The nation’s young people were “feeling the Bern,” but the flame has since died out.
Like many young people, I have become a huge support of Senator Bernie Sanders. I still have a sticker in my car’s window longing for a 2016 win for him, but alas, that dream never reached fruition. He did sustain in popularity much longer than I had anticipated, and I think a major aspect of his enduring success came from his social media presence.
As a grassroots campaign, Bernie Sanders utilized his social media in the best ways possible. Because he had no reliance on super PAC contributions, Sanders turned to the people for support. And boy, did he get it. With record-breaking numbers of donations, the average amount of each around $27 dollars, Sanders charged onto the mainstream political scene with a force unlike any other.
The crowds who attended his rallies were larger than Obama’s in 2008. Sanders was relatively unknown to the public eye as a simple Independent senator from Vermont, so how did he manage this spectacular feat? Sure, he’s a great speaker with a powerful message and proposed administration (after attending a rally myself, those aspects were obvious), but what really drew the crowds in, especially among young people, was social media.
As with any business, campaign or person using social media, those who utilize it effectively can create their own forms of marketing themselves and designing their personal image and brand. And that is exactly what Bernie Sanders did. His interactions with his supporters was genuine, his personality always radiating in every tweet released. Using a hashtag like #FeeltheBern and different photos, videos and even GIFs appealed to young people born and raised in the digital age who felt the campaign spoke them in a language they could understand.
This language was one Bernie took to every platform possible and never before seen in a presidential campaign. From classic forms of Facebook, email and text message; to newer innovations like Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat, Bernie was constantly updating his followers, speaking to them as if they were all equals, just friends communicating with each other. The entire process is one that felt natural and approachable.
Across all platforms, Bernie’s message was consistent. Every chance he got, he drove home his rallying cry: to end corruption and support the middle working class. This message was one Bernie himself so easily could back as someone relying completely on the working class to fund his campaign. He may be an older white Jewish man, but he connects with people most often overlooked. As a member in the crowd of a Sanders rally, with that booming voice with a New Englander accent, you can tell how emotionally compelled everybody is by his reasonable but important ideas.
Rather than using social media as a side attachment to the campaign, Bernie fully integrated the technology into every step of the way. The Sanders social media campaign was one quick to respond and update voters, coordinating with the press and other communications to never clash releases. Sanders also allowed any changes in his campaign to happen organically as people responded to his statements. For example, when a bird sat on his podium at one rally, the internet blew up with the trending “Birdie Sanders.” Instead of sitting idle, Sanders incorporated that simple moment into an opportunity to grasp onto the trend and further his popularity, making communication a two-way street. Sanders realized that some of the best campaign slogans and strategies could come from the voters themselves.
When thinking of the current candidates Trump and Clinton, their individual social media campaigns have felt vastly different. A young person can easily pick out people attempting to “be cool” and use different phrases and images that seem to be trending, but when you try too hard, every posts lacks a genuine feel. And for Trump and Clinton, it’s easy to understand why they may be out of touch with social media: both have not used social media to a large extent in a presidential campaign, so trying to use it is almost like learning a foreign language. But the true difference between these two candidates and Bernie Sanders is that Sanders’s personal brand wasn’t one of a typical politician. He was just someone with a powerful message that many people could easily engage in.
Obviously that doesn’t necessarily lead to becoming the next president, but it makes a huge difference. While Sanders drew in large crowds, the people he attracted weren’t those who typically vote. So when primary and caucus days rolled around, Bernie often fell short, but every chance he got, he reminded the public that he is fighting until the end, always promoting his message. If done differently, Bernie should have spent more time figuring out a strategy to take his passion into action at the polls. But even though his campaign is officially drawing to a close, he still interacts with people and comments about political happenings, continuing to inspire Americans to fight for change. And his efforts are paying off as Democratic politicians have begun considering some of Bernie’s ideas to bring forward in policy-making.
Although Bernie’s campaign fell short in November, both Trump and Clinton have a large number of people to bring to their respective sides. The people who fought for Bernie are now the people hesitant about voting for either candidate. At this point, it might be a little late to draw in those young demographics, but we still have about three months before we cast our votes. During these last moments, if Trump and Clinton have learned anything from Bernie Sanders, it should be how to innovate the campaign process into one fully embracing social media as someone other than strictly a politician. Politics is basically a form of personal marketing, and our next president is hopefully someone with a “brand” worth purchasing.
Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie