Biden harnesses influencer star power to ramp up digital outreach

Democratic presidential candidate, and former Vice President Joe Biden speaks about the unrest across the country from Philadelphia City Hall on June 2, 2020 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, contrasting his leadership style with that of US President Donald Trump, and calling George Floyds death a wake-up call for our nation. (Photo by JIM WATSON / AFP) (Photo by JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images)

Joe Biden's campaign is harnessing star power to ramp up its digital outreach in an appeal to young Americans, a demographic Biden has worked to win over in previous months after struggling to gain its support in the primary.

Since last week, Biden has participated in several Instagram Live interviews with influencers and celebrities, including actress and talk show host Keke Palmer, Jerry Harris of Netflix's docuseries "Cheer," Youtuber Bethany Mota and dancer Allison Holker. And there are more to come, a Biden campaign adviser tells CNN. Prior to these interviews, Biden had only participated in one Instagram Live during his campaign, with soccer star Megan Rapinoe, in April.

As the national conversation revolves around racial justice and police brutality, this first round of digital partnerships were mostly targeted toward influencers with younger, black followings. The platform and specific partnerships will vary to accommodate different issues and audiences.

"It's also contingent on when there's a conversation to be had that reaches a demographic that we want to talk to," said Meghan Hays, deputy communications director for the Biden campaign. "There were a lot of things that were timely in the news that made sense, when it comes to these Instagram Lives, to have an influencer conversation."

The push exposes Biden to followers who may not otherwise have seen content put out by the campaign, whether on Twitter or on its own Instagram account. Palmer has 9.6 million followers compared to Biden's 2.4 million, and shares over half of her followers with users like Beyoncé, Cardi B and Kevin Hart, while half of Mota's 4.6 million followers are shared with pop star Ariana Grande, according to Instagram analytics. Combined, all five Instagram accounts reach over 20 million individual followers. A bite from Holker's interview also posted on TikTok, where she has a reach of 2.3 million followers.

"We view it as incredibly important to get off of our own platform and to reach people in demographics that we need to reach in order to win the election," Biden campaign digital director Rob Flaherty said. "Whether it's a celebrity or an influencer or a platform like the Shade Room, we're going to different places to be able to leverage that incremental reach."

The idea behind these partnerships is to form "real, unscripted" dialogue between the candidate and the influencer. While Biden may be reaching new demographics through these mediums, his message remains unchanged. In his interview with Mota, who is 24, Biden, a student of history, recycled an oft-repeated Franklin Roosevelt quote, and he told Harris that his inspiration to run for office came from Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr.

During his interview with Harris, when asked what he would say to minorities who are not registered to vote because "they feel like it isn't important and doesn't matter," Biden responded that the vote is the most "powerful nonviolent tool" available.

"I know I'm 100 years older than you, OK," Biden joked. "But in the words of my friend John Lewis, he's a real civil rights hero, is -- the vote is the most powerful nonviolent tool we have."

Vickie Segar, the founder of Village Marketing, an influencer marketing agency, has been engaged with the Biden campaign to help manage their partnerships with influencers.

"We chose the first group because they all had very topical questions that they wanted answered, and they had a varied audience," Segar, who is consulting the campaign, told CNN.

Harris, for example, had just registered to vote, while Holker, who is 32, is a young mom. Right after the campaign had approached Holker to participate in an interview, she went viral in a video with her husband, dancer Stephen "tWitch" Boss, that highlighted white privilege.

Segar says the campaign chose Palmer because they thought she would ask real, unfiltered questions.

"She asked whatever she wanted, and that's what we expected. And we got Biden's real answers about things that he felt were addressing concerns that she has in the black community," Segar said.

Palmer, for her part, made clear in the video's caption that her interview with Biden was not an endorsement.

"I hesitated because I know people might be quick to judge this as a political endorsement, but then I thought about it and realized that I am a host. I interview people for a living and we millennials deserve to be heard someway somehow," she wrote. "I did this to help myself and hopefully others get more engaged in the conversation before we cast our votes this November and I am willing to ask the same questions to anybody else trying to be in a position of power that cares to hear what we think."

It's no secret that Biden, who would be 78 years old on Inauguration Day if elected, has struggled to gain support from the youth demographic. But according to a recent New York Times poll analysis based on an average of live interview polls from May and June, Biden leads Trump by 22 points among voters aged 18-34. That is an 8-point improvement from a CNN April analysis and is about equal to how Clinton did with them, though Biden leads by about 5 points more among all voters than Clinton in national polling.

As calls for justice on racial issues and swift movement in police reform grow increasingly louder, Biden has received pushback from progressive groups like Sunrise Movement and Black Lives Matter, both groups which feature large swaths of younger voters, for not taking more aggressive criminal justice action. All of this comes amid the backdrop of a global pandemic that threatens to create economic hardship.

Last month, the campaign launched League 46, a grassroots effort focused on mobilizing young voters designed to bring together young Americans of "every race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation, ability, economic background, and geographic area" to build "armies" of supporters across the nation.

CNN's Harry Enten contributed to this story.

Support Local Journalism

Now, more than ever, the world needs trustworthy reporting—but good journalism isn’t free. Please support us by subscribing or making a contribution today.

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Please log in, or sign up for a new, free account to read or post comments.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.