FWIW: The hottest new app that no one’s using

11 mins read

Welcome to FWIW, ACRONYM’s weekly newsletter breaking down digital strategy and investments across the political spectrum. Each week, we look at how campaigns are – or aren’t – leveraging smart digital strategies to drive narratives and win elections.

For what it’s worth, some of it might surprise you.

In an increasingly crowded Democratic primary, candidates are looking for new supporters wherever they can find them, and in 2019, that’s increasingly online. While every 2020 campaign is using platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, as far as we know, only one of them is on the internet’s hottest new app: TikTok. Should they be? Is it worth their time? Who even uses the platform? We take a look in FWIW.

But first…

New #FWIWPod Alert 🎙:

Episode 3 of the FWIW podcast dropped yesterday, and you won’t want to miss it. CNN’s Senior Washington Correspondent Jeff Zeleny joined Tara McGowan to chat about how covering presidential campaigns has changed over the past two decades – and how the internet has transformed political journalism. Give it a listen on Apple PodcastsSpotify, or at fwiwpodcast.com.

2020, by the numbers

Donald Trump’s re-election campaign has now spent over $27 million on Facebook + Google advertising since the 2018 midterm elections. His team continues to run Facebook ads calling impeachment a hoax and pushing videos ripping “little Adam Schiff.” 

Mayor Pete topped the polls in Iowa for the first time this week. 🌽 In the past 30 days, his campaign has spent $211,425 on Facebook advertising in the Hawkeye State, more than double the spend of other leading candidates. Here’s some of what he’s running there:

Meanwhile, pro-Yang political action committee MATH PAC began spending heavily online in the four early states this week – with $65,076 spent on Facebook in the past seven days. Don’t underestimate the power of the #YangGang, folks. 

Elizabeth Warren started selling “Billionaire Tears” mugs in an escalation of her spat with *very emotional* billionaire Leon Cooperman…hopefully new presidential hopeful Mike Bloomberg doesn’t take offense. Also, her campaign smartly started a new #WearWarren hashtag and mini-campaign this week for supporters to show off and promote their campaign merch, and were even giving out discounted merch around it!  👏🏼

The primary field apparently wasn’t crowded enough yet, so former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick decided to throw his hat in the ring, launching his campaign yesterday with an announcement video + appearance on CBS. With only about 48,000 followers on Twitter at the time of this publication, he’s currently got about one-tenth of the audience that Julián Castro has. With Twitter soon banning political ads on the platform, it will be interesting to see how he plans to make up that gap organically. Patrick’s also already up with Facebook ads, starting to gather the data and donors he needs to run a viable campaign.  

Speaking of Julián Castro…after not making the cut, he’ll be notably absent from next week’s debate in Atlanta, and his campaign’s digital ad spending has been pretty low the past few weeks. 

Here’s how much the highest polling candidates have invested in Google + Facebook advertising over time:

…and FWIW, here are the top spenders on Facebook + Google from November 3rd – 9th.

Mike Bloomberg announced this morning that he plans to spend $100 million on swing state anti-Trump digital advertising on top of his anticipated Presidential campaign. Sounds like he’s been reading our newsletter 👀 This is an all hands on deck moment, and that’s on top of the major anti-Trump digital campaigns already announced by PACRONYM and Priorities USA. We’ll keep an eye out for his ads as they start to come online. Meanwhile, the other billionaire in the race hasn’t been too happy about all the Bloomberg buzz:

Deep Dive: The hottest new app that no one’s using 🤳

Basically every 2020 presidential campaign is using platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to engage supporters and voters online. However, new platforms and communities are emerging online every day – and political campaigns looking for votes in a crowded primary should campaign wherever they can. That brings us to TikTok… a new-ish platform that’s filling high school hallways with the echoes of six-second soundbites and distracting an entire generation. 

TikTok is quickly becoming one of the hottest new social media platforms worldwide, with 500 million monthly active users across the globe, 26.5 million of which are in the United States. While the majority of users in the U.S. are teenagers, 14.3 million American adults are now on the platform. It’s also come under fire from the U.S. government for its Chinese ownership and potential privacy issues  👀.

On the Left ⬅️

Despite being a prime place to engage with young voters or supporters, the app is basically a progressive political content desert. As far as we know, only one Presidential campaign (Julián!) has an official account on the platform, and he’s struggled to catch on. Very few progressive political organizations have any presence either. 

That said, a few current + former presidential campaigns have made cameos on the platform… as Beto O’RourkeJulian Castro, and Andrew Yang have all paid a visit to the Washington Post to appear on their TikTok account, run by content super-genius Dave Jorgensen:

Oh, and the #YangGang has been throwing $1,000 in people’s faces and filming it. 😂😂😂

ISIS and the NRA

It’s not all fun and games though: Right wing content seems to be thriving on the platform. The NRA recently launched a new account that consistently bashes Democrats, and anti-choice group Live Action is up with video content as well. Oh yeah, ISIS is doing its thing too. 🙅🏼

Right-wing trolls have begun to quickly take advantage of the platform, using the #Trump2020 hashtag to spread pro-Trump propaganda. The New York Times tried to explain the phenomenon earlier this summer – calling it a “safe space from safe spaces.” These groups and individuals are spreading their content and building followings organically – as TikTok recently announced a total ban on political advertising on their site.

The kids are alright

Just looking at organizations and official campaign accounts on TikTok may be missing the point. By far, individual young adults are the primary content creators and consumers on the platform. Teens are using humor on the app to meme the news and unlike other platforms like Facebook and Twitter,  it’s a space where they can express their opinions and stances on issues in a quick, more light-hearted way. Here’s how *the youths* are using the platform to engage with the 2020 election and political issues. 

For example, one user took to TikTok to try to explain the wealth gap in the US by looking at Bill Gates’ wealth and what she could purchase. Jayus has 1.7m followers, and 29.6m “hearts” or engagements on her videos. This video went viral on other platforms such as Twitter and Instagram with many users sharing their own stories. 

Sam Garabedian shared his take on the American education system by remixing a Keeping Up With The Kardashians auto track of Kris Jenner. Garabedian has 35.9k followers, and 1.4m hearts on his videos. 

…and Paige Brann, a former intern on Julian Castro’s campaign, made her own remix of the the TikTok trend of girls dancing to their ex’s voicemails, of her dancing to audio of Castro at a recent DNC debate.

At the end of the day, campaigns are very much about allocation of time and resources, and it appears that the 2020 Presidential campaigns haven’t thought TikTok (or even Snapchat) to be an investment worth their while. That may change ahead of the Iowa caucuses, as campaigns like Buttigieg and Sanders try to energize young people to caucus for the first time. Stay tuned. 

One more thing… ➡️ 🎧

That’s all for this week. But before you go, we have one more ask of you! ⚡️If you enjoy reading FWIW each week, you’ll love the new FWIW Podcast! Give it a listen, spread the word + leave a ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ review on Apple Podcasts! 

P.S. You can find this and other issues of FWIW here.


DemCast is an advocacy-based 501(c)4 nonprofit. We have made the decision to build a media site free of outside influence. There are no ads. We do not get paid for clicks. If you appreciate our content, please consider a small monthly donation.


ACRONYM is a nonprofit organization committed to building power and digital infrastructure for the progressive movement.

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