Lessons From the AOC Social Media Playbook
On a recent episode of Late Show, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez discussed how she was asked to teach members of congress how to use their social media presence effectively and explain the strategy behind it. While “don’t post a meme if you don’t know what a meme is,” might seem like obvious advice, she’s speaking to a much bigger idea in the age of ‘influencers’ and ‘thought leaders’ that often gets lost. Don’t add your voice to the conversation if you don’t have a clear point of view; just because something is a trend, it does not mean that you have to comment on it; and most importantly, do not water down your brand by talking about everything.
Watching AOC on Late Show inspired us: what positive lessons could we take directly from the AOC social media playbook, and how can we take her model to shift how we have conversations, who we target, and connect to our audience?
You Can Dance If You Want To
One of AOC’s breakthrough moments came about when the right-wing, digging for dirt, found a video of Alexandria dancing on a rooftop in college to Phoenix’s “Lisztomania” in an apparent homage to The Breakfast Club. While the video was surfaced to discredit Ocasio-Cortez, and paint her as young and frivolous, she expertly reframed the terms of the conversation. “I hear the GOP thinks women dancing are scandalous,” Ocasio-Cortez wrote in a tweet, accompanied with her a new video of her dancing later that same day. “Wait till they find out that Congresswomen dance too!”
As of today, her new video has 20.9 million views. Meanwhile, the original video ended up taking a life of its own and became a meme, with different Twitter followers setting the video to different music, most notably, Ice Cube’s, “Arrest The President.” And although AOC only has 3.1 million followers, compared to Trump’s 58.2 million, she has one of the highest rates of engagement and interaction rates of anyone in Office, and she has seen a 600 percent increase in followers since last June.
In the end, AOC used a “negative” moment to shrug off her haters, connect with her base, and build up an even bigger audience.
Where’s Mitch? And Asking the Questions Americans Want to Know
AOC’s first days in office were during the government shutdown. Showing her solidarity with millions of Americans working without pay during that time, Ocasio-Cortez organized her freshman class of representatives to sign a letter to reopen the government in her Where’s Mitch? campaign. The question mirrored the exact question Americans were asking themselves: how are elected officials working to solve this problem?
Beyond creating the trending hashtag, Where’s Mitch? AOC used the opportunity of the government shutdown to speak to the issues that mattered most to her and her constituents and to call out instead of pander to people in power. In so doing, she positioned herself and also the idea of what a freshman congresswoman can bring to the table.
She Reminds Us of Her Roots and Always Brings Her Message Back Home
While AOC has garnered national attention, been featured on late night television, and has had countless thinkpieces dedicated to her, she has never stopped representing the Bronx and bringing her local concerns to a national level. She takes a true cross-channel approach to this, whether it’s on her Twitter feed, Instagram, or when she’s curating clips where she’s recently been featured.
Recently, Ocasio-Cortez did an interview with the local New York outlet Spectrum, where she discussed the importance of congresspeople still living in the districts they represent. AOC has cultivated her brand in a way that makes her approachable to both her constituents and politicians alike, and she’s done it by driving her message home, giving us all a model we can all learn from.
Always Be Listening: Confronting the Opposition and Reshaping the Debate
For years, we’ve watched women in Washington not respond to misogynistic attacks made by pundits because it was “beneath them.” However, part of the #metoo era is being shaped by women willing to confront and tear down the trappings of patriarchy. Whether pundits have criticized how AOC dresses or the media has tried to mine her personal life for clickbait, Ocasio-Cortez has skillfully unveiled these moments for what they are: personal attacks that have nothing to do with her job or how she represents her district.
What’s masterful about AOC’s clapback is that she pays careful attention to who is criticizing her and why, before investing her time in responding. By doing so, she’s also making her male colleagues rethink how they criticize her and changing the very way that we debate. She’s not just owning the conversation across social media, she’s steering the terms of the debate itself.
Know Your Allies, Grow, and Build a Movement with Them
The grassroots organizing committee Justice Democrats helped recruit AOC, alongside Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, and Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and a total of seven new progressives in Congress. This is the group behind the Green New Deal and creating a national living wage. These newly elected leaders have chosen to support each other across social media platforms, holding events together, cosponsoring legislation, and driving home the messages that matter most to them by echoing and recognizing each other on the floor during hearings at the house of representatives.
To Justice Democrats, their strength is in the collective rather than the individual. And by working together on initiatives, this freshman class of congresspeople is demonstrating what’s possible when you’re organized.
In her social media presence, AOC has found ways to spotlight the old school, the new school, and all of the people that it takes to foster change and create new policy. She’s created strategic allies, built a brand around authenticity, and fosters engagement by listening to her constituents. AOC teaches us to be the embodiment of what we want to see in the world and communicate accordingly.