Recognizing talent when they see it, House Democrats recently held a Twitter training featuring a star freshman member, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Her day-to-day tweets show what the medium can do in the hands of someone who mastered it in her private life, since Ocasio-Cortez (like Trump) was a Twitter native before she ever received a single vote. If you have any doubts about her ability, check out one weekend’s worth of tweets taking on Aaron Sorkin, discussing gaming consoles and raising money for trans kids in the UK.
Like Trump, she’s transcended normal politics to become that most holy of 21st century icons: a celebrity. Also like Trump, she’s learned that her tweets are catnip to reporters, who amplify her words and help them reach a vastly larger audience than they would via social media alone. To some extent, she and Trump have both found that tweets can functionally set the agenda for cable news — for better or worse.
As conveyed by ABC News, Ocasio-Cortez’s Twitter advice is appropriately practical: boiled down, it amounts to “be in the game” and “be yourself”. The last point may be the hardest for experienced politicians not used to letting their freak flag fly in public, but people smell out inauthenticity fast on social media. Traditional politician-speak won’t win many hearts on Twitter or Facebook, no matter how often a congressmember live-streams his lunch.
Before they can show their authentic selves, though, Democrats need to actually be in the arena. She reportedly told her new colleagues:
- “Social media is not just for young people.”
- “If you don’t know what a meme is don’t post a meme.”
- “If you’re an older woman, talk like an older woman talks.”
- “Don’t try to be anybody who you’re not.”
- “Jonathan Dingell is amazing on Twitter, absolutely amazing.”
- “Social media is not a press release. It’s not a press conference.”
- “It’s not the kitchen that’s popular, or the cooking that’s popular, it’s that I’m engaging people doing something I’m already doing.”
- The most effective behavior is “behavior that is not like your normal member of Congress.”
- “Sometimes the culture here is to fit in and keep your heads low,” she said. But “we don’t want to separate ourselves” from constituents on social media.
- “Mute people but try not to block them.”
- “The way we grow our presence is being there.”
Good advice all around! Note that congressional Republicans saw the potential of Twitter to bypass the gatekeepers all the way back in 2008, when they live-tweeted sit-ins from the House floor after then-Speaker Pelosi had turned off the C-Span cameras — almost a decade before Elizabeth Warren’s “nevertheless, she persisted” live-stream. Twitter: good for the goose, good for the gander, good for the Democrats…when they know how to use it right.
For a deeper dive into Twitter tactics, check out the Twitter chapter in “How to Use the Internet to Change the World — and Win Elections.”