The Bernie Sanders Social Media Movement

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Barack Obama made history as the first presidential candidate to take advantage of social media as an effective campaign strategy. His team understood what user engagement meant and they implemented it to accomplish a goal: Obama logged 20 times as many retweets as Romney. The “Yes We Can” slogan gained more traction than anyone (including Obama himself) could have predicted. Not only did he and his team utilize social media to win the presidency, but he has continued to maintain an online presence during his time in office. His Twitter account (some tweets in particular) has helped him to keep much of the attention and support of the social media generation.

As one of the younger presidents in recent history, it seems intuitive that Obama would take full advantage of the opportunity social media offers. But as a 74-year-old candidate, Bernie Sanders is not the the first one who comes to mind when we think of social media experts. Despite his age and any preconceived notions we may have about the correlation between age and social media capabilities, Bernie and his campaign team have already used social media in a brilliantly organic way. I was very well aware of Bernie Sanders and his serious candidacy for President long before most older adults with whom I regularly talk politics. Every time I brought up Bernie, I was met with responses along the lines of “He won’t get very far.” I found those answers hard to believe. And our differences in opinions had very little to do with how well informed we all were or weren’t. It did, however, have everything to do with our level of social media usage.

On the websites I use frequently (Facebook, Twitter), Bernie was everywhere. I thought to myself: Everyone on Facebook loves this guy, maybe I should learn more about him. Many of my friends went through the same thought process. And so began the pattern of so many 20-somethings beginning to #FeelTheBern. Experts have found that the Bernie Sanders social media posts go against every rule in the book in terms of how and why they are successful. “He can post a quote graphic or a long text-only Facebook status, and it doesn’t really matter what the algorithm favors,” said Laura Olin, who was in charge of Obama’s 2012 social media campaign strategy. His posts consistently perform better than Hillary’s. But why, exactly? For one, he largely writes them himself. Which tweets do we love to see from Obama? The ones with the “-bo” signature at the end, of course. We know he typed those words himself. We want to feel like the President is “one of us.”

Bernie said of his own posts: “Usually, it’s in the shower where something pops into my head,” Mr. Sanders said, adding, “I play a very, very active role in writing, literally writing, what goes up there on Facebook.”

Bernie’s authentic approach to social media has led to a surge in financial support for his campaign. By the end of this past September, he had reached 1 million individual online donations. He was the first 2016 candidate to reach this number. Hillary has received substantial criticism for her large amount of corporate donations, and Bernie’s support has been just the opposite. His grassroots campaign greatly mirrors that of Obama. But will he find the same success?

How do you feel about the Bernie Sanders social media strategy? Is it authentic or is it just that: a strategy? Let us know in the comments just how many people you think he can persuade to #FeelTheBern for #Bernie2016.

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