Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Hillary Clinton Could Have Won with Better Social Media: A Roadmap

by Steven S. Vrooman

Social media strategy. 

This is a very long article a little bit about how the first president elected because of social media got there, but mostly about how the losing candidate could have won if her campaign had even a reasonably decent social media strategy. Hillary Clinton lost because millenials did not turn out for her, and it would not have taken much to have shifted this election given how close some of the key states were. Clinton did not have to convince conservative voters or even underemployed rust belt voters to shift to her. She just needed to get a portion of the 75 million voting-age millenials, at least half of whom are liberal, to be willing to cast their vote for her like they did for Obama. And social media was the missing piece in making that happen.

Are you ready? This is 3500 words. This will take a minute. It's worth it, though.

After the election, my partner in awesome, Michelle Johnson, who has just come off a stint coordinating social media for a victorious local election campaign, and I found ourselves on a long car trip to Dallas to see our son and his high school band perform in a drumline competition.

Here we are after the competition, taking him to the nerdiest store we could find.

As we processed the various local elections and the national ones, we generated lists of things the losing candidates should have done to achieve their goals via social media. This is the kind of thing we talk about for fun. #nerds. We also both (she, me) work in the field in various ways, and this is how we keep our skills sharp. We learn from each other. 

We started by talking over what I had been doing with my social media class that week, as she's coming in to be a guest speaker this week. Right now my social media class was derailed by the election. We sort of threw out the schedule to be able to focus on how social media and this election have been working. As I said to them, "In 40 years wouldn't you look back at this time and say, 'We were in a class on SOCIAL MEDIA and didn't stop to process what just happened?'"

We set up a hashtag and have been coming to various conclusions, like:
Our key conclusion was this: Trump is only president because of social media. He worked his social media to build a persona that would attract his rust-belt angry white target demographic and accomplished the huge rhetorical feat of convincing angry lower-income voters in swing states that this privileged billionaire from New York City was one of them. Although he got loads of media and blog flak for his content, it seemed to work. Ultimately, it feels like he is talking directly to people, which is a key measure of people's feelings of authenticity, and his ostentatious lack of polish may very well just sound like "us" or "a regular person" to his target audience. It is "working class language."

Hillary Clinton's campaign, on the other hand, was unable to meet its own authenticity rhetorical challenge. Millenials rejected her campaign with memes like these:




For many, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, the least popular candidates in perhaps forever, was a choice between the lesser of two evils:




She had to make that key connection, what Kenneth Burke called "identification," with people. Scroll down just a bit here to see what he says:

Hillary Clinton did that in some ways. Look at Pantsuit Nation. Look at the people who lined up for hours at Susan B. Anthony's gravesite on Election Day:

But, in other ways, she didn't.

Look at how Bernie Sanders Dank Memes treat her like an out-of-touch dorky robot mom who was ruining MY LIFE!!! GAWD!!!!




There are likely all sorts of things we can point to to figure out why she lost. But here are the things that should have happened to address these issues with millenials and others who were rejecting her on these authenticity grounds. These are not "pure social media plays," but there is no such thing. Social media strategy should emerge from "real life" and should be organically connected to "real" things that can create identification.

Here are the things she needed to do:

1) Personalize her social media

a) Social Media Should Be REAL

We know Trump wrote a lot of his tweets. Hillary Clinton theoretically only wrote the ones marked "-H," but the wikileaks stuff showed that even that was really a comedy of multiple meetings.

She really needed to do more of what Joel Kinnaman's character is made fun of for on House of Cards: lots of "real" posts. 


Sure, they are staged and not as authentic as they are made to seem, but have you seen people posing for and retaking and then filtering and cropping selfies? The show is cagey. The posts are silly, but they keep getting Kinnaman's presidential candidate out of jams.

Trump is busy posing as tough. Clinton needed to pose as....real. 

We should see her choosing pantsuits off the rack of colors more than just that one time in 2015. We should have people vote for them. 

Solicit "take a picture in a pantsuit day" for some hashtag and retweet a bunch. People sure did it themselves, eventually. 


All over the country. At the last minute. And after the election. The campaign should have seen this coming and led the way.

Clinton should have been tagged or hashtagged in all those selfies she posed for with people. Solicit people's posting of them. Heck, make a staffer run a flickr account and post the top five of the day!


You saw her after rallies or speeches or debates, hanging with all people. Just Google this and see how much of this content is out there, UNUSED BY THE CAMPAIGN in any systematic way! 

Here's a sample...
Just think if there was a regular feature where @hillaryclinton reposted one of these pics and then described a bit about what they talked about. She is standing with handlers! Make them take notes and/or take a picture of the selfie-taking, LIKE THEY DID RIGHT THERE ABOVE! Every day Hillary Clinton talks to real people, takes a selfie and can talk about what they talked about. They did vague forms of this kind of thing a lot, but how much better is this in her Twitter as a regular feature than the committeed memes they used so often?

UPDATE 11/17/16: I took my #tlucomm339 class through these ideas and this bit FLOORED people. As one student said, "This would have affected me. I just got the sense that Trump was flying all over the place and she wasn't doing anything. Like she was just coasting and expected us to just vote for her because."

This sense of the REAL was one of Michelle's key points in the car ride to Dallas. In her own social media work she's found that being a real person leads to real relationships with real people. The value of those is incalculable. 

b) Social Media Should Be WEIRD

And, yes, she's probably awkward in person. We get that sense from interviews and whatnot. USE THAT! It's gold. The campaign seemed to run from that like fire. That weird head bob thing that the Right thought was a seizure? Make a bunch of GIFs of her doing the same kind of awkward head motions in moments that are not seizures. Play it up. She is goofy. She is a nerd. BTW, you know she's the only candidate who does her homework, right? #VoteForHermioneNotTheWeasley

We learned from Robert Hanke's analysis of the "mock macho" sitcom (Coach, Home Improvement, King of Queens, etc.) that playing up goofiness seems to convey the "Hey, I can't be evil vibe." How can you be "Killary" if you can't get through a conversation without having something weird happen?

Like, really. Have a staffer take constant video and then use the #AwkwardHRC bit of the week. Not Presidential? Remember, DoNaLd TrUmP won. The rules have changed. Then you top it with a commercial posted to YouTube where you talk about it. She fesses up that she's kind of an introvert. 

This is Michelle's #protip here. Get everything on video. You can't use it if you don't have it.

Joebama show up to talk about awkward moments with her from the White House like they did for the "Have a Plan" and "Early Voting" bits. Did they really just try to win the election by only selling the goofiness of those two and not her? Can't you see Biden talking about the time her weird laugh in the Situation Room made the Joint Chiefs giggle at each other?

Then, push it farther. They needed to tweak Michelle Obama's mantra:"When they go low, we go weird."

Put Bill Clinton and John Podesta in pantsuits. Obama. Kaine. Bernie. The staff. Her grandson. Heck, bring out Monica Lewinsky in one and have her give a new version of her TED Talk. This is what moving on looks like. This is how we get down to what is important. This is how respect works. 



In each case where something problematic came up, this isn't business as usual; theoretically grown people believe she is a murderer. You have to make bigger plays.

The emails?

They revealed an over-thought campaign: so many meetings, email pile-ons, and awkward decisions that many people would have liked to have been intuitive instead of planned for weeks with a dozen people. 

Some liberals liked that, "Hey, thought behind decisions." Others, "meh". But, remember, they think you are plotting murders and coverups and treason and graft and stuff. That's what they think of when they think of emails. Make them think differently.

Have Podesta do performative reading of his emails. Get him out of the shadows. Have him and Clinton perform each side of an exchange doing their best impression of each other. Just tell us Clinton's Podesta impression doesn't go viral!

Find Larry Lessig. A staffer said they hated him. He was cool on his blog in response. Have a thing with him where you apologize and give him a minute to bemoan bad uses of leaks, etc. Tell him you're sorry. Have a #wikisorry thing going. Sure, people will jump on it with paranoia. But push content on it until you shift the coverage.

Her Humans of New York thing was great, and it's telling it wasn't her campaign who did something like that first.

c) Social Media Should be FUNNY

Give us more behind the screen. Let us see the goofy wizard behind the curtain. She's SOOOOOOOOO not as scary as Oz!

Show her on the plane, in the car, eating a taco, hanging with Chelsea or the grandkids. Charlotte and Aidan. They have names. Did you know those names? WHY DIDN'T YOU? 

I get that you want to avoid "grandma," "old," and such, but the Bernie Bros made her into evil Mom. Shift that. Read funny children's books to the grandkids, crack them up with crazy pigeon on the bus book readings. THAT goes viral. 

Obama is awesome in the White House photos. We needed to see her every day the same way. Record a 30 second video on the plane talking about what story struck her that day.

Make a huge amount of real out there so that Kate McKinnon's "walking like I practiced" bit, which is still a softball compared to their treatment of Trump, couldn't land.


In response to the skit, take a video of step practice and joke about it. Show Podesta sitting on the couch drinking a coffee out of one of those We Are Happy To Serve You cups while Clinton tries out walks. Punchline, "'John, you try this in heels.' --to be continued!"

I think Clinton would have gone for this stuff. She went on Galifianakis, after all.

Let her be funny! 

You wanna tell me she couldn't get the Ghostbusters together on stage and have Clinton replace McKinnon for the bit? Then bring out McKinnon in a pantsuit, maybe.

Let her be funny! (Fist bump from Michelle here).

This is how Paul Wellstone, BEFORE the Internet, went from zero to hero and won a Senate seat in 1990. He won the watercooler, the scuttlebutt, the word-of-mouth, contest. He dominated the pre-technology irl social media of people having conversations:


Whew. That's a lot. 

But, really, that's how you pivot on "she's evil." Turn it into "She's real..... yeah REALLY awkward and silly and normal and boring." This is connected with ....

2) The HRC Unscripted College Tour

a) First, Shift Your PR Style

Abandon 1950s PR. The old, don't justify it with a response and avoid the controversy tactic. Deflect. Downplay. Distract. Like the public is an angry toddler: "What about a cookie?"


Here's one of many many takedowns of that approach for your reading pleasure: "Silence is Always Bad."

This has been the wrong approach in the textbooks for decades. And in a social media age, it's a no go.

Clinton never engaged the emails issue in the debates. The tactic seemed to have been to distract and move on. She had that quick apology and then....nothing in one of the debates (they are blurring together now and all I see is Alec Baldwin, so I can't tell you which one and you can't make me sit through one of them again!). It set Trump back a bit when he accused her of doing it "on purpose" (Wait, what?). But that's not good enough. What really is the difference between befuddled Trump and normal Trump in those debates? That's not a win.

And, it was obvious this was the thing that mattered if you, say, read ANYTHING WRITTEN BY ALMOST ANYONE. Liberals were saying things like "Emails are nothing compared to ALL THIS STUFF HE DID," but it didn't take much research to figure out that they still really mattered to people. So....

Have a ginormous address like Obama did with Reverend Wright or Romney did with being Mormon.

If they think you are pedantic and boring, okay then. Pedantic the crap out of it and beat it into the ground. Like talk for 3 hours. You want to write a piece on my emails because you are too lazy to do real research, writer for political blog number 157? Game on!

Brietbart will be like "So corrupt it took 3 hours!" but it would have ended up better. Silence sounds guilty to people for whom Trump's diction sounds "working class." It's like not looking them in the eye when you talk. 

Plenty of meme-able moments would happen, like, "Look, can you imagine what it is like to be doing all this up here?" Just be extra real with people. Throw down again on the vast right-wing conspiracy you think this still is. 



"They thought I wanted to be the first female president in 1992 when we talked about being Oval Office partners. That terrified them and they spent years making up John Birchian conspiracy theories like a hydra. You fight one silly, paranoid rumor and another one springs up. I kill journalists to cover up their story TWO DAYS after it broke? This is desperate and sad." 

Are you going to make Fox News ANGRIER at you than it already is? Can you possibly get worse press from the Right? Fight 'em and pull in the liberals who were stumping for Elizabeth Warren to run!

You look more like Susan B. Anthony getting beaten for what she believed in and can claim the feminist mantle a little more clearly. You can also make a bunch of HYDRA references, bring out Robert Downey, Jr. (he was in the Whedon video, so he's down), have him talk about "Orange Skull" and drop all the big negative insulting things. He's Iron Man, so it's fine if he says it.

If they hate you for being X, if you actually are X and have no plausible vector to make them hate you less for it, be a waaaayyyyyy bigger X and roll that train down to the "Green Place," Furiosa. 

That really is how Trump did his thing. Do yours.

b) Get in People's Faces

And then go on tour of universities in swing states. Open mics. Line up. HRC will be there. No speech. She'll just get to the podium and she will take questions. Press invited (all that about no press conferences...), but she wants to hear from the students, conservative, liberal, whoever. Just pull them in. And roll out the selfie train. 

Or just take pics on stage with anyone wearing pantsuits.

Bad press? Another one tomorrow. 4 schools in North Carolina Thursday. Wisconsin, here we come!

Don't give them a free concert. #pandermuch? Give them answers. They don't want a cookie or a trophy, whatever your demographics staffer says. They want to feel like they can believe you. That takes work and time.

Call it the "Hillary Unscripted Tour." Or something. All questions answered. Have Warren or Sanders or Beyonce or Downey, Jr. or Whedon or someone there sometimes. Film it. Show parts of it. 

You could even suggest you are making a documentary about what it is like to have the assassination of your character be the foundation of an entire conservative industry, making clear that that industry is the only thing going for a policy-less Trump campaign.

What if you are HRC, America? All that media and you still want to be the President? What would you do? Because, it is possible she's innocent, right? What would you do to clear your name under the shifting hydra of questions. #marvelreferenceftw

Oooh, here's a bit both Michelle and I had a kind of "That's genius and might have swung the election!" moment about: Start the show with "Everybody Hurts" and students come up and read mean tweets or things from Ann Coulter's latest "book." Play it all up like Trump's entire campaign is ...

wait for it ...

"The Trolling of America."

Have t-shirts -- "I survived the HRC open mic night!" and "Trump is Trolling America" and "What Can One Woman Do In The Face Of So Much Reckless Hate" #lotrftw


Would all of this work? We don't know. We're spitballing here. The HRC campaign clearly thought it was winning and just didn't want to risk slipping. So they went with conservative social media.

But, they should have been doing this in 2015. We were already tired of people running for president 18 months before the election. Pay us back for our time with some fun. That is something Trump understood that others did not.

If you have been doing this shtick for a year and have been telling so many pantsuit jokes that Versace is making you one in day-glo velour, it no longer looks like some desperately pandering meltdown at the end when Putin and the FBI try to crush you. 

By then they like you. The really, really like you.

The only clearly funny thing Clinton did in 2015 was to call herself a "pantsuit aficionado." ONE joke only. And it is STILL playing! What if they'd tried for more? What if they'd paid better attention to how the campaign's fans wanted them to play things instead of what they debated via email?

The lesson for campaigns at all levels in the age of social media should now be clear, post-Trump. Stop trying to avoid failing. You've got to play to win. You have to bring a riskier game. 

It is about identification, engagement, connection, motivation, collection, turnout and love. Give them a reason to vote for you. Give them a reason to visit your website. Give them something they will want to share.

Be the thing people share. Be part of their networks. Be part of how they work their friendships. Make something they will share with people they love.

Watch the ad from Joni Ernst here to finish this up. There are huge risks involved in this. But this is how you win:

In case you were wondering, our Dallas trip was great. We didn't talk about social media the whole time, after all. But, as she spun her ideas on local and state races, having just finished working on one, and as I spun on the national race, as that's what my students were talking about, we really ended up agreeing an awful lot on the kind of approach folks need to take in political races at all levels. They are now more similar, those levels, than ever before. Everything is local and everything is personal. 

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