear: social media advertising and usage by political candidates will continue to play a bigger and bigger role in politics in the coming years.
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