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Social Media Strategy for Progressive Democrats

Improve your social media strategy to win elections and inspire voters! Discover my best advice for progressive Democratic candidates.

(Note: This post was originally published on my ethical consumerism blog, The Tree Kisser)

Social media has been the driving force behind nearly all of my professional accomplishments. For over a decade, I’ve used Facebook and Instagram to coordinate successful animal advocacy campaigns & events, to build a personal brand and business around my ethical consumerism blog, and to help other small businesses thrive.

As a passionate, progressive Democrat, I’m eager to share my most successful social media tips, tricks, and strategies with leaders who are fighting the good fight!

It’s no secret that progressive candidates, especially those new to politics, are often outspent by their opponents. This imbalance led to a lot of disappointment for me last year, as I watched several of my preferred candidates lose their elections. I truly believe a strong social media strategy backed by consistent, engaging content is the best way to overcome this disparity.

By sharing my advice, I hope to provide new perspectives and strategies that will help you win elections, galvanize your supporters, and share your vision with the world!

This post is broken into the following sections: The Power Of Social Media & Why Followers Matter (Part 1), Captivate Your Followers and Control Your Narrative with Fresh, Engaging Content (Part 2), Growing Your Social Media Following (Part 3), and Best Practices and Additional Suggestions (Part 4).

Note: The tips below are primarily focused on Instagram and Facebook. However, most of these concepts can be applied to other social media platforms.

Disclaimer: While I’m very engaged in politics, please note that I’m writing this post as someone who has never run for office nor been elected. The opinions & ideas shared below come from my experience as a social media consultant, an inquisitive voter, an obsessive consumer of political news & podcasts, and a campaign super volunteer.

Part 1: The Power Of Social Media & Why Followers Matter

Overhead photo of a woman holding an iPhone and scrolling through Instagram posts.

Before I dive into the “how”, let’s talk about the “why”. Whether you’re running for office and want to expand your reach or you’re already elected and want to strengthen your public profile, I recommend prioritizing social media for the following reasons:

Social media costs candidates nothing but time.

Social media is a powerful tool of democratization. Prior to the growth of social media, candidates could really only spread their message through paid ads or earned media. If you’re running in a local race, your budgets are tight and news networks aren’t always beating down your door. Putting time and energy into your social media channels can help you build a team of engaged, passionate, and loyal supporters without spending a dime!

Social media helps you connect with voters who aren’t politically engaged.

Winning requires attracting voters who don’t seek out political content. If they don’t read political news and aren’t targeted by campaign advertisements, how will they know who you are or how you’re fighting for them?

With entertaining and thought-provoking content, you can attract followers who don’t necessarily care about the details of legislation you’re working on. Through the content you share, you can convey your values and priorities without always mentioning politics. Of course, you’ll also share your political opinions and accomplishments, but people will pay more attention to those if they’re interested in you as a person.

Your constituents will be more supportive and forgiving if they feel they know you personally.

You’re never going to please everyone with the choices you make in office. But if you’ve earned your followers’ trust, they’re more likely to give you the benefit of the doubt. I’m obviously disappointed when a Democratic leader votes against a bill I support or makes a statement with which I disagree. However, if I’ve already come to like and respect that person, one negative action will have a less significant impact on my overall perception of them.

Your social media community can help you help people in need.

You got into this business to make a difference, right? In addition to work you do in your official capacity, you can also mobilize your followers to join you in helping individuals, organizations, and small businesses in your community. After the recent Texas storm, we saw Beto O’Rourke and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez raise millions of dollars to help those impacted. Without their massive online communities, that would not have been possible.

Collage of two images side by side. The images are screenshots of Beto O'Rourke and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's Twitter posts about donations raised for Texas relief.

Left screenshot from @BetoORourke reads, "Thank you all for donating $1.4 million to ensure we can help with water, food and shelter throughout Texas." This is followed by a link to donate more, and a photo of Beto O'Rourke standing in front of donated water bottles.

Right screenshot from @AOC reads, "We just hit $4 million! Reps. Sylvia Garcia, Sheila Jackson Lee & Al Green of Houston are doing incredible work w/ local relief organizations to get emergency relief to Texans. Today we went to food distributions, water delivery sites, and home tours of impacted Texans."
This is followed by four photos of AOC and her team visiting impacted Texans.
Beto O’Rourke (@BetoORourke) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) use Twitter to update followers on fundraising totals.

Of course, Beto & AOC are practically celebrities by now, so I’ll share a personal anecdote that may feel more relevant. A few months ago, I posted an Instagram story about a woman I know who has been experiencing homelessness. She was unprepared for an incoming three day snowstorm with subzero temperatures, and she was terrified. In two hours, my followers donated over $800 to cover motel rooms, food, and clothing for her and her friends. None of that could have happened without the trusting relationship I’ve established with my community.

The more abundant your followers, the more you can help your constituents and others in need. And I’m sure I don’t have to point this out to people working in politics, but I presume these stories can only help you in your next election.

A large social media following equals power.

A large and engaged audience can be a useful tool for persuasion. Call upon your people to make phone calls or send messages when you need your colleagues’ support on an upcoming policy proposal! Likewise, if you have access to a big following, people will want to keep you on their good side. No lawmaker wants to be on the receiving end of a scathing tweet sent to AOC’s 12+ million followers!

Hitting 10,000 followers gets you access to the coveted “swipe up” feature on Instagram.

This point is a bit more specific, but without a verified account, you need 10,000 followers to add links to your Instagram story. Verified accounts are those with the little blue check mark next to their name.

Collage of four images side by side. Images include screenshots from the Instagram stories of Zellnor Myrie, Chi Osse, and Lauren Underwood, all featuring the "swipe up" function that allows them to attach links to their stories.
NY State Senator Zellnor Myrie (@senatormyrie), NYC Council Candidate Chi Ossé (@osse2021), and Illinois Congresswoman Lauren Underwood (@laurenaunderwood) all make good use of Instagram’s “swipe up” function.

People scrolling on social media are easily distracted. When you’re seeking donations or recruiting volunteers, it’s a big ask for supporters to manually type a url or find the website in your bio. If they can access information by simply tapping a button, they’re more likely to take the requested action.

Part 2: Captivate Your Followers and Control Your Narrative with Fresh, Engaging Content

Content is a broad term I’m using to refer to either static posts (photos or videos posted on your main page) or stories (photos or videos that only stay visible for 24 hours).

In planning this post, I scanned the social accounts of 100+ political figures. One pattern quickly became clear. Far too many candidates and elected leaders are using their social media channels almost exclusively to distribute campaign information. Many pages seemed only to be posting about upcoming events, voting requirements and deadlines, endorsement announcements, and legislation updates. I saw a lot of text-filled graphics, and not nearly enough personality. Even as a politically engaged person, I was bored.

Of course you should and need to share information about your campaign and legislation, but not exclusively! Those posts will be useful to your supporters when they have questions, but they aren’t likely to attract anyone new. It’s the posts in between, the ones that give people a sense of who you are and what you stand for, that create the foundation for a strong social media presence.

Below are some content strategy ideas and general tips that should help you generate unique and compelling stories or posts:

Consistency is crucial for engagement.

You’ll see a huge increase in activity and views by adding to your Instagram story multiple times throughout the day. Ideally, it’s also best to share daily static posts. Static posts typically involve more thought and effort, so if posting every day sounds impossible, start by aiming for once every 2-3 days. The algorithm heavily prioritizes consistent posters, and it rewards you for supplying a high volume of content for the platform. Daily posts may sound daunting if this is new behavior for you, but it quickly becomes second nature.

Use examples to show the impact of our donations.

Voters know campaigns cost money, but most have no idea where that money goes or how it’s spent. When you open a box of freshly printed campaign literature, share a photo and tell us, “Your $10 contribution can help us print 100 more flyers. 100 more flyers means 100 more voters will learn about our progressive campaign!” Or share a screenshot of your Facebook advertising statistics and tell us, “Your $20 donation could put our climate justice agenda in front of 1200 local voters.”

Quantifying the impact of your donations turns a financial transaction into a story. It makes us feel more emotionally connected to your campaign. We’re not only donating to a candidate, we’re investing in change. It also convinces us you actually need our donations. Additionally, financial specifics provide transparency. And transparency helps you build trust.

Screenshot of a 2019 Tweet from Beto O'Rourke. The Tweet reads: "Quick update from the road in Iowa. We just filled up the Dodge Grand Caravan for $28.53. Your donations are literally keeping us fueled up as we begin this campaign. Chip in $28.53 now to keep us on the road." This text is followed by a donation link. The attached video is paused on a shot of Beto O'Rourke standing at the gas pump, where he's fueling up his campaign's rental car.
Beto O’Rourke tweets a video standing next to a gas pump, where he requests viewers donate $28.53 to help fuel his campaign vehicle.

Beto O’Rourke made great use of this tactic while driving around Iowa to promote his 2019 Presidential campaign. Across social media, he posted a video showing the exact dollar amount ($28.53) it took to fill his rental car up with gas. As a result, donors felt like they weren’t just sending cash – they were helping their candidate literally spread his message from town to town.

Take us behind the scenes of your campaign or your office.

Professional photos from campaign events and bill signings demonstrate your supporters’ enthusiasm and celebrate your accomplishments, but we also like to see what it takes to make the big events happen.

Two screenshots of politicians' Instagram stories. 

Left image shows Michigan State Rep. Kyrah Bolden making a peace sign with her fingers. The caption reads, "Two bills up in committee today."

Right image from Kansas State Rep. Brandon Woodward shows a view of his workspace. We see an open laptop and a packet of documents flipped open. The text reads, "Homework: 23 bills on debate calendar tomorrow. We usually have 8-10"
Michigan State Rep. Kyrah Bolden (@kyrahbolden) and Kansas State Rep. Brandon Woodard (@btwood125) share behind-the-scenes photos related to pending legislation on their Instagram stories.

Turn the camera on yourself and tell us how you really felt about the day. Tell us what went wrong and how you or your staff handled it. Share pictures of written speeches you gave with your scribbled edits all over the paper. Help us understand what you do!

Share moments from your personal life to help us connect to you.

Many of your posts will likely be work-related, but adding personal content in between helps people connect to you. Post old photos and discuss the challenges you were facing at that time. Share an embarrassing moment you remember. Tell us how you spent your morning before you left for the office. Show us how you can relate to the lives and struggles of your constituents.

Three images together in a college. Left image from Rep. Katie Porter's Instagram page show her sons patching drywall.

Center image shows her caption, which reads: "Even Sunday afternoons require oversight and accountability... These aren’t just professional values; they’re core values applicable to so many situations, including Luke and Paul’s Sunday wrestling match turned drywall repair experience.

It cost them $32 out of their allowance to buy supplies. And took two hours from their video game time.

They were confused that they would be doing this repair. “We thought you’d just yell at us and then hire someone to fix it.”

Right image shows Rep. Katie Porter holding a drill and helping fix the drywall.
California Rep. Katie Porter (@katieporteroc) is great about sharing personal, relatable moments.

If you’re a parent (and if you feel comfortable), tell stories about your kids! One of Rep. Katie Porter’s most popular recent posts showed her sons repairing a patch of drywall they’d broken. That post had nearly 1000 comments on Instagram alone, so people were clearly interested!

Share breaking news stories and react with your genuine opinions.

I learn more about a person’s core values from this kind of content than I do from reading their website. If your post offers an insightful perspective, your followers may share it on their stories or at least leave comments. Engagement is social media currency; the more people react, the more other people will see the post!

Three images, all screenshots from South San Francisco City Councilmember James Coleman's Instagram story, in a collage together.

Left image shows the following tweet from James Coleman: "The city council of South San Francisco unanimously passes a $5 Hazard Pay ordinance for grocery/drug store workers!" The added text from his Instagram story says, "Big News!". There is a GIF at the bottom reading, "Hazard Pay".

Center image shows the following tweet from James Coleman: "This is an emergency ordinance, which means it takes effect now! The ordinance also includes a requirement for paid time leave for any worker who has a vaccination appointment during working hours, as well as retroactive Hazard Pay that goes back to February 11."

Right image shows the following two tweets from James Coleman:
Tweet #1: "With this, South San Francisco becomes the 1st city in San Mateo County to require Hazard Pay for our grocery/drug store workers. We are joining Berkeley, Long Beach, Oakland, San Jose, San Leandro, Seattle, and the county of Santa Clara in standing with our essential workers."
Tweet #2: "Very thankful for my council colleagues who helped create this comprehensive ordinance, and for the leadership of @UFCW5 and @SanMateoLabor in organizing this effort around the county!"
South San Francisco City Councilmember James Coleman (@jamescolemanssf) shares his feedback on breaking news through Twitter and his Instagram story.

Use the questions and polls functions on your Instagram stories.

Social media rewards engagement, and people love to share their opinions. Look for opportunities to use these feedback features. Ask questions like, “What’s an issue you feel strongly about that rarely gets discussed?”, “What do you want to know about running for office?”, or even, “Which of these two sweatshirt designs should we add to our campaign merchandise store?”

Collage of two images. Both are screenshots taken from Palm Springs Mayor Christy Holstege's Instagram story.

Left image: Purple and blue background on Instagram story. Text reads, "How should the state, county (and us at the PS Convention Center) make vaccines and appointments more accessible and more equitable?" 
Question box below reads, "What do you think?". Below is a box where the viewer can type their response.

Right image: Purple and blue background on Instagram story. Text reads, "Your ideas about how to make vaccines more accessible and equitable."
Below, we see four examples of question box answers she received from her followers. Their answers read, "Mobile clinics at worksites during shift change!", "Seven days a week with flexible hours," "Going to Spanish TV stations and addressing concerns in Hispanic communities," and "Appts available 24/7"
Palm Springs Mayor Christy Holstege (@christyholstege) makes great use of questions in her Instagram stories.

If you use the question box, make time later to publicly reply or share answers on your story.

Consider a weekly theme.

Establishing a routine is a creative way to keep yourself on your followers’ minds. If you regularly create informative or entertaining content, people will start to look forward to it! Host something like “Talk To Me Tuesdays”, asking constituents to share their concerns or ask questions. Or center it around an activity, ie: “Sunday Coffee and Questions”. Only do this if you’re confident you can commit to it!

Host live videos whenever possible!

Someday, someone will write a thesis on Beto O’Rourke’s use of live Facebook videos in explaining a) how he came so close to winning the 2018 Texas Senate election and b) how he became famous and beloved so quickly.

Screenshot of Beto O'Rourke's Facebook video archives, with thumbnail photos previewing six different previously recorded videos. Captions on each video preview read, "On the road to Raymondville," "The people of Texas are more than a match for the PACs and Super PACs...", "On the way to Robstown fairgrounds," "Update from CBS-19," "On the road to Corpus Christi," and "Trae The Truth."
Beto O’Rourke’s live Facebook videos were the key to him becoming a household name.

Even as a non-Texan, I tuned in to Beto’s live videos almost every day of his Senate campaign. I looked forward to hearing him chat with his staff as they traveled between cities. Thousands watched anxiously as Beto raced to the airport hoping to make his flight to a major campaign event. I was excited when he ran for President, even though I was more politically aligned with other candidates. All because I felt like I knew him and I trusted his intentions. That relationship you build is the real value of sharing transparent, real life content.

Live videos can be Q&As, behind-the-scenes footage from events, or just spontaneous chats when you want to check in. People are craving real, raw content, and live videos offer exactly this. If a volunteer or staff member is filming the live video while you’re on stage, talking to constituents, or doing something that keeps you busy, try to take breaks to address the camera.

Write long form captions about significant issues.

This is a relatively new phenomenon, but Instagram photos with long captions are starting to gain more traction. Because Instagram launched as a visual medium, we used to be told that brief captions were preferable. Now, users are craving more substantial content, and they often reward that with more comments, shares, and saves. Instagram allows up to 2,200 characters in the caption, which gives you a lot to work with!

Collage with two photos (top and bottom) on the left half, screenshot on the right half.

Photos on the left each show Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez wearing a mask and posing for photos with local small business owners.

Image on the right is a screenshot of the long caption Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez wrote to accompany the photos in her Instagram post. Her caption's text reads:
"Happy Sunday! ⭐️ Did you know that your gift wish-list this holiday season has the power to do SO much good? Here’s what you do: Ask for / put gifts from SMALL BUSINESSES on your list! It could be the make or break for beloved businesses in your community this winter. Let’s support them!
Today I took a stroll in Astoria, Queens to support some of our local small businesses. A brand new zero-waste shop ( just opened up where you can buy non-plastic, reusable, recyclable &/or compostable planet-friendly alternatives to your normal household goods. I picked up some beeswax wraps (which are reusable replacements for plastic food wraps) and a hair conditioner bar (!!) which I am going to try out for the first time. Conditioner bars are small but last a long time, and importantly don’t come in a plastic bottle! Can’t wait to try it out 🤗
Afterwards I stopped by the BELOVED and DELICIOUS @comfortland to pick up an incredible meal. (BTW they’re doing coquito slushees for navidad! 🇵🇷). It was so good we took home pints of their ice cream w/ labels designed by @paulinapizza and some merch.
Getting gifts from small businesses for others is always great, and when you put items on your wish list you are letting your loved ones know that you WANT them! It’s a win/win - especially as we keep fighting for small business, unemployment, stimulus check relief & more in Washington.

Consider asking for restaurant gift certificates, or if you want a book ask for it via an independent bookstore. Your wish list can both stuff your stocking and support your community all once. The mass-market stuff will always be there, but with the pressures of COVID your local small business might not be. Put them on your wish list this year 🎁.
What small business items are you putting on your list this year? Comment with your faves below to give us ideas! SWIPE ➡️ to see today’s small biz mini haul."
New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@aoc) has been utilizing lengthy Instagram captions lately.

Long form captions are a great opportunity to dig into your story. Discuss moments that transformed you. Tell us what inspired you to run for office. Get into the details of a social issue you care about. I recommend writing your caption out in the notes app, adding paragraph breaks and emojis (not too many) where applicable.

(Almost) everyone loves posts about animals!

As a lifelong animal advocate, I’ll admit some bias in this recommendation. That said, I always notice an uptick in engagement when political figures post content featuring pets or wildlife. Think about all the coverage Joe Biden’s rescue dog moving to The White House has gotten!

Collage of two images side by side.

Image on the left is a screenshot of an Instagram post from NYC Council Candidate Aleda Gagarin, overlaid with a screenshot of her original caption. The photo shows a cat sitting on a blanket. Her caption text reads, "So we're fostering this sweet little lady (emoji with heart eyes). Mr. Don't Get Too Attached, @mel.gagarin, fell for her fast and hard."

Image on the right is a screenshot of an Instagram post from Michigan State Rep. Laurie Pohutsky, overlaid with a screenshot of her original caption. Photo shows a large rescue dog sitting on a couch, looking into the camera. Her original caption's text reads: "This was the reaction of Handsome Hank, a noted rescue pup, when I told him there would be rescue dogs in the White House."
NYC Council Candidate Aleda Gagarin (@aleda.gagarin) and Michigan State Rep. Laurie Pohutsky (@lauriepohutsky) use Instagram to feature their foster cat and rescue dog!

Don’t have a pet to talk about? Visit an animal shelter and ask staff if you can introduce some adoptable pets to your followers. Foster a rescue pet if you have the time, space, and interest! You could also visit local wildlife rehabilitation centers, or even share tips for protecting wild animals and pollinators in your backyard. Because animal rescue and wildlife protection are (for the most part) non-controversial issues, you’re likely to attract support outside your traditional base.

Consider investing in tools to improve the quality and ease of your content creation.

Want better, more flattering lighting? Tired of holding your phone up while you film or try to get the perfect shot? There are many products that can take your content to the next level. Two popular choices (both of which I use) are the Neewer Ring Light and this Cell Phone Tripod/Selfie Stick (comes with a bluetooth cell remote, so you can take pictures without touching the phone).

I also recommend experimenting with photo editing apps. You don’t want to overly edit your photos to the point of being unrealistic, but sometimes a few tweaks or a subtle filter can make a big difference! I recommend VSCO and Pink Papaya.

Collage of two images side by side.

Image on the left is my small rescue dog, laying on her back and looking up at the camera. Text over image reads, "Before VSCO App".

Image on the right is the same photo of the dog, after having a photo editing filter applied to make the colors stand out and look more crisp. Text over image reads, "After VSCO App".
Before and after pictures of my dog, using the VSCO app (S2 filter).

Share quality content from other people and organizations.

Make sure you follow organizations and leaders you support. Share their informational or inspirational posts to your story, tagging the source’s account (so they’ll know you shared it). This will strengthen your reputation as a source of valuable content, and will help your story stay more consistent.

Collage of three images, side by side.

Left image is a screenshot from Palm Springs Mayor Christy Holstege's Instagram story. It shows a preview of an Instagram post she shared from Instagram user @chrissyteigan's page. The shared post has a colorful background with text reading, "How to be an ally + help Asian Americans fight anti-Asian racism." Icon at the top indicates this is the first slide of a multi-slide post.

Center image is a screenshot from NYC Council Candidate Kenya Handy-Hilliard's Instagram story. It shows a preview of an Instagram post she shared from Instagram user @persist_ny’s page. The shared post has a red background with teal accents. The text on that post reads, “NYS Senate codifies voting rights for people released from prison! We call on the NYS Assembly to take action and finally end Jim Crow voting bans. #RestoreTheVote.” On her Instagram story, Kenya Handy-Hilliard has added a GIF of a red siren.

Right image is a screenshot from Santa Ana City Councilwoman Jessie Lopez's Instagram story. It shows a preview of an Instagram post she shared from Instagram user @nuhwunion’s page. The shared post has a red background with text reading, “Over 1,500 nursing home staff have died from COVID, making nursing home caregiver the most dangerous job in America.” Below, red boxes with white text reading “NUHW” serves as the National Union of Healthcare Workers’ logo.
Palm Springs Mayor Christy Holstege (@christyholstege), NYC Council Candidate Kenya Handy-Hilliard (@kenyaforthepeople2021), and Santa Ana City Councilwoman Jessie Lopez (@votejessielopez) all share valuable resources and news items on their Instagram stories.

Part 3: Growing Your Social Media Following

Whether you’re starting with 50 followers or 50,000, it’s always important to keep growing. Building an Instagram audience was easier when I started in 2011, but there are still creative techniques you can use to grow, one follower at a time. When you next have downtime, stop aimlessly scrolling and use this time to your strategic advantage.

Fortunately, you all have one big advantage: your office or the office you’re running for! People are attracted to and fascinated by power. Make sure your title or the one you’re aspiring to is clear on your profile! This absolutely increases the likelihood that people visiting your page will want to follow you. The following tips will help you put that advantage to use:

Be interactive on other posts, especially those of your colleagues and fellow candidates.

Leave substantial, thoughtful comments on posts from people you already follow, especially those in the political arena. People reading the post may see your comment, visit your page, and click that follow button! Recently, while waiting for a pot of water to boil, I wrote a long comment on a post (relevant to my niche) I came across. Within minutes, I had five new followers from that exchange!

Consider reaching out to your network to emphasize the importance of engaging with one another’s content. Many people have no idea how valuable this is!

Use your ad budget to boost popular posts.

This blog post mostly focuses on free, organic growth, but many of you probably use paid advertising as well. I recommend prioritizing boosted posts over generic campaign introductions. Rather than putting the bulk of your dollars behind spreading your campaign video, choose some of your entertaining, inspirational, or impassioned posts to promote. Pick content that generated a positive organic response (a post that received more likes, comments, and shares than usual) and put that in front of people.

Why? Because people are both overwhelmed by political messaging and skeptical of politicians in general. They don’t yet know why you’re different or why they should trust you. They’ll keep scrolling before you can say, “I’m Jane Smith and I’m running to be your next Mayor.” A photo, video, or text post that conveys your values and your authenticity is more likely to intrigue them. Show, don’t tell.

Search hashtags to engage with voters in your area.

Attracting followers can be as easy as leaving comments on your constituents’ posts! Use hashtags relevant to your city or state to find posts from potential supporters. I’m in Denver, so I would search hashtags like #DenverArtists, #DenverSmallBusiness, #DenverDining, or even just #Denver. You can also search by locations like your neighborhood, your city, or a business where your ideal constituent might hang out. You’ll be given a choice to see results by “top” or “recent”; for this purpose, I recommend “recent”.

Collage of three similar images, side by side.

Left image: Screenshot of Instagram search results for #denversmallbusiness. Results can be filtered by the labels “top” or “recent”, and “recent” is in bold text, indicated it is displaying results from recent posts. Below, we see 12 thumbnail images, representing various Instagram posts that have been tagged using the hashtag #denversmallbusiness.

Center image: Screenshot of Instagram search results for #denver. Results can be filtered by the labels “top” or “recent”, and “recent” is in bold text, indicated it is displaying results from recent posts. Below, we see 12 thumbnail images, representing various Instagram posts that have been tagged using the hashtag #denver.

Right image: Screenshot of Instagram search results for #denverartists. Results can be filtered by the labels “top” or “recent”, and “recent” is in bold text, indicated it is displaying results from recent posts. Below, we see 12 thumbnail images, representing various Instagram posts that have been tagged using the hashtag #denverartists.
Examples of local hashtag search results on Instagram.

When you see an interesting post, leave a like and a comment! Commenting with a question is extra helpful, because the person is more likely to engage with your response. Then visit that person’s page and see if they have another post or two you can say something about. If coming up with relevant comments feels forced, just be straightforward. Tell them you’re running for or currently in office, and ask which issues matter to them. If they answer, be sure you do too!

Note: this method works best on posts from people who don’t have large followings. They’re more likely to pay attention to each comment.

This process gets a little repetitive, so it’s is a great activity for when you’re watching TV or listening to a podcast.

Post about the local businesses you visit.

Many people do this with restaurants, but keep it in mind at hair salons, veterinarians, bookstores, car repair shops, etc. Not only does this show your support for your local community, many businesses will repost your content on their story. For the business to receive a notification, make sure to tag their username, not just click on the location.

Collage of two images, side by side.

Left image shows a screenshot of Queens City Council candidate Felicia Singh’s Instagram story. It shows a close up photo of a plastic to-go cup holding iced coffee. The overlaid text reads, “@thelocalpressnyc coming in clutch! This coffee is getting me through my 279338 zoom meetings today!” There are also two GIFs placed over the image. One is a teal circle with white text reading, “Order Online.” The other is yellow text reading “Support Local”.

Right image shows a screenshot of NYC City Council candidate Shahana Hanif’s Instagram story. It shows the candidate looking into the camera and eating a large piece of deep dish pizza. The text overlaid reads, “honestly, don’t talk to me if you haven’t had a Sicilian square slice from @lbspumonigardens.”
Queens City Council candidate Felicia Singh (@feliciasingh2021) and NYC City Council candidate Shahana Hanif (@shahanafrombk) use their Instagram stories to share treats purchased from local businesses.

The majority of their followers are probably in your area, putting you in front of more local voters! While you’re visiting, mention to the employees or business owners what you’re running for or what you do. This will make them more likely to mention those details in the repost. A local coffee shop posting “City council candidate (your name) came to see us today!” is more helpful than them just sharing a picture you took.

In the months before the 2021 runoff election, (now) Senator Jon Ossoff repeatedly visited and posted about Atlanta’s Slutty Vegan, a popular restaurant boasting 400k+ Instagram followers. As a result, they shared content about him constantly, a phenomenon I suspect played a role in his victory!

Reach out to bloggers, social media influencers & “micro-influencers” in your area.

Connect with influencers who may be willing to talk about you, write about you, or share your content. You don’t need to find people with a massive audience; look for anyone with more than a couple thousand followers. In fact, “micro-influencers” (as those with more modest followings are called) are likely people whose followers trust and relate to them most.

Tell the person about yourself and ask if they have any issues or concerns they’d like to discuss. Maybe they have questions to ask you. Even a simple back-and-forth conversation may end up on their story!

If they seem interested and if your values are aligned, ask them to interview you or share your story. If they aren’t currently interested in doing so, make sure they know they can reach out in the future.

Collage of three images side by side.

Left image is a screenshot of an Instagram post from Lauren Harrington (@laurenharrington___). In the photo, Lauren's young daughter is whispering in Lauren's ear. The caption reads: "My daughter telling me that weak Democrats will never change because they’re incentivized by their billionaire donors so the only way to get economic justice is by primarying them all out...
#political #socialism #democraticsocialist @theyoungturks #tyt"

Center image is a screenshot of Lauren Harrington’s main Instagram page, showing her 4,774 followers.

Right image is a screenshot of an Instagram video from Lauren Harrington. The video is paused with her speaking to the camera. Closed captioning text overlaid on her video reads: “I think something that doesn’t get talked about enough is that, when people have their material needs met, not only is it the morally right thing to do - it also makes our entire society a better place to live. Education improves.”

The caption preview reads: “☮️Not only is it morally right, but meeting the material needs of the members of our society benefits everyone…(more)”
Reach out to people like Lauren Harrington (@laurenharrington___), a progressive activist and micro-influencer in Denver.

Ideally, you’ll want to find someone like my friend Lauren Harrington (shown above), a progressive activist who focuses heavily on political content. That said, don’t limit yourself to vocally political people! You may want to skip influencers who focus on one specific content category, but you never know. Maybe a cooking blogger would consider a guest post where you introduce yourself and share your favorite recipe! You can also seek out influencers who focus on sustainability, childcare, racial justice, and other issues relevant to your progressive vision.

Some influencers are afraid to discuss politics during national elections, because they feel their impact won’t be big enough to risk venturing into controversial content. However, if you’re running in a local race with smaller margins, knowing their content could actually influence an election might be appealing!

There are websites that specialize in finding local influencers, and you can certainly look into those. However, I’d start by doing your own detective work. Google “bloggers in (your city/state)” or “influencers in (your city/state)”. Or head back to those hashtags and search things like #(yourcity)Blogger. When you search hashtags, select the “top” filter to see the most popular recent posts under that tag. Those posts will likely come from people with substantial followings.

Above all, create shareable content!

All of this growth strategy comes back to content. The more interesting, informative, and inspirational your posts are, the more people will share and talk about them.

If you don’t currently pay much attention to social media, make some time for it. Notice which styles and types of posts get traction. Follow people in your field, especially those with large, engaged followings, and see what works for them. Then put your own spin on those concepts, and see what you can do!

Part 4: Best Practices and Additional Suggestions

We’ve covered why social media is important, what kinds of content to focus on, and how to grow your followers. The remaining tips are here to help you build upon the aforementioned strategies!

Reply to comments as quickly as possible.

Most social media platforms reward users for starting conversations and interacting with one another. Instagram determines the value of your posts very quickly. A post with increasing comments is more likely to pop up in the feeds of your existing followers.

Collage of two images side by side.

Left image is a screenshot of an Instagram post from Kerri-Ann Nesbeth. The image shows Kerri-Ann sitting cross legged and smiling. Her caption preview reads: “#20for20 We have 20 days left in our campaign, which gives you 20 days to get involved! Donate $20, volunteer, make a call, tell a friend, and share…(more)”

Right image is a screenshot of the comments section on that post. Featured exchange in the comments is as follows:

Comment from @thetreekisser: “Loved listening to your story on the @runforsomethingnow podcasT. I’ll chip in right now and will be rooting for you!”

Reply from @kerriannnesbeth: “@thetreekisser thank you SO much, Jessica! 💛”

Reply from @thetreekisser: “@kerriannnesbeth My pleasure. My goal this year is to pay much more attention to down ballot races, especially when there’s a bold, progressive candidate involved!”

Reply from @kerriannnesbeth: “@thetreekisser I love it! 🔥 #YesWeKAN”
Miramar City Commission Candidate Kerri-Ann Nesbeth (@kerriannnesbeth) was great at responding quickly to my comment!

Try to reply with at least four words. “Thank you” isn’t nearly as valuable as “thank you for your feedback!” Even better, respond with a question when applicable. Replying to comments also makes your followers feel heard and valued, making them more likely to engage the next time.

PS: This same principle applies to direct messages! The more quickly you reply, the better.

Try to get a “verified account” (that little blue checkmark) on social media platforms

Ever seen a blue checkmark next to someone’s name on social media? That means they’re considered a “notable” account. The checkmark signals to other users that you’re a trustworthy person they should pay attention to. Being verified can be hugely helpful when it comes to attracting new followers! And, as mentioned earlier, verified accounts also get access to the Instagram “swipe up” feature in stories.

Screenshot from Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley's Instagram page. Next to her username (@ayannapressley), we see a light blue checkmark logo, indicating she has a verified account.
Massachusetts Rep. Ayanna Pressley (@ayannapressley) has a blue checkmark next to her username, proving she has a verified account.

Each platform has different procedures and requirements for verification, and they’re often vague. One of their many considerations is whether you’re “likely to be impersonated,” which is certainly relevant to political candidates and leaders. Whether you’re running for office or already elected, it’s worth applying! If you’re turned away at first, you can apply again later.

Follow these links to apply for verification on Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter (program temporarily on hold).

Include your office (or the office you’re seeking), your location, and your election date in your bio.

Don’t assume people visiting your page know who you are! Whether you’re running for office or already elected, write that information (along with your location) in your profile bio. And if you have an election coming up, be sure to include that date so your supporters can plan when to vote!

Screenshot of Kerri-Ann Nesbeth's (@kerriannnesbeth) Instagram profile. Her biography reads:
"Kerri-Ann Nesbeth
Political Candidate
3rd gen Miramarian 🌴. Ed reformer 🍎. Data nerd 📊. Dog mom 🐶.
Candidate, Miramar Commission Seat 1.
Vote on March 9, 2021. #YesWeKAN"
Miramar City Commission Candidate Kerri-Ann Nesbeth (@kerriannnesbeth) made sure to include her candidacy, her location, and the election date in her Instagram bio!

Note: Once you’ve won your election, be sure to update your bio. I saw multiple Instagram accounts from recently elected officials whose bios still said, “running for”.

Repurpose your content across other social media platforms.

Collage of three images side by side.

Each image shows a screenshot of nearly identical social media posts from candidate Lindsey Boylan. The left image shows a Twitter post, the center image shows an Instagram post, and the right image shows a Facebook post. Each post includes a casual photo of Lindsey smiling and waving at the camera. Each image is accompanied by the caption, “I’m on call time dialing people for grassroots support to fuel our campaign. Can you help us today? NYC resident donations are matched 8:1!! That’s a big deal! Link in bio.”
Candidate Lindsey Boylan (@lindseyboylanny on Instagram) shares relevant posts across all of her social media platforms.

Unless they’re diehard supporters, most people won’t follow you on all social media platforms. If you put work into a Facebook photo, share it on Instagram and/or Twitter. When you do a live or longer form video for Instagram, upload it to Facebook and/or YouTube!

Not all content will make sense for every platform, but much of it will. The more platforms you’re active on, the bigger reach you have.

Encourage people to click “save” on your Instagram posts that contain useful information.

That little bookmark icon on the bottom right below your Instagram post is the “save” button. Users can tap that if they want to refer back to the post later. Saving a post tells Instagram a user finds it valuable enough to revisit, which will help you in the algorithm.

Screenshot of an Instagram caption from candidate Chi Osse (@osse2021). A pink arrow points to a darkened in bookmark icon, indicating that the post has been saved.

The post's caption reads: "Verified
I had so much fun talking to our neighbors today during our Saturday canvassing!

I chatted with our community about gentrification and life after incarceration, as well as why this upcoming election is so important."
NYC Council Candidate Chi Ossé (@osse2021) has great Instagram content! The bookmark icon here is shaded in because I saved this post.

Adding a call-to-action like, “Be sure to save this post if you found it valuable!” on your most informative posts can be a gentle reminder for your viewers. Just don’t say it on every single post!

Use your Instagram story to share positive comments and messages you receive.

When someone says something flattering about you, share it! Of course, if it’s a private message, ask permission first. Take a screenshot, crop around the text you want to share, and add your own reply or commentary.

Screenshot of an Instagram story from candidate Amanda Farías ( In her story, she has shared a screenshot of a comment left on one of her posts. Amanda has added a heart GIF and commentary reading, "Find me a cuter abuelita response"
NYC Council Candidate Amanda Farías ( shared this sweet comment (left on one of her posts) on her Instagram story.

Sharing positive comments demonstrates the real support you have and encourages people to engage (in hopes that you’ll post their comment). For example, I’m a longtime fan of Senator Cory Booker and have occasionally posted about him on my Instagram story. When he sees and shares those posts, it makes me want to post about him more often!

Be interactive on your campaign’s Facebook Event pages.

Many candidates use Facebook Event pages to publicize upcoming fundraisers, rallies, volunteer opportunities, and other noteworthy happenings. Unfortunately, almost every political Facebook Event page I’ve seen offers the bare minimum. The organizer posts one image, the date/time/description of the event, and a link to RSVP outside of Facebook. Then they never return to the page. This is SUCH a missed opportunity.

While consulting for a local retail business last year, I started promoting their in-store sales with Facebook Events. I posted new content (photos of merchandise, insider tips about extra discounts, etc.) in the discussion area at least every other day leading up to the sale. The payoff was huge. People who RSVP to your Facebook Event get notifications every time you post in the discussion! This is a great way to make people feel included in your campaign. Once they’re invested, they’re more likely to share the event and invite others!

You can post anything from simple messages from the candidate, links to recent interviews, or your most recent Instagram photo. Post a poll asking them to select the reason they’re attending. As I mentioned before, people love to give their opinions. Facebook Event pages will mostly be seen by your active supporters, so have fun with them!

Join local Facebook groups and interact with members.

There’s a Facebook group for just about everything. Start by joining political or issue based groups, where your message is likely to be well-received. For example, here in Denver we have Denver Progressives, Progressive Democrats of Colorado, Our Revolution – Metro Denver, and Colorado Justice Reform. And there are many more where those came from!

Collage of three images side by side.

Each image is a screenshot of Facebook search results for different Facebook groups. Each result shows a politically themed image with the name of the group below. The left image features a group called “Denver Progressives”, the center image features a group called “State of Colorado: Progressives For Positive Change”, and the right image features a group called “Colorado Justice Reform”.

After joining, take a look at the group rules. If permitted, introduce yourself and your campaign. Tell them what you’re fighting for, when your election is, and how they can follow you on social media. Try to interact with other posts in the group. People are more receptive when they feel like you didn’t show up just to promote yourself.

Join Nextdoor and introduce yourself to your community.

Nextdoor is a location-based social media platform meant to connect you to people nearby. Introduce yourself and ask people to share concerns relevant to the office you occupy or are seeking. Tell them where they can follow you on social media for more updates. Post on Nextdoor every 2-3 weeks, switching up the text and the image (if you use one). You’re likely to reach different people each time.

Trust your instincts and don’t be afraid to experiment!

Don’t let perfection be the enemy of progress. It’s better to post something average than nothing at all. You’re not likely to lose followers from one dud of a post, and you’ll gain more traction by posting consistently.

I hope this post has been helpful! I’m thrilled and inspired to see so many progressive Democrats running for office in the next couple years. I want you to get the attention and support you deserve. If you have questions about anything I mentioned, feel free to contact me! Send an email to or message me on Instagram at @thetreekisser!

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