Does campaign content actually matter?
The question of message vs. messenger.
Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign had one of the biggest and best Content & Creative teams in the history of politic. Our team of talented writers produced more pieces of original content a day than seemed possible — and even more than was actually possible on big days, like debates. These pieces were thoughtful, creative, well-researched, beautifully written, graphically pleasing, and technically engaging.
And they got a lot of views! Hundreds of thousands — sometimes millions on a good day. We had nearly 15 million unique visitors to the blog over course of campaign, and averaged 1 million unique visitors per month. We’d see articles pop up in friends’ Facebook timelines (without us asking them to share). Our stories and tech tools got picked up by press. Some posts inspired onslaughts of (hateful) tweets (looking at you, Pepe the Frog).
We knew that our content was reaching our supporters on social channels (shouts to the unstoppable HFA social team), and some of those people were sharing stories with their friends (shouts to our loyal supporters). In terms of mobilization, that’s really meaningful for firing up our own team. We were consistently arming our supporters with facts they could share with their friends, telling them untold stories that deepened their passion for the candidate, and covering issue the press refused to touch (like every single issue). This was because we had built a team that had the freedom to create really good, interesting content — stuff that no one else was writing about.
But the question I can’t quite shake was if any of it mattered in terms of persuasion.
Did we change people’s minds? Did we reach the right audience? Did we get our point across with the people would would end up deciding the election?
Hillary Clinton has decades upon decades of impressive accomplishments (there are many, we wrote about them all). But she’s an inherently tainted messenger. I’m not talking about an email scandal or other bullshit (though that did matter, sure). But anyone running for office is colored by their history and past, and people’s perceptions about that history and past (and present). Which is why trying to tell your own story — to tout your own history or accomplishments or explain why your ideas are better — is a tricky needle to thread with any sort of credibility on a campaign.
Looking back, I wonder if our hard-hitting takedowns of Trump’s horrific debate performances or pieces showcasing Hillary’s history of being a bad-ass leader would have been more persuasive if they didn’t come from, well, the campaign. Maybe? Probably? The truth is, we can’t say for sure whether this would have helped or not.
We tried (and often succeeded) in getting stories placed in publications where we thought they would have more clout or reach, like this op-ed from Hillary on Mic.com, or this moving piece from John Lewis re-published in the Huffington Post.
But what we need to figure out in elections to come is the complicated question of message and messenger.
If we can find ways to get into someone’s newsfeed without it looking like it’s from the campaign, is that more compelling than a piece of campaign content? Can a campaign actually be a persuasive messenger?
Blogs may have passed their prime, but people getting information they need on the internet most certainly has not. In the age of “fake news,” and with media distrust at an all-time high, there is actually a void — people are looking for information from sources they can trust. Can a campaign fill it with people who aren’t already bought into the candidate?
If we want to get our message in front of persuadable voters (and we certainly do), it’s a question we have to answer.
The rock stars of Hillary for America’s Content & Creative team included Logan Anderson, Lizzy Chan, Kat Kane, Sam Koppelman, Paola Luisi, Brian McBride, Samy Nemir Olivares, Lauren Peterson, Marcos Saldivar, and Kajal Singh. Our dedicated interns were Samira Baird, David Berezin, Maz Do, Sydney Jean Gottfried, Elif Koc, Sophy Passacantando, Camille Peterson, and Amanda Robinson.