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The hope, in many circles, is that the arrival of President Joe Biden in the White House will usher in a kinder, gentler approach to politics and a much more inclusive social media strategy that will help to heal the nation. That’s the hope, anyways. But a potentially very radical first 100 days in office could put an end to that hope very soon. From what we’ve seen so far, the Biden strategy seems to be to roll back and “undo” every key accomplishment of the Trump presidency, and with as much speed as possible. That might put a quick end to any feelings of healing and inclusion. So what does that mean for social media?
Clues from the 2020 presidential campaign
In many ways, the recent 2020 presidential campaign offers a preview of what to expect from President Joe Biden’s social media team. What worked during the campaign will likely become a key cornerstone of Biden’s social media strategy in 2021 and beyond. Biden’s social media team couldn’t match the passion and enthusiasm of Trump supporters and MAGA fans, so they developed a strategy that could help them win with a different type of playbook.
One big element of the Biden social media strategy, for example, was an emphasis on feel-good videos, inspirational messages, and uplifting stories about those who were trying to heal (and not divide) the nation. This is likely to continue throughout 2021, as we hear about immigrant families reunited with loved ones, or members of demographic minorities explaining how they no longer feel threatened with hate, bigotry or racism.
Another major element of the Biden social media strategy was attempting to counter some of the disinformation and lies coming from the Trump camp. Biden preferred to use the old-timey word “malarkey” to describe this disinformation, and his social media team even launched a Malarkey Factory to record, analyze and refute all this “malarkey.” Terms like “trust science” loomed large in any discussion of COVID-19, and so it’s likely that we’ll see more use of this “fact-based” and “scientific” approach to information shared across the social web.
Finally, we saw the clever use of influencers, validators and prominent supporters to do some of the battle with the Trump camp via proxy. Biden might not have been able to go toe-to-toe with Trump, but he had plenty of willing proxies from Hollywood and the leftist “Rebel Alliance” to do all the dirty work for him. Using messaging apps like Signal, the Biden team was able to keep its ear close to the ground with left-wing supporters, and could blast out key messaging points to groups on Signal. This kept everyone “on-message” in how they talked about Trump and the Republicans.
Key figures to watch
In the rollout of the new Biden social media strategy, a few key figures will play an important role. First of all, there is Rob Flaherty, Director of Digital Strategy. Prior to working with the Biden-Harris transition team and the Biden-Harris campaign, Flaherty was the Digital Director of Beto for America, and the Deputy Digital Communications Director for Hillary for America in 2016. He was also the Director of Digital Media for the DNC.
Based on the above, it’s likely that he will experiment with a few of the social media techniques that Beto O’Rourke used to become an early darling of the Democratic elite. Remember how one Biden campaign commercial featured a “cool” Joe Biden with sunglasses driving a classic American-built car (the Corvette Stingray)? We could see more of this type of social media content in the future. And, thanks to his connections to Hillary and the DNC, it’s not out of the question that a lot of social media content will feature Establishment figures and Deep State talking heads.
What we need to watch here
So, during the honeymoon period of the new Biden-Harris administration, look for a lot of feel-good inspirational content, perhaps interspersed with a lot of celebrities and cultural elites sharing how much they love the new Biden presidency. But here’s where things get dicey – if we get another COVID wave, more economic lockdowns and a lot of negative PR for things like immigrant caravans barging into our nation, that’s when the Biden team will have to change course. They might enlist the help of Big Tech to silence dissenting voices, or encourage Big Tech to tweak their algorithms a bit so that a lot of news showing up in news feeds is positive. If and when that happens, that’s when you’ll have to make a decision for yourself (without the “help” of the mainstream media) about the dangerous blurring of the line between democracy and authoritarianism.