Why TikTok May Never Catch On With Political Campaigns

Despite capturing the attention of 138 million active users in the United States and serving as the primary news source for the next generation of voters, TikTok remains more of an oil slick than a natural part of the system. political ecology of the United States until 2023.

The social media tool, owned by Bejing-based ByteDance, is banned from using state devices or otherwise restricted in 19 out of 50 states, according to a report. Reuters’ recent tally. Senator Josh Hawley (R-MO) succeeded in introducing his amendment to ban apps from federal devices in 4,115-page aggregate billwhich Congress passed on Friday and is expected to be signed into law later this week.

Aside from security concerns—focusing on the so-called back door where the Chinese government can access detailed data of US users—TikTok remains on the margins of US political advocacy.

The 2022 midterm elections saw once again TV spending record. And while TikTok does not allow ads based on issues or politicsready surpassing YouTube with the most watch time per user. However, national campaigns are still addicted to buying television ads.

Erika Franklin Fowler, director of the Wesleyan Media Project, explained two common reasons why TV has such a sticking power in politics despite years of cutting the cord.

“One, trusted voters — and the typical older American in my opinion — still watch a lot of TV,” Fowler told The Daily Beast, noting their overwhelming importance in the polls. primary election. “However, I think the second thing is campaigns that raise huge amounts of money, and in a way, you’re looking to spend and spend that money quickly. So television remains one of the easiest places to spend those dollars.”

Especially when cutting back on TV ad spending is at the heart of many political consulting outlets’ business model, it can be hard for an old dog to learn new tricks.

Then there are generational tensions around digital strategy when it comes to spending on newer social media platforms like TikTok and Twitch — allowing for real-time donations during live streams. continues with minimal friction for people with accounts — compared to the old trusted staples of Facebook and email.

“Digital controllers aren’t as old as campaign controllers,” said Stefan Smith, former Director of Online Engagement for Pete Buttigieg 2020 presidential campaign.

He argues that the entire money conversation between the campaign consulting class — TV spending versus the organization, Facebook or YouTube, mailing or SMS text messaging bursting with fundraising — ignores something that has more valuable.

“For example, we’re talking about something more valuable than dollars when we’re talking about TikTok, or we’re talking about Twitch streaming or whatever we’re doing,” Smith said. “We’re talking about attention.”

With access to more technologies and more ways to reach people than ever before, it has also come to terms with malicious levels of spam, which provoke an equal and opposite reaction from the public.

“It’s hard to fit into people’s lives,” says Smith. “It’s hard to get into people’s digital lives, and it’s hard to get them to open the door when you knock. It’s hard to get them to answer the phone, reply to a text message, or open a political email—the shortfall that politics is experiencing is a lack of attention and it affects everyone in different ways— but it is happening at a time when people have never spent more time on their phones.

One annual report from the Reuters Institute at the University of Oxford find a growing trend of news avoidance globally, with the US ranking third only to the UK and Brazil in terms of the highest proportions of the population watching online and on TV. There is a similar phenomenon in advertising.

Fowler points out that increased fundraising and overall spending during the federal races mask more enduring threats to TV. Newer projects in the digital realm have been “supplemented” to the ease with which to spend on regular advertising, but that may not be sustainable in the long run.

“As media audiences are fragmented, advertisers have to reach them in more places,” says Fowler. “And so, in some ways, I think you can expect to see lower TV spend as a result of that, but they are also raising more money. So I think that’s part of what’s going on.”

However, Fowler notes that online advertising will take money from television.

A campaign strategist who spoke with The Daily Beast said another major hurdle in moving to fundraising on these platforms is compliance with federal regulations.

“That doesn’t mean it can’t work in the future, but I think there’s no current culture about that,” the strategist said, requesting anonymity because of their current company. “There is a culture on Twitch of supportive subscribers and streamers. That’s different from having to fill out a form.”

Twitch viewers may be willing to pull out their wallets to watch their favorite streamer do a stunt in a video game, but providing anything other than a display name when FEC regulations require the information Full personalization is a much more complicated requirement.

The most notable success story on Twitch to date was in October 2020, when Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) attracted more than 400,000 concurrent viewers while playing the video game on detective style “Between us” in one visit. -out-the-vote effort. At that time, it was the fifth most watched broadcast in the history of the platform.

“I think it’s time we figure out what should be the difference between being a candidate and being a party,” Smith said, making the case that state and even local parties are better suited. to engage audiences and develop staff expertise specifically for platforms, rather than “digital” in general, because they can operate across longer timelines.

“If you have a five-year timeline and you say, ‘I want to build an ecosystem in two, three years dedicated to making Gen Z’, then most candidates don’t have the time or the commitment. Be patient for that,” Smith said. “They have to win the primaries, and the primary voters are older voters. There is reluctance to build the infrastructure to reach them because it doesn’t offer immediate benefits.”

One of Smith’s forays into the 2020 campaign was on Pinterest, where campaign volunteers organized around caucuses in Iowa using the app’s quote board. A lot of women have created free content for the campaign and the phenomenon has taken on a life of its own.

“The first time I saw people taking parts of a campaign and pushing the message, pushing the content, interestingly, creating their own campaign, was Bernie Sanders in 2015, 2016,” he said.

The bird landed—the birth of a meme coincided with the Sanders campaign’s record fundraiser—outline a handbook on how campaigns can capitalize on viral moments.

Instead of treating platforms like TikTok and Twitch as purely transactional for voters, Smith said the new landscape of the Internet requires campaigns to treat these fragmented fanbases as voters to build. build relationships.

“There was a thought that was, ‘Why do we have to talk to these kids? They don’t vote.’ The point is, they do,” Smith said. “This is not the Gen Xers who needed all these Rock the Vote shows in the 1990s to make it happen. It’s not the millennial generation where the economy crashes and we’re disillusioned.”

With the 2022 midterm elections marking second highest youth turnout rate in 30 yearsThe next generation of voters has established themselves.

Then the question remains which campaign will know where to find them or even know where to start.

“That’s when the conversation broke down,” said the Democratic strategist, referring to the age difference between leadership and the digital team in campaigns. “If their kids are in their twenties, then in a way their kids aren’t really using the most advanced stuff, so they’re a long way from it.”


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