Our Online Message: We Got Nothing

There’s a long article up at the Daily Beast that we need to read and consider:

Biden Won the Battle—but Dems Are Losing the Social Media War

Insular, impenetrable worlds are developing online that Democrats aren’t reaching or matching. It didn’t doom them in 2020. It could down the road.

We’ve touched on this topic before, essentially that the world has moved on from broadcast to online/streaming and the Dems are still treating advertising (let alone messaging) in terms of traditional messages, means, and formats, and they are missing where the eyeballs are, and at what those eyeballs are looking.

I started out in advertising and so I know the general principles of targeting, and I do believe in them. Early on, I remember looking up the demos of assorted programs and I would learn that it appeals to women between the ages of 18 and 49, or some such thing. It was so broad as to be useless, that demo would cover bubblegum and age-spot creams, but in the ’80s you took what you could. In our modern world, advertisers can pinpoint people who are left-handed, drive a stick shift, and own a jerk bird and tailor the message for that person.

It is a long article (it really could use some tightening), but there are some passages scattered throughout that get to the nugget:

But [Tara McGowan, a leading Democratic digital strategist] and other Democrats steeped in the world of digital politicking say the party ended up spending all its time fighting the last war rather than anticipating the next one. Determined to put up raw numbers that rivaled past Republican dominance on platforms like Facebook and YouTube, they failed to grasp what makes for a truly effective digital strategy. It’s not about flooding the zone with paid content, these Democrats say. It’s about building lasting infrastructure that speaks the language of the tens of millions of voters—and growing—who grew up on these platforms and navigate the digital world in ways that can’t be mapped or exploited by decades old political advertising strategies…

“They’re still applying a traditional, poll-tested message deployed in a broadcast manner across channels to traditionally modeled universes of voters,” McGowan said of party leaders. “Even though they’re spending more to reach these voters online, they’re not rethinking who these people are, what messages really resonate with them.”

They continue (emphasis mine):

But the party is divided about how much to prioritize the digital space. There are factions, which include McGowan, that have invested in creating a constellation of online advertisers and content hubs, including a controversial network of localized quasi-news outlets. There are others, however, who think the onus right now has to be on counteracting and limiting the reach of the false and misleading information spreading on social media networks.

That’s playing defense, that’s not winning. The second you do that, you’ve allowed the other side to frame the argument.

“We don’t care about having the one viral video that everyone saw but didn’t actually achieve our goals,” said Becca Rinkevich, director of political programs at the digital firm Bully Pulpit. “We care about showing a united force and having these other credible voices weigh in. It’s a lot more work to do that sort of disciplined message.”

One size fits all in a world where everyone now can customize their inputs. It’s more of that earnest (and to my thinking, condescending)  “When they go low, we go high” approach and of course thinking that if we can just get them to listen to all the facts on our side in this 200-slide deck… and we’ve lost them.

Not everyone in the firmament is trapped in amber in the 20th century:

David Goldstein, the CEO of the digital media organization Tovo Labs and a former Obama pollster, estimated that he was on “at least one to two hundred different conference calls” with Democrats this cycle and heard only one person mention talking to Trump voters on Facebook.

“If you were to say to the Democrats, ‘OK, there’s this evangelical group that are 80 percent against you,’ the immediate Democratic response is ‘Whoa, we’ll never catch them,’” he said. “Tell a Republican group that ‘Hey, this group of urban Black women are 94 percent against you,’ [and] they immediately think, ‘Oh! This 6 percent is for us.’”

If you consider this insight into the Republican online philosophy, you might be hearing an echo of Dr. Dean: you cannot win that 80%  or even the other 20% with zero messages.

So here’s the thing: I think AOC’s misunderstood criticism was actually spot-on:

Last week, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) publicly chastised her fellow Democrats for not making more robust investments in digital advertising. But much of it, those in the field say, is in building the type of news and organic content ecosystem that can match the scale that currently exists on the right.

“The issue is that when you look at campaign engagement, most of the ad spending is not about persuasion, it is about donor and supporter acquisition,” said Ari Rabin-Havt, Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-VT) top campaign aide and a longtime operative at the intersection of traditional and digital politics. “That’s only one part of what campaigns need to do to succeed.”

The only Democratic ads I saw in the wild were telling me to donate (usually a ghastly YouTube bumper ad of Chuck Schumer in bad lighting) and no story, no message, no compelling content. I had to go out of my way to find the Democratic ads we featured in posts here. It was embarrassing because the Trump ads were everywhere and they were always in context with what I was going, whether it was a search, or reading a news story, or a review or a product or service.

We on the Left often moan that we do not have a Fox News of our own (which is definitely a sore point), but we don’t seem to understand that we are already losing the next battlefield in online. They’ve got Facebook (and let them have it), but we got nothing.

This entry was posted in snark. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Our Online Message: We Got Nothing

  1. “…we don’t seem to understand that we are already losing the next battlefield in online. They’ve got Facebook (and let them have it), but we got nothing.”

    (emphasis mine)

    And we’re not ever going to win there if we do things like [checks notes] cede Facebook to them…

    You’re right, though, the digital stuff I’m bombarded with is groaningly bad.

    Part of this goes back a long way:

    “I’m not a member of any organized political party, I’m a Democrat!” — Will Rogers

    On the gripping hand, I swear Democrats are the only people to immediately convene truth and reconciliation hearings when we WIN ELECTIONS

    (all based on the precis you gave, since the DB is paywalled for me, so I can’t actually read the article) 😦

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Big Bad Bald Bastard says:

    I suspect that the role of social media is being overplayed. Social media platforms really are only significant to Extremely Online Persons (guilty as charged), real life isn’t Twitter. Also, righties are, at least temporarily, decamping to cesspools such as Parler and Voat because they believe Twitter and Facebook are censoring them..

    The real issue is to get the older, out-of-touch career politicians out of positions of power, and to get younger, more savvy representatives to take over the party leadership. Less Diane Feinstein, more Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

    Liked by 8 people

  3. Dennis Cole says:

    Part of the problem is that those old “dinosaurs,” with DiFi at 86, and “Nasty Nancy” at only a few years younger (82? 83?), they don’t understand that they are living, breathing fossils. But they’re gamely going for re-election, and since we in CA tend to do what we’ve always done, unless we’re shocked out of it, then chances are good that they will be reelected handily.
    (Both are “self-made millionaires,” btw, due to their machinations while in High Office.)

    If only we could convince Mayor Pete to move to SF, and give either of the 2 old witches a run for their money, while livening up the Castro district, it would be a start. You can only beat a recalcitrant mule with a 2 X 4 so many times, before the effect quits working.

    Liked by 3 people

Comments are closed.