As political social media researchers, we examine how candidates present themselves, mobilize voters, engage with their viewers, and ultimately, the influence that these posts have on the electorate. With all of the excitement of the campaign we often overlook the question of, “How does a candidate drop out or lose gracefully on social media?” Is there a right way to do it? Below are some tips on how to effectively end a race and a recap of how 2020 Democratic Candidates Cory Booker and Julian Castro bowed out.
1.Be Authentic in the Announcement
It would be easy to fall back on cliché phrases – but try to resist. It is ok and warranted to let your personality come through in your post. Quitting is a difficult decision and losing can be harder – it is fine to acknowledge it. Below are the announcement posts from Booker and Castro. They both make an effort to thank their supporters – which is great. However, Castro’s text is a little too reserved – whereas, Booker's is more personalized and seems to be in his own voice (Source: Castro Facebook and Booker Facebook).
Both campaigns put out glossy, professionally edited videos on Facebook. These videos were well-done but took different approaches. Castro’s video, clocking in at 3 minutes and 48 seconds, took a sweeping overview of the campaign. It recapped their initial announcement of entering the race, key moments in the primary debate, emotional talking points, summarizing platforms, and thanking supporters. Unlike Castro’s Hollywood-like trailer, Booker’s 1:39 video takes a much more simple approach. It includes the origin story and an inspirational message to move ahead (i.e., Together we will rise). He then talks into the camera directly and the remainder of the video shows him with supporters campaigning and offering thanks. Again, Bookers approach is more personalized and arguably, more effective. Importantly, his video includes large text, whereas Castro’s is only captions making it much harder to read. Given that “mute” is the sound of social – this is not a trivial observation. Lastly, Castro doesn’t vary his approach between Facebook and Instagram. He provides the same text and video to both platforms. Booker offers an emotional photo that is emblematic of his Instagram's account look and feel.
Proposed Improvements: Both candidates could have included their announcement video in the Instagram Story Highlights.
Takeaways: Keep the announcement video short; Use Large Text (not just subtitles), Vary your approach to Instagram and Facebook; Don't professionalize the announcement - but rather speak from the heart/talk to the camera.
2. Thank your supporters! A lot…
Not only do you need to thank your supporters in the announcement – you should also have one or more separate social media posts immediately after conceding the race. Many volunteers have devoted days and weeks of their time to assist you in your campaign, whereas others have given up much more. Thanking goes well beyond good manners, but rather signals how you treat and value your supporters. This will serve you well in attempting a future run.
Castro’s campaign offered little in way of a thank you. The text included in their announcement video offered “profound gratitude to all of our supporters…” – but that was it. On Facebook, the announcement was posted on January 2nd and on January 6th he formally endorsed Warren for the nomination. His Instagram account offered no further expressions of gratitude outside of his announcement.
In contrast, Booker offered thanks in a variety of ways. The first post after his January 13th announcement was a video posted on Facebook and Instagram of a Rachel Maddow interview. The posts accompanying text concluded with “I’m so proud of my team and the campaign we ran.“ In addition, Booker posted a thank you post to his Newark Staff at a goodbye party and did multiple Instagram stories involving the same NJ party and one in Iowa. The Instagram stories (see below) were heartfelt and contained images of key supporters.
Proposed Improvements: While Booker did a good job thanking his supporters, it would have been nice to have a video highlighting specific supporters and giving more information in terms of what people have done to further your campaign. There also should have been more Facebook and Instagram posts offering gratitude; At least a post to acknowledge your Iowa staff (ok, I’m from Iowa – and may be a little biased…). It would be such a delight for a volunteer to be profiled on a candidate's page - let's make it happen. It will be shared!
Key Takeaways: Create multiple thank you posts. Highlight specific people/groups. Vary your thank yous for different platforms. Provide specific information on the # and amount of supporter help.
3. Make it personal
You may have given over all of your social media responsibilities to someone else. If you are fortunate, you are paying a specialist - but in reality, it is probably a volunteer or even a family member. Regardless, you, the candidate, need to create at least some posts. This is particularly true when you are winding down a campaign. Politicians have a choice - present solely a professional front or offer social media users a behind the scenes perspective. Frankly, voters already see plenty of professional you via traditional media; let us see the personal side. In truth, providing a personalized approach is something that needs to happen throughout a campaign – so how do you do it? First, simply talking directly into the camera is a good start. You also don’t need to film in a studio – images or video taken in your home or a supporter’s home will feel more natural and authentic. Use your phone camera like the rest of the world. Let us relate to you. Second, show the world the "normal" you. What do you look like in street clothes? without makeup? in your car? around your home? etc. What do you like to do for fun? What did you childhood look like? Awkward, throwback photos have a welcome home on Facebook and Instagram! Your social media account is there to give people an impression of you that don't always get through traditional media - give it to them. Third, social media is about relationships - use it to create and reinforce relationship with your voters. You need to respond, acknoweldge and honor your followers.
Regarding our candidates, Castro could have done a better job with personalization on Facebook. One notable exception is a portion of a video where Castro is formally endorsing Warren. While most of the video is a glossy showcase of how influential women were in Castro’s life – the portion where he appears to be in Warren’s kitchen is somewhat refreshing, but also contrived. It would have been better if the video was less produced. Booker also includes a portion of his video where he is talking directly to the camera from what appears to be a living room – yet, these are the only personalized messages within Facebook around the time of campaign suspension.
Instagram, by comparsion, is a deeper dive into Booker's personality and life. A number of his Instagram posts and Stories depict where he is eating and sometimes what he is eating (see below). He also acknowledges his girlfriend, Rosario Dawson, in numerous images. Instagram Stories are readily filmed with him talking into the camera and sometimes even singing. Lastly, he has opted to include inspirational quotes that presumingly mean something to him and are applicable to his current state of mind/campaign.
Castro does not frequently post on Instagram. Almost all of his posts or Stories have dealt with endorsing Warren. There was only a few Stories that offered a glimpse of what campaign office life looks like (i.e. white walls and posters) - but they offered no details that spoke to his personality.
Proposed Improvements: Booker may want to consider more "day in the life" posts and throwback pics - but overall does a good job personalizating his communication efforts. He does, however, need to include more personalized posts on Facebook. Castro simply needs more content across the board. Almost none of his posts reveal much about his non-professional side.
Key Takeaways: Candidates need to make their own posts; talk directly to the camera. Include both posts and Stories that depict aspects of your "normal" life - reveal your personal side. You need to reach out and both acknowledge and honor your voters by regramming photos/stories from your supporters and include posts about them.
4. Highlight Key Issues – Reinforce Your Message/Legacy
You fought the good fight and lost. Remind people about your platform – why you ran. Continually present news and information near and dear to your proposed policy issues. Post news articles highlighting why your policies are needed. Complement individuals/politicians that are providing policies consistent with your beliefs. It would also be good to have posts that do clearly summarize where you stand on policy issues. Providing simple bullet point lists is a good start.
Cory Booker has posted news articles a number of times on Facebook that relate to his policy issues. He also poses commentary about where he stands on the issue. After dropping out, the Castro campaign immediately endorsed Elizabeth Warren and began campaigning with her. His campaign posts on Facebook are now essentially her campaign posts. The only Facebook posts are those where he endorses her, announces events with Warren, and supports other democratic candidates. It feels like he may be the Vice-President pick. Presently, there is no longer anything about his campaign/focus on his issues, etc.
Proposed Improvements: While it is fine to endorse another candidate - make sure that you continue to seperately highligh issues that you care about (these should also be issues consistent with your endorsed candidate. Castro should not be giving up his identity so entirely to Warren.
Key Takeaways: Make sure you include posts that clearly summarize your policy issues/platform. Find and discuss popular events and news that relate to your issues. Highlight individuals that are doing work consistent with your your issues.
5. Keep Posting and Update Your Bio!
Unfortunately, your race is done. However, it doesn’t mean you stop posting on social media. You have already done the hard work of building a support base and having a consistent stream of content being posted – why throw that away? Your social media megaphone is still there – use it! Your audience will be smaller but you still have a voice and can be heard. Ultimately, you will decide what content you want to post – but at a minimum you can reinforce your key points (as discussed above). Outside of posting news articles and your commentary, be positive. Use quotes. Quotes do well with engagement. Acknowledge great things that are happening in your community – highlight voters in your precinct. Continue to be relatable – provide throwback images. Announce media appearances and provide the media coverage on the social media platform. Use candid family snapshots. Profile local businesses. Importantly – be consistent. You don’t need to post every day, but you need to establish a schedule that you can maintain. 1-3 times a week on Facebook and 3-5 times on Instagram with Stories throughout the week.
Again, Booker offers an interesting template as to what to do after a campaign. He is posting articles on Facebook that relate to his positions and interested. However, Instagram is much more personal and developed. He uses ample quotes, videos of where he is eating, responses to current events, posts about his supporters,regrams from his supporters and most importantly, he is consistently and frequently posting.
In contrast, Castro infrequently posts and often repeats what is on Facebook.
Lastly - make sure you update your bio information to reflect that you are no longer running - it shouldn't take you a month to change your status (FYI - this was true for both Booker and Castro on Facebook)!
Proposed Improvements: Castro needs to do a better job consistently and frequently posting on his social media accounts. Both candidates need to update their Facebook bio to reflect that they are no longer running.
Key Takeaways: Post consistently - figure our how often and do it. Also establish the types of posts you want to include - there are many options: Quotes, news, local politicans support, media appearances, events, policy discussions, local businesses, hobbies, highlight voters, family photos, pet photos, throwback thursday photos, and more!
While it may feel like the end - it isn't. Use your social media account after the campaign and set the stage for your chapter 2.
All the best! CM