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Social Media in Politics with Dave Sommer


This week Elizabeth chats with Dave Sommer, Vice President of Strategic Communication at Enterprise Canada, former Head of Politics and Government at Instagram in Washington, D.C., and former Deputy Director of Communications, Digital, for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in Ottawa. They chat about the use of social media in political campaigning, where personal influence fits in, and how it has evolved over time.


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Episode Transcript: Social Media in Politics with Dave Sommer


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Elizabeth: [00:00:04] Welcome to Wonks and War Rooms, where political communication theory meets on the ground strategy. I'm your host, Elizabeth Dubois. I'm an associate professor at the University of Ottawa and University Research Chair in Politics, Communication and Technology. My pronouns are she/her. Today we're talking about social media and political campaigns with Dave Sommer. Dave, can you introduce yourself, please?


Dave: [00:00:24] Hello. Thanks for having me on the show, Elizabeth. Dave Sommer, pronouns he/him. I am the Vice-President of Strategic Communications at Enterprise Canada and the Associate Creative Director at our sister agency, Creative Currency, which is a creative agency and PR firm in Toronto. Previous to this, I was the head of politics and government at Instagram in Washington, D.C. and before that, I was leading Prime Minister Trudeau's digital team in Ottawa in that first term, and before my foray into politics, I was a journalist. I was a writer, a reporter and a producer for many years in Montreal and Toronto at a few different media outlets. That's me in a nutshell.


Elizabeth: [00:01:00] That's perfect. I am so excited to have you for today's conversation. I think it's going to be really interesting, particularly given all those hats you've worn over the years. So for today, we're going to be talking about social media in political campaigns. As you know, this season of Wonks and War Rooms, we're diving into personal influence in politics and the social aspect of social media, I think, really impacts that. So what I wanted to start with is a little bit of background on some of the kind of common wisdom that has informed a lot of campaigning and has come out of the literature, then question whether or not it makes sense for you. And then, we'll get into some examples from the work you've done.


Dave: [00:01:42] Sure, let's do it. Let's dive right in.


Elizabeth: [00:01:44] All right. So social media is often framed as a tool that's really great for helping you connect with your existing base. It's really great for potentially mobilizing people who are already on your side. Less great for getting new folks on board, less great for reaching folks who have not opted in. And that is backed up by the literature [for more information, see: Weapons of Mass Consumption: Social and Digital Media in Political Campaigns, Social Media’s Role in Political and Societal Mobilization, or Wikipedia’s article on social media use in politics, B but, [this understanding] really relies on an understanding of social media before TikTok became a thing where you get fed things from people you don't necessarily follow, was largely done in a context before social media. Influencer marketing was really part of the game, before relational campaigning strategies became popular with Covid jumping up, and all of a sudden, campaigns are saying, "Hey, volunteers, can you email, text and post on your social media to all of your friends and family, because we can't actually go physically door knocking?" [For example, Bimber’s discussion of the strategic use of social media for voter mobilization and fundraising, “Digital Media in the Obama Campaigns: Adaptation to the Personalized Political Communication Environment”.] So, question one is just like, does that old wisdom hold true anymore? Do you see changes? What do you think?


Dave: [00:02:48] First of all, that is the most heavyweight preamble of a question I've ever heard or ever been asked in a podcast. I think there's a lot of different ways to approach it. I think, you know, first things first, it always reminds me of the old saying, which is, when you're door knocking in politics, don't spend more than four seconds trying to convince someone to join your team. If you knock on that door and they slam your door like, get the hell off my property, they spit at you, then you go, "Thank you very much, have a great night." And you move on, because you're not door knocking to change minds. So social media comes along and you're like, are you? Are you door knocking to change minds online? Are you trying to change minds? And look, there is a certain advantage to a post going super viral, to getting new eyeballs and so forth. But if you're saying that a super viral tweet by someone is going to turn a conservative person into a progressive person, probably not. Are you going for that person in the middle? You absolutely can benefit from that, if need be. Are you exclusively preaching to the choir? Also not. So there's a lot of factors that come into play. And back in the day when we were coming up with Justin Trudeau, who was leader of the Liberal Party, he was this supernova of a phenomenon that was obviously taking people in the middle, disaffected light conservatives and bringing them over to his side 100%. Was that because of the tweets? I don't know, this was because it was a time for a generational change in this country.


Dave: [00:04:06] And Stephen Harper had been prime minister for nine years, or whatever. And here was this new guy and his Trudeaumania 2.0. So our job was to make sure that we rode [the Trudeaumania] wave properly. Our job was to get on our surfboard and go, let's do everything we can to keep this wave going, which is doing social media in a new way that we'd never done before. Now, fast forward all these years, and you have everything you talked about, which is number one, influencer marketing, which is really interesting. So, is an influencer from some other field that's not politics having Justin Trudeau or Pierre Poilievre on his Instagram account going to convince people? You never know. You certainly do see this new wave of younger men, predominantly - [men] who are moving to a more conservative way of being online as compared to women. And they are being very attracted to a lot of these new voices who are not traditionally political voices. Obviously, A1 is Joe Rogan and others. So, saying a certain way of existing online politically cannot attract new people, I think is not entirely accurate. But at the same time, when you are going "rah rah rah," all out for your person on social media, you also have to expect that you are preaching to a choir and just hoping to get bigger access to the choir as time goes on.


Elizabeth: [00:05:28] That makes sense. And the example of Joe Rogan and other people who are getting really big online gathering followings, but then also are coming from a particular ideological perspective. Maybe you're talking about particular issues, have particular political stances. It also shifts the dynamics a little bit, because then we're not just talking about a campaign's own strategy. There's part of it that's put out onto what we call in Canada, the “third parties” -, these actors who are engaged in politics but aren't themselves a political party. Is that changing the way social media strategy works for a specific political campaign?


Dave: [00:06:07] Good question, because I'll again go back to the example of younger men skewing a little bit more conservative now. A lot of these folks will tell you (or a lot of people I speak to) will say, "Listen, I'm not partisan. I'm just leaning this way,” or “I'm more libertarian". And in my head I'm like, "Yeah, but your view- and there's nothing wrong with that- but your views are lining up with those of the conservative party's. And that's fine. That's the way, that's the direction in which you're trending, so that's fine". And I always say, "Look, the current prime minister has also been in power for nine years, and it's completely normal to look around at the alternatives and to think of, 'what else are we looking at?'" And so are people going, "I'm going to support this guy,” or, “I'm going to listen to this podcast because it's aligned with the Conservative Party of Canada at the federal level or other provincial conservative parties"? I don't know. But at the same time, they say, “the voter is always right and you have to give voters a lot of credit”. And if they are looking at the current political system and the current social media landscape and going, "I'd rather listen to this podcast instead," or, "I'd rather do this instead," then so be it. As a progressive person myself, as someone who's been in progressive politics, I'm always wondering, "What are we doing to develop our own attractive messaging as opposed to going, oh yeah, there's a boogeyman [...]?".


Elizabeth: [00:07:20] And so, what's being done?


Dave: [00:07:22] I'm semi-retired, I'm out of the game. That is a great question. I think folks at the federal liberal level, or for example, at the Ontario liberal level (where I live now), have to really be asking themselves, "How on earth are we going to package a coherent message?" In the case of the federal liberals', our guy has been around for nine years. There is a ton of baggage. At the same time, you can point to a lot of [Liberal Party] successes. But, when you keep pointing those successes over and over again with the same messaging, you notice there's diminishing returns. And so, how can you get out there in a much more authentic, genuine way? Certainly, when we're talking about social media, in a way that doesn't look like you are copying and pasting talking points onto Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, it's going to be a huge success. 


Dave: [00:08:10] At the provincial level, you've got an unpopular conservative premier who nobody bothered to show up to the polls to unseat last time. You've got a guy who's just existing in office and the Ontario Liberals necessarily going through a rebuild right now, and so that's going to be really interesting to understand. What are we [the provincial Liberals] going to say? What is the messaging that we're going to go with beyond, "listen, Doug Ford is a boogeyman!"? So, how do you get there and say to folks, "Here's what we did", or in the case of the federal Liberals, "here's what we did, here's the successes we had, and here's how we're going to make your life better over the next four years. And please, forget about all the scandals". In the case of the provincial Liberals, I really think it's a case of going, "Doug Ford's been premier all this time. Can you point to significant accomplishments? You know, can you point to things besides these little penny ante things he does with alcohol, or who-knows-what that have genuinely made your life better?". I hope they do that. But most importantly - and this is going to sound super shallow - I really wish the time would come to really unleash a leader's charisma on the Ontario Liberals. Bonnie Crombie is the new leader, and I know she has a lot of charisma, so I'm waiting to see that moment where you... Let Bonnie be Bonnie, or let others be others.


Elizabeth: [00:09:21] Yeah, that idea of unleashing charisma, I think is really interesting because we see, particularly online, a lot of expectation that our messages are going to come from folks with charisma, with personality, and that's even connected in research on social media influencers. It's connected to the idea of authenticity. People respond to messages that feel like they're coming from real people, and trust it in a way that they don't necessarily trust things that aren't coming from the real person. [For more on authenticity, see the season 1 Wonks and War Rooms episode Authenticity with Kevin Parent.]


Dave: [00:09:54] Yeah. There is a fear that permeates so much of political social media that's like, "If we step out of the box, we'll get cooked. And if we do this, we will get absolutely cooked.” And so therefore we're going to stick to the, “hey, I'm super honoured and pleased to hand over this big check and accept this plaque,” and, “look what we did to make your life better," as opposed to showing a little bit of a raw, authentic side. And that speaks to one of the problems that we're seeing now, which is, since when do you have to be super funny to connect on social media? Since when do you have to have this super big amount of personality? And I don't know since when, but it's true. This is kind of the way that it's going to go. 


Dave: [00:10:33] And if you look at, for example, Donald Trump, for better or for worse, this was a guy who just unloaded his every thought onto Twitter at all hours of the day. And what ended up happening? The traditional media were like, "Please, yes, give us more. Hook it directly to our news ticker on the cable news channel." Which is why, coincidentally, yes, a lot of people blame social media for Trump's rise. But I'm like, "Cable news was so fundamentally complicit in [Trump’s rise] because they couldn't get enough of this guy." And so that's the ultimately charismatic and yes, funny guy wielding that charisma like a damn flamethrower. 


Dave: [00:11:05] So how, for example, as a progressive, can you do that in a way that gets people's hopes up again, that gets people thinking, "Okay, you know what? We're going to unseat Stephen Harper (for example). And now, with Pierre Poilievre poised to win the next election, what do we do about that?" So, charisma wise, you could tell [Poilievre is] testing different things, obviously trying to figure out what works. And he's sort of moving into this, "I speak in this no nonsense, low-key way in my ads because I'm the low-key guy. Never mind razzle dazzle GQ Trudeau, we're moving into a new era now." [For example, see: Poilievre builds ‘personal campaign message’ with debut campaign ad.] I don't know if that's going to work or not, but online, he has almost like a totally different persona. So, it's really interesting to see where things are going to go with him.


Elizabeth: [00:11:49] Yeah, I think that different persona - and even you can see it across different kinds of platforms… There are some people who create different tones for the messages across different platforms, and then some where you see kind of the same thing posted platform-to-platform-to-platform.


Dave: [00:12:04] That's a problem you get everywhere, not just in politics. Even in our clients where I work now, it’s like “Listen, there's only one person to handle the social [media] - how can we differentiate the message between platforms?


Elizabeth: [00:12:15] It's a lot of work. When I first got into all of this - I was working as a comm[unications] assistant for an MP during my undergrad - social media was the cheap thing. It was so easy, you could pay an undergrad student to do it and you're good to go. That is not where we are anymore.


Dave: [00:12:34] Yeah. You know when you see on Twittera fun tweet from a brand and everyone's like, “give the intern a raise!”? [For example: this Reddit post about giving the Mets social media intern a raise and this Twitter post about giving Joe Biden’s intern a raise.] I'm like, “ain't no intern handling the social media for a fortune 500 company, trust me on that”. But very often, it is just one person dealing with 55 layers of approval that they have to cut through with a machete.


Elizabeth: [00:12:50] Yeah. We've talked a little bit about the campaign, particularly from the leader perspective (the top-level messaging). But then, a lot of the promise of social media has been this [potential for it to be a] democratizing force. We have this ability for ground-up engagement (which I am skeptical of in some ways). I wonder if you could talk a little bit about your perspective on that, on the folks who kind of bubble up and get engaged in politics because they have social media. Or maybe that's a facade: it's not because they have social media [that they bubble up] - they were always there, they're just wielding [social media].


Dave: [00:13:32] I feel like the type of person who gets into politics, I've learned, has been wanting to get into politics since they were ten years old. Social media or not, the business attracts a type. But what we're seeing now on both sides in the U.S. is these people who become these quasi-influencers and then run for office and get into politics, or people who've understood the power of digital all over the world and can get into politics that way. Now, to go back to your first question, which is: do you really still have this organic from-the-ground-up power to get noticed on social? You absolutely do. That comes back to authenticity. If you're in Congress in the U.S., for example, and you become this renegade truth teller, like Katie Porter -the congresswoman with the white board. So she parlayed her real world authenticity into a really interesting way of existing online. The gold standard - of course,  AOC [American Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez], who would turn on Instagram live at midnight, and either build Ikea furniture or take constituents' questions - is great, right? That is a picture perfect way to do that. And the examples on the right are many as well. So you can say, "Look, if you know how to do it really well, you will absolutely get a lot of engagement. But if the social media for a middle aged, busy politician is 100% handled by a staffer, you're going to lose a bit of that touch."


Dave: [00:14:50] And it is difficult to get noticed now, especially when the platforms- certainly Meta where I used to work- have all said, “We are de-prioritizing political content - people don't want to see that stuff.” [See: Reducing Political Content in News Feed on Facebook and Meta’s Approach to Political Content on Instagram and Threads.]  So, it's complicated. In an election year, the eyes of the country are on you anyway, so there is a lot of opportunity to break through when people are looking, especially if you're able to distil your message into plain language to take on your opponent in an interesting way online. Now you talk about TikTok. There's a lot of concern now that TikTok, which was this huge discovery engine enabling anyone to go viral like a rocket ship at any time, is trending away from that and is doing what all the other platforms do now: prioritizing big creators [and] gaming its algorithm for things that it thinks people want to see. We're seeing this new thing now: [TikTok is] asking people to shoot in horizontal video, and people are like, "What on earth are you doing?" Sooner or later, right? It happens to every platform. I think it was Cory Doctorow who coined the term "enshittification" of social media platforms. They get big enough, and then all of a sudden it's time to maximize views, ad revenue, [and] try to put yourself in a position to look as corporately appealing as possible. And all of a sudden TikTok is going, “Hey there, make sure you shoot horizontal,” and people are losing their minds.


Elizabeth: [00:16:04] Yeah. The growth of TikTok and the way that it shifts over time has been really fascinating to watch. I think it also connects to what you were saying about Meta and other very large companies being like, "You know what? We want out of the politics game. We do not want to have to deal with the stress that this is causing. Nobody wants to see politics anyway. It causes too much grief." [For a discussion of how changes in platform network structures can influence political campaigning, see The Digital Architectures of Social Media.]


Dave: [00:16:28] Yeah. I'm sitting there in the Instagram political outreach department, going, "Oh! Great!" [while] reading this in-house memo, and then thinking, "You can try to get out of politics, but politics will find you” [a paraphrase of the famous quote “Just because you do not take an interest in politics doesn't mean politics won't take an interest in you."] My old director at Facebook, Katie Harbath, has been really hammering home this idea that 2024 is a year of massively important elections around the world. So try as they might in the U.S., the social media companies [who] say "We want out of this business. We're tired of being dragged between red and blue. It's a no win situation for us…." Well, it's happening. So, “What are you doing, as much as possible, on the integrity side and on the trust and safety side to get those teams back up to what you tried to build after 2016 and Trump and all that?” is a great question because a lot of us don't work there anymore.


Elizabeth: [00:17:16] Exactly. And we're seeing [that], with [social media] trust and safety teams also having been slashed, when there are sudden, really politically important and volatile situations, teams having to be scraped together and suddenly, there's no institutional knowledge behind massive decisions that need to be made. [To learn about institutional knowledge, see The Loss Of Institutional Knowledge.]


Dave: [00:17:37] Right. And what's going to happen is you're going to have some weird AI thing that's going to happen in like, August of this election year in the U.S., and then finally that'll make things click for folks and they will scramble the teams and all the rest. I'm not trying to be facetious. I know there are a lot of smart, really serious people working on these problems right now -  just less than there used to be. And it's got a lot of people sounding the alarm bell.


Elizabeth: [00:17:59] Yeah. You brought up Katie's argument of, "This is a major election year all around the world,” and I think that there's going to be too much for journalists to track and do appropriate holding of account. It's a bit scary.


Dave: [00:18:16] A little bit! But you know, let's all count on the good faith and good nature of all the players in Canada's political system, to not take it too far and to not post outrageous conspiracy theories and deep fakes online, right? We can all agree that's not going to happen?


Elizabeth: [00:18:29] Yeah! Everyone's going to be perfectly in line. We're going to be transparent. There's going to be disclosure. I'm so excited.


Dave: [00:18:36] The meme accounts will be on their best behaviour.


Elizabeth: [00:18:38] So you brought up that the platforms, Meta in particular, is deprioritizing political content. We've talked a little bit about the scariness of that since it's impossible to completely do. Can you talk a bit, though, about what some of these big platforms have done in the past in terms of political engagement? So there's like, "I voted" stickers [on Instagram] and…


Dave: [00:19:00] Yeah, it's funny that you say that. The "I voted" stickers were my thing for a while. I was hired to work on political outreach and myself and John Tass-Parker, who came from the Australian Prime Minister's office, worked on this project. And, you know, they were a really fun and light way to get people engaged in politics on the platform, which is : They open IG [Instagram], they open the sticker tray, and if it's an election week in your country, you'll have the "I voted" sticker on. 


Dave: [00:19:24] Then, for the 2020 election in the U.S., that was probably the peak of Mark Zuckerberg wanting to engage everyone in politics as much as possible. The murder of George Floyd had just happened. It was a time of great chaos in the U.S., and I think we all understood this was going to be a massively world changing election. And we got to do something about it. And so, for example, we had what we call the Voter Information Center. So, if you're logging in and it's primary day or it's voter registration deadline in your state or your county, then you'd have a box that popped up and you'd be directed to this voter information center where you get information about how to register to vote or where to vote, for example. A lot are really useful things, to the point where people have said, "Okay, maybe this is too much," because then you had any post that, for example, mentioned politics or the election at the time would get a little tag on it that said, "It looks like you're talking about the election, click here for more information." And that was made fun of a little bit. But you know, I'm happy that we did it at the time. I'm happy that we stood up and were counted as a team within a big company that had been accused of, rightly or wrongly, so many crimes against democracy in 2016. [We were thinking,] “In 2020, we're going to do everything we can from an engagement perspective, separate from trust and safety, to get people, at the very least, excited about this election.”


Dave: [00:20:42]  And in 2022, for the US midterms, it was kind of the same thing on a smaller scale, but we were able to take that playbook and run it again and make sure people understood there's an election here, stand up and make your voice count.


Elizabeth: [00:20:54] Thank you for giving that overview of those different things. I think that's super helpful. Makes me wonder how you measured the success of those programs. What did you think of when you were deciding whether or not this went well?


Dave: [00:21:08] That is a great question. Perhaps a lot of it is unmeasurable. One thing I didn't mention in my previous answer was influencer partnerships and collab[oration]s, getting people to the polls, celebrities [that partnered with us] talking about how we get people to the polls. That was great stuff. So can you say, "Okay, there was a bump in voter registrations in this state because they all clicked from a Meta platform?" Tough to say, because a lot of those secretaries of state don't want to give us that information. They don't want to say, “Here's how many people signed up based on clicks from your website or clicks from your app.” So it's a little bit tricky. But at the end of the day (this is going to sound corny), if one person registered to vote based on a thing that I did and then went and voted and made their voice heard, whereas maybe they wouldn't have done it before then, that's cool to me. Is it cool to a large corporation that's trying to keep their head down and not be hauled before Congress all the time, like Mark Zuckerberg was this week? Maybe not, but politics will find you. So, in my opinion, why back away?


Elizabeth: [00:22:11] Yeah, I think the politics-will-find-you point is really salient for me right now. Because, thinking about the Canadian case with Bill C-18 and the [new removal of] news links on Meta and other places. And then, you see all of these influencers and regular folks being like, "All right, I'm gonna green screen a screenshot of the news article I want to talk about, and then just give you all of the information so that we can evade this simple algorithmic approach."


Dave: [00:22:45] So fascinating. First of all, my two former employers fighting very publicly is very interesting to be asked about. But yeah, I sincerely hope they reach an agreement. I think this is a completely untenable and weird situation. But what was really fascinating was seeing the rise of more Gen Z influencers on TikTok or on Reels appearing in front of these green screens explaining the news in this really genuine way (which I love). But then you see those comments that are like, "Wow, amazing. The mainstream media doesn't tell you this." And I'm like, "You're literally reading a mainstream media headline." But to them it's like, “No, this has been blocked for some arcane reason of politics that nobody's necessarily trying to follow that closely.” So it's fascinating.


Elizabeth: [00:23:27] Yeah. The [phenomena of] "’No one's telling you this!’ except [that] literally, it's behind you” is a really interesting thing. But then, there is something to be said (and this is probably bigger than the conversation we can have today) for the way we interact with our information environment. It's not just about,“Is the content out there?” It's also about, “How is it being delivered to us, and is it being filtered to us in a way that feels like it's being hidden or not hidden?” And I think that's kind of what those comments are getting at. The delivery system was off.


Dave: [00:23:59] Yeah, I have to check my crotchety old madness at the door because I know it's there when I see these kids on TikTok going, "Nobody tells you this!" because that is the fault of the legacy media organizations. So, if these kids are like, "I'm finding this, and wow! This is a fascinating news story you didn't hear about or you didn't hear about in school." Like, that's on [the mainstream agencies]. That's on the mainstream agencies who took forever to understand social media. I was working at CTV at the time when Facebook was coming out and when Twitter was becoming a thing. At the time, it took years for them to realize this is not just a place to gather news or to go look at some condolences on somebody's Facebook page when they die, so we could screenshot them. This is a place where we should have a presence, we should be getting news out. At the same time, the platforms royally (maybe one would say) did the news organizations wrong by saying, "Come! Come on to our platform and build a presence here". And then [the platforms turn around and] tweak the algorithm and say, we're not prioritizing news anymore. I realize I just talked myself into a circle, and you realize it's a pretty untenable situation. And the result of that, is a kid on TikTok going, "Here's what I just found about this thing!" And, you know, it blows up - it gets a million views. That is the brave new world we're in.


Elizabeth: [00:25:05] Absolutely. And I'll just do a little promo teaser for a future episode this season. I'[ll be] chatting with Rachel Gilmore, who's a super interesting example of a trained journalist who's worked in journalism in many mainstream outlets, but has transitioned to a TikTok-Instagram model as a freelancer. So, we're chatting a ton. [The episode will be released  a few weeks from when this airs [and will be about] about news influencers.


Dave: [00:25:32] Yeah. And talk about riding a wave on a surfboard, right? She gets laid off and has parlayed this just truly evil, misogynistic hate that comes at her into a different path in mainstream media and carving out a different way, in a way that we haven't really seen in Canada that much. That certainly exists in the US. But she's doing it on her own. And good luck to her. [For more information on Rachel’s experience, see: Global News Layoffs Send Chilling Message To Women Journalists Facing Harassment.]


Elizabeth: [00:25:54] Yeah, yeah. All right. I want to switch gears just a little bit. You mentioned briefly the idea of celebrities and celebrity endorsements [and] the idea of social media influencers. I'm also really interested in the user generated content campaign volunteers [who] aren't necessarily famous in the world, but have personal relationships with folks. And I wonder if you could speak a bit about how, from a campaign perspective, those different kinds of clumps of actors might be involved in a comm[unication] strategy or in a get-out-to-vote campaign, because they all have different roles to play. But I would imagine the way you think about their potential to influence is different.


Dave: [00:26:40] Yeah. And if you're thinking like a political old timer comm[unication]s brain is, you secure this endorsement so that the Globe and Mail says, "Oh!, so-and-so endorses candidate X". And you're like, "Yes! Good. All right. We got a mention in the Globe". Nothing against the Globe and Mail. But I think we're now moving into a world where slowly but surely, the people who make these decisions at the highest level in politics understand that getting you on with a gamer on Twitch that nobody in the mainstream media has ever heard of is a win in and of itself, because the Twitch community goes, "Aha! That's fun. That's interesting." And so, that is wonderful. But of course, the danger and I'm not going to name names (Jagmeet), but the danger is that you sort of over-rotate in that direction, and you are the coolest dude on the internet, and nobody votes for you anyway [see: NDP uses Singh's appeal, social media to attract younger environmental voters]. I remember after the election last time, on Jagmeet's pages, people going, "I was so sure we were going to win. What the hell?" You know, the energy was so real, and it didn't translate because of whatever traditional reasons why the NDP [New Democratic Party] doesn't win elections necessarily. So, you have to be careful not to put too many eggs in that basket politically. It's cool, it's interesting, you're relatable. But if you're dabbing with someone, is that going to result in one extra vote? [See: The Use of TikTok for Political Campaigning in Canada: The Case of Jagmeet Singh.]  I don't know, right? You just have to be true to yourself. And I say this as if I'm like this campaign veteran, but, if you're doing something that's way out of scope for yourself, it's going to ring a little bit weird. If you have people who match with your mission, who speak authentically and who you're a natural fit for, then great. Do that as much as possible.


Elizabeth: [00:28:21] Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. For many decades, well before the internet was a major thing for most of us, studies have shown that the candidate that you want to have a beer with is the candidate you're more likely to vote for. But if you also don't think that that candidate or that party is going to be able to do the things that you want to see done in politics, then the beer doesn't actually matter that much.


Dave: [00:28:50] It's a great point. It's worth noting that Donald Trump and Joe Biden both don't drink. So, who would you rather have a beer with? I mean, I'm being a little bit facetious, as Obama was a big beer guy and, let's have the “beer summit”. Justin Trudeau will have one beer at [an event], politely sip on it and then leave. That beer thing is a hilarious way to look at it -  I think it just means, “Who most closely aligns with my values?” I think progressives get a lot of things wrong when we say, "Oh, conservatives are voting against their own interests." We always say that as progressives. Well, no, they were interested in voting for that guy who spoke to them on a level they understood, and that's all it is. So, [if] you understand how to speak to people on a level they understand, then you're in good shape.


Elizabeth: [00:29:38] That's excellent. Okay. We are running out of time. So, I am going to end it with the final question of all episodes, which is a pop quiz.


Dave: [00:29:49] Uh oh.


Elizabeth: [00:29:49] So normally, I ask you to define something, but instead I'm going to ask you a slightly different short answer question : when we're thinking about social media in politics from a campaign perspective, who's the audience you're trying to reach?


Dave: [00:30:10] Glad you asked! The audience is everyone (and I will say that until I'm blue in the face). Because for paid, it's different - you want to perhaps micro-target people who are likely to vote for you, [or] people who voted for you or similar causes in the past. But when you are on organic social media, your audience is everyone because you are trying as much as possible to be yourself and trying to be your authentic self. So why shouldn't you show that to everyone?


Elizabeth: [00:30:36] Wonderful! Thank you so much. This has been a really, really wonderful conversation. I appreciate you taking the time.


Dave: [00:30:42] Thanks so much, Elizabeth. A pleasure to be on.


Elizabeth: [00:30:45] All right. That was our episode on social media in political campaigns with Dave Sommer. I hope you enjoyed it. As always, we've got links to a bunch of different resources in the show notes, and you can find our annotated transcripts in English and French that link out to a ton more resources. 


As I mentioned, we have an upcoming episode with Rachel Gilmore on news influencers. We also have another episode coming up with Nate Lubin looking at political influencers. And down the road, Hamish Marshall and I are going to be talking about targeting and personalization in politics. So lots to build off of this episode. I hope you come and listen. To get those episodes delivered right to your feed, remember to subscribe! 


This season of Wonks and War Rooms is supported in part by the University of Ottawa's University Research Chair in Politics, Communication and Technology. I also want to acknowledge that I am recording from the traditional and unceded territory of the Algonquin people, and I want to pay respect to the Algonquin people, acknowledging their long standing relationship with this unceded territory.



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