Politicians turn to social media influencers looking for loyal following

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (NEXSTAR) – As politicians enter the early stages of their 2022 primary campaigns, many are forming informal relationships with social media influencers to help build their own visibility.

For example, Gov. JB Pritzker attended a late night live show in Chicago on Tuesday night and shared the stage with Shermann ‘Dilla’ Thomas’, an up-and-coming TikTok influencer known for explaining interesting historical facts about Chicago. in a short video presentation texts.

The live setting gave Pritzker a quality moment with a friendly crowd who applauded his short riffs on his progressive politics, but it also came with awkward moments when he came across a trivial question from the viral video maker known online as @ 6figga_dilla. Pritzker then caught up when he correctly answered a question about former Governor John Altgeld, and added his own knowledge of Altgeld’s progressive past and its connections to organized labor in the late 19th century.

In the city’s south, several Illinois Republicans and gubernatorial candidates recently appeared in a series of live Facebook videos with Pastor Corey Brooks, who recently launched a 100-day campaign to camp on a roof to draw attention to gun violence. Venture capitalist Jesse Sullivan, asphalt mogul Gary Rabine, State Senator Darren Bailey and Cubs co-owner Todd Ricketts all visited Brooks. Some of them made donations to his non-profit organization Project HOOD

Ricketts, who recently resigned as finance chairman of the Republican National Committee, was the only one who did not use the appearance to speak directly to the pastor’s social media audience.

The campaign strategy is not entirely new. Politicians have crept alongside celebrities or religious leaders for decades in search of a share of their familiar spotlight or a foray with their captive audience. And to be sure, wherever there is a platform, politicians want to get on it. The more loyal viewers, the more valuable the engagement.

In some cases, campaigns pay for additional visibility in order to improve their profiles. Sullivan’s fledgling campaign recently donated $ 1,000 to a popular central Illinois Facebook page called “217 Problems” to sponsor a series of posts promoting small business. In return, each post had a link to Sullivan’s page at the top.

Brian Berns operates the Facebook page and Twitter account as a part-time hobby from his home in Springfield. While he doesn’t necessarily aspire to the term “influencer,” he reluctantly says he probably is. He describes his page as a “multi-content platform that addresses stereotypes, memes and elements of community support from the Midwest.”

More than 124,000 people like the Facebook page and 42,000 other accounts follow his Twitter account. A few years ago he realized that his audience had grown enough, he could start monetizing it and supplementing his income by working for a health insurance company and as a part-time Uber driver. .

“Let’s be honest: there is [TV] the news, the radio, and then there’s me, ”said Berns, describing his take on a traditional media landscape in disarray. “The reality is if I reach four or five million people a month, that’s something.”

Many of Berns’ posts include bizarre images of quirky traffic incidents, cars crashing into buildings, complaints about the cold, or polls asking subscribers to comment on life in the downtown area. ‘Illinois. Berns says the simple and constant stream of random, folkloric, and often irreverent jokes has earned him a certain degree of familiarity with many of his followers, which at times turns into loyalty and trust.

“I get people saying to me, ‘Oh, we’ve heard from you,'” he said before calling himself a “ten percent journalist.” “I’m like, ‘I’m on a break. You give me something. I’m only saying two sentences, but I’m considered a new source. It does not mean anything.

While some of his followers have posted complaints about his page starting to promote political campaigns in their Facebook feeds, Berns sees a potential opportunity to leverage other campaigns in the future. If he determines that a candidate or campaign is likable or supports small businesses in central Illinois, he said he would consider helping raise their profile outside of traditional paid advertising on Facebook.

“I want to make sure this makes sense for my brand,” he said, acknowledging some initial concern about going too far into controversial political debates.

Similar to traditional ads, campaigns should still report expenses to the Illinois State Council of Elections, but because the sponsored-for-sale post is not overt advertising, it does not include the same advertisements. disclaimer and flags that regularly accompany Facebook political ads and monitoring tools.

The Sullivan campaign’s use of social media posts appears to be reaching its target audience. A business owner who recently opened a watch store in downtown Springfield said he heard about the first political candidate online and that engagement led him to attend a small business event .

“I spend a lot of time on the internet, you know, on social media, so I find out about Jesse Sullivan,” Brian Su said from the front room of his Sangamon Watches store. “The campaign website, which I’m really interested in because it’s a big supporter of small business.

Su, a Chinese immigrant who moved to the United States after the Tiananmen Massacre in 1989, said he sometimes found it difficult to undertake difficult business ventures. So when Sullivan’s campaign teamed up with 217 Problems to promote a spin-off of the “Shark Tank” reality show, he signed up and attended.

“As a startup I was very interested,” said Su.

Before long, campaigns will likely expand the reach and reach of their message to attract a larger audience with signage, major media ad buys, and public addresses. But in the meantime, successful campaigns know they need a passionate base, and social media makes it easier than ever to find these voters and meaningfully engage with them on the issues that matter most to them.

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