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Going Viral
For Candidates

How to Go Viral During Your Political Campaign

2 min read
Going Viral
Good Party Politics Team · Mar 5, 2024

“I started my campaign out of a Trader Joe's bag with a bunch of printed palm cards and an idea.” ~ Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

The above quote from U.S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez demonstrates what a grassroots campaign that goes viral can do for a politician who knows how to leverage a people-powered candidacy. Against long odds, this junior representative became the youngest woman – and youngest Latina – elected to Congress. She won against a strong incumbent with plenty of establishment support who was ranked fourth among Democrats. 

She accomplished this amazing feat through a grassroots activist campaign that went viral on social media. 

In the digital age, social media is not just a tool but a battlefield for political candidates. With platforms like X (formerly Twitter), Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok at the forefront, going viral can significantly enhance a candidate's visibility and appeal. 

However, the concept of "going viral" is nuanced, especially in the political arena. It's not just about reaching a massive audience, but also engaging them in a way that can skyrocket your campaign's momentum. 

Join us as we delve into strategies for candidates aiming to leverage social media for their political campaigns, drawing insights from politicians who have successfully navigated this digital minefield.

“Going Viral” in Politics

Before diving into strategies, let's define what “going viral” means for political candidates. Virality in politics transcends mere view counts; it's about sparking conversations, influencing public opinion, and mobilizing supporters. 

However, the concept of going viral is relative. For a local government candidate, a few thousand shares within the community might be considered a viral hit. In national campaigns, virality means reaching millions across the nation in a manner that transcends geographical and ideological boundaries.


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The Power of Authenticity

One of the key lessons from political campaigns that have gone viral is the power of authenticity. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s 2018 primary campaign video, which highlighted her background and values, resonated widely because of its genuine appeal. Similarly, Beto O’Rourke’s live streams, which included footage of him skateboarding in a parking lot, showcased a relatable side that endeared him to many voters.

In fact, both campaigns from relative unknowns — one successful and one not — resonated with the growing base of younger voters while still endearing them to older, more establishment-oriented constituents who were looking for fresh ideas and change. Although neither candidates were independents, their campaigns encapsulated the independent ideals that will move this country forward. 

You can’t manufacture catching this kind of lightning in a bottle, but you can use the power of digital platforms to create campaigns that are powerful, memorable and, dare we say, viral.

Leveraging Hashtags and Trends

Smart use of hashtags and jumping on trending topics can catapult a political message to viral status. For instance, during the 2020 U.S. presidential election, Bernie Sanders’ campaign utilized hashtags like #NotMeUs to promote inclusivity and collective action, a strategy that amplified his message across social media platforms.

Hashtags amplify the message on platforms that use them by highlighting searchable, trending keywords and phrases, making it easier for platform users to find relevant information. Note that hashtags work differently on different platforms, but the same general idea behind them remains the same. 

If you intend to leverage hashtags, make sure that you understand the idea, trend, or movement behind the tag. Be careful of unintended – and unfortunate – wording, as well. Many a campaign, political or otherwise, has been derailed by bad word choice or jumping on a bandwagon they didn’t understand. 

Engaging Content Over Plain Politics

Creating content that is engaging and shareable is crucial. This includes leveraging various formats like memes, videos, and infographics that can convey your message in a more relatable and digestible manner. Senator Elizabeth Warren’s use of Instagram to break down policy proposals into simple explanations is a prime example of this strategy.

Interactivity and Dialogue

Social media is a great way to engage directly with voters. That was one of the things that made X such an important part of public discourse for years. People could now interact directly with individuals and entities that were previously inaccessible through hashtags and tweets, and those in power responded. 

Engaging directly with followers by answering questions, hosting live Q&A sessions, and responding to comments can foster a sense of community and loyalty. Such a high degree of responsiveness makes candidates accessible and accountable. This approach not only humanizes the candidate, but also encourages more shares and discussions online.

Tailoring Your Message

Understanding the demographics of each social media platform and tailoring your message accordingly can enhance your campaign’s reach. TikTok, for example, requires a different approach compared to Facebook, given its younger audience and preference for short, entertaining videos. Image and video sharing platforms like YouTube and Instagram are directly competing with the virality of TikTok by promoting short, memorable videos on their own platforms.

The key is to create content that leverages social media and reaches demographics on the platforms they use, and then strategically marketing the best content for that platform and audience. 

Case Studies of Viral Political Campaigns

Although the digital age is still in its infancy, there are many case studies that demonstrate the power of viral content for political campaigns. Since independents are often running on smaller budgets, the cost-effective nature of these platforms also helps to make them more competitive against establishment candidates. 

However, traditional media shouldn’t be ruled out. It can cost more, but one viral TV ad or print campaign can catapult an unknown candidate into the national spotlight as well.

Here are a few of the best, from history and more recent elections:

  1. Barack Obama: His “Yes We Can” campaign video was a web-only release that went viral and garnered more than 25 million views within the first few days of release. It combined a well-produced, hopeful-sounding video with another strategy: the use of influencers. 

  2. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: AOC’s grassroots campaign strategy leveraged relatable content and authentic engagement with her audience. Like Obama, her viral presence catapulted her campaign to national prominence.

  3. Pete Buttigieg: His campaign's savvy use of social media storytelling and engagement strategies, including a memorable dance challenge, helped him gain significant traction among younger voters. 

Not all candidates who go viral win their elections, but their viral campaigns can win them national attention and raise awareness for their campaigns. Content creation best practices that set you apart from the competition and draw positive attention to your campaign put the odds in your favor. 

You just need an idea and a strategy to bring it to fruition. 

Strategies for Going Viral

  1. Content Is King: Create compelling, authentic content that resonates with your audience. Use storytelling to convey your message and values.

  2. Engage, Don’t Just Broadcast: Foster a two-way conversation with your audience. Respond to comments, participate in trends, and be present.

  3. Visuals Matter: Utilize high-quality images, infographics, and videos to capture voters’ attention and enhance shareability. Keep content short but compelling and engaging. 

  4. Hashtag Wisely: Use and create hashtags to increase the visibility of your posts and encourage engagement. Make sure to investigate possible misassociations and key background information before using hashtags. 

  5. Monitor and Adapt: Keep an eye on what works and what doesn’t. Use A/B testing and social media analytics to refine your strategy and content. 

  6. Leverage Influencer Partnerships: Collaborate with influencers who share your values to extend your reach to their followers.

  7. Crisis Management: Be prepared to respond swiftly and appropriately to any negative viral content or backlash.

Go Viral During Your Campaign

Going viral during a political campaign requires a blend of authenticity, strategic content creation, and active engagement with the audience. By understanding the nuances of virality and applying the strategies outlined above, candidates can harness the power of social media to amplify their message and connect with voters on a deeper level. 

Remember, the goal is not just to go viral, but to do so in a way that positively impacts your campaign and fosters a supportive community around your political vision.

Good Party is proud to provide resources designed to help independent candidates create successful campaigns that win elections. Offering expert campaign planning and strategy guidance, we strive to combine experience with 21st century solutions that empower candidates to shake up the political status quo.


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How to Run for Office
Campaign Messaging
Going Viral
By Good Party Politics Team
The politics team is focused on transforming the political landscape by promoting transparency, accountability, and positive change. They aim to engage citizens in the political process, encourage informed decision-making, and support candidates who prioritize the common good. Their mission revolves around creating a more fair and just political system, fostering collaboration, and breaking down traditional barriers of partisanship.