By LaMar Thompson-Hightower
How we created unique, engaging content that helped us reach new audiences and pull young people into the political process.
Social media during COVID-19, civil rights protests, and the 2020 election pushed our team to be more compassionate, creative, and strategic than ever before. Our team’s social media program consisted of three priority platforms — Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter — and three additional platforms — TikTok, YouTube, and LinkedIn. In 2020, we’ve seen significant increases in audience growth and engagement across all platforms; most notably, we grew our Instagram following ~82%.
Our social media team consisted of three full-time staff members. Laura Flores (Social Media Manager), Safa Eltaib (Social Media Associate), and LaMar Thompson-Hightower (Social Media Associate). With the help of the entire Digital Communications Team, including paid media and an Influencer Program, we were able to leverage our social media to build upon our 2018 outreach to young voters and previously non-political young people. Below are some of our best practices and findings.
Creating Content That Young People Care About
Young voters cared about the 2020 election, but we learned early on that they were policy voters, not strongly attached to specific candidates. Young people responded best to content related to student debt cancellation, climate action, health care, racial justice, and pandemic relief.
We focused on creating organic content that utilized pop culture, current events, and resource sharing on Instagram. Our design team (Kristie Wu, Zach Pacheco, and Megan Badilla) worked closely with the social team to bring our content to life. We met weekly to brainstorm content and social media campaigns that would increase engagement, force political action, and share relevant and accurate facts about the election. Our top priority was to create fun, interactive content with a focus on typography and vibrant colors to ensure that young voters would be excited to share our content.
We also utilized pop culture and nostalgic cult movies to make politics more accessible and digestible. Some of our most successful meme content included references or images from Mean Girls, Legally Blonde, Scream, and Bring It On. This content was our most popular organic content that did not involve rapid response coverage. It was especially popular among young voters on Instagram and helped us reach new communities because it would often show up on Instagram’s Discover page. On average, this content was seen disproportionately by users who were not following us, and we leveraged the exposure to reach populations who may not typically be politically active or engaged in the election.
Campaigns and Livestream Content
Throughout the year, we collaborated across departments to highlight specific holidays and historical events. These events included live DJ sets, virtual raves, social media contests, and interactive content that individuals could share across social media platforms. Our four largest social media campaigns were:
- Hispanic Heritage Month: Led by Juntos, our internal Latinx Engagement Group, we promoted a curated Hispanic Heritage Month playlist, highlighted Latinx community leaders, and hosted a live stream Q&A event with Latinx politicians, members of the press, and community organizers.
- Juneteenth: This Week of Action was led by BLACK, our internal Black Engagement Group. The days of action included a live-stream town hall event and The Function: a virtual Juneteenth celebration that included artist performances and DJ sets. Our video team (Ricky Govan, Bianka Bell, Alex Bello, Jonathan Maulino, and Maddy Kean) produced two videos for the days of action, titled The History of Juneteenth and Defund the Police.
- LGBTQ Pride: Our team focused on uplifting the political roots of Pride and the Stonewall Riots. Our design team created black-and-white images of LGBTQ icons as well as a colorful suite of rainbow-inspired graphics and a microsite. We hosted an online multimedia art contest to uplift LGBTQ+ voices at a time when intersectional justice couldn’t matter more, and three winning artists received $4500.
- Green Week: We used Earth Day to call for immediate climate action and marijuana legalization, making sure to highlight how both of these issues disproportionately affect communities of color. We also created Green Week merch that we used for giveaways on social.
Like most organizations, NextGen uses its social media as a platform to respond to events in real-time. As a social media team — in conjunction with the communications team — we often produce the organization’s first statement on an event. If the moment calls for more than a social comment, we work with our design and video team to create assets for paid ads and organic social media.
We also included live coverage under the umbrella of rapid response. We created a team that included the social media department, the Digital Communications Director, the Strategic Communications Manager, our rapid response video editor, and a member of the design team, which covered popular live events like presidential debates and the Democratic National Convention. We learned that our audience enjoyed following along with us during live events and sharing our takes from the #youthvote perspective. Not only did live coverage lead to spikes in audience growth, it inspired our most engaging giveaway and some of our best-performing tweets. You can check them out here, here, and here.
Get Out The Vote Content
One month prior to Election Day, we began posting Get Out The Vote content. We focused on getting this content out on all platforms at a much higher frequency than our regular content. We still sprinkled non-election information into our social media calendar; for every piece of content we made, we asked ourselves: How does this help us win? Initially, our content strategy was to urge young people to vote early and vote by mail when possible. Five days out from Election Day, we focused on encouraging voters to find their polling location, vote early at the polls, or drop their ballot off at a designated drop-off location. When necessary, we also highlighted ways for young people to vote safely at the polls on E-Day.
The biggest burden we had in producing GOTV content was sourcing accurate and verifiable voter information and deadlines for at minimum our 11 target states and in most cases, all 50 states. During the COVID-19 pandemic, states changed voter deadlines and rules on how late ballots are accepted, which meant that information must be verified and vetted continuously. We worked with our research and design team to create infographics that were designed to be retweeted and shared via Instagram story. This content ended up being our most shared content over all platforms.