Michael Bloomberg Bankrolls a Huge Social Media and Text Message Effort in California

Voters in that state go to the primary polls March 3

Illustration of people using social media and texts next to photo of Mike Bloomberg
Over 500 “deputy field organizers” are being hired to recruit, train and activate friends and family in their networks to support Bloomberg.
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The campaign for Democratic presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg is taking advantage of the billionaire’s vast financial resources by paying more than 500 people in California to support his candidacy via social media posts and text messages to their friends.

The Wall Street Journal reported that the effort could wind up costing millions of dollars, citing people with knowledge of the initiative and documents obtained by the newspaper.

Bloomberg will take part in his first Democratic presidential candidates debate in Las Vegas Wednesday night, and, in the meantime, his campaign has been hammering away at social media.

Earlier this month, the campaign teamed up with Meme 2020, a group of high-profile meme accounts led by Jerry Media’s Mick Purzycki, on an Instagram meme campaign via some of those accounts, which forced Instagram parent Facebook to address how it handles political ads in the form of branded content.

The Journal reported that the Bloomberg campaign is using the strategy of trying to influence potential voters via people they already know and trust, which the campaign for President Donald Trump successfully did in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election.

Sabrina Singh, national spokesperson for the Bloomberg campaign, confirmed in an email to Adweek that over 500 “deputy field organizers” were being hired to recruit, train and activate friends and family in their networks to support Bloomberg, by means including digital conversations (social posts), individual conversations (text messages) and recruitment efforts.

Singh added that there is no quota for social posts and that those posts are staffers’ own content, on their own social channels, not ads.

Those deputy field organizers are also responsible for garnering support for events such as days of action and get-out-the-vote efforts.

The Journal reported that deputy field organizers would receive them $2,500 per month to work 20-30 hours per week and that a quality-control team would help ensure that social posts are appropriate and on-message.

Suggested messages referenced in the documents included “The Fight for Equal Rights Has Been One of the Great Fights of Mike’s Life,” refering to Bloomberg’s early support for same-sex marriage, and “Ha! Even Republicans think Mike is our best bet to defeat Trump! Let’s prove them right,” which linked to a news article quoting conservative political operatives who felt strongly about Bloomberg’s prospects, according to the Journal.

The Bloomberg campaign also had plans to recruit 2,500 “digital organizing fellows,” to be paid $500 per month to post daily on social media and share their contact lists with the campaign’s database, but a spokesperson for the campaign told the Journal that those plans were shelved.

The 500-plus deputy field organizers were originally referred to as “deputy digital organizers,” the spokesperson added, but the title was changed to reflect the possibility of more traditional campaign activities being part of their duties.

Much like the Instagram meme campaign earlier this month sailing into uncharted waters in terms of social platforms’ policies, it was unclear whether platforms such as Facebook and Twitter had policies in place for posts or tweets on the personal accounts of people being paid by the campaign.

A Facebook spokesperson said in an email, “We think it’s important that political campaigns have the guidance and tools to be transparent. That’s why we recommend that campaign employees make the relationship clear on their accounts. We welcome clearer guidance from regulators in this area.” The company is also exploring additional transparency tools.

And a Facebook spokesperson told the Journal that posts by content creators on Facebook and Instagram required labels if they were paid for by political campaigns, while posts by campaign employees did not have to be labeled as political ads.

A spokesperson for Twitter told Adweek in an email, “Twitter’s political ad ban specifically addresses promoted advertising products on Twitter. The policy does not cover organic content, which we specifically address here under ‘paid partnerships.’ Any attempt to increase the reach of political content through something like promoted tweets would fall under our political advertising ban and not be allowed on the service.”

The Bloomberg campaign spokesperson told the Journal that it considers these social posts to be a new form of political organizing, and not paid influencer content, so it does not believe those posts should require labels.

The initiative is using Outvote, an application funded by Democratic political technology incubator Higher Ground Labs, to enable the deputy field organizers to send prewritten texts, create social posts, send data back to the campaign and research if their friends voted in past elections by matching their contact lists against publicly available data, the Journal reported.

A spokesperson for the Trump campaign told the Journal that it employs staff to post on social media and other digital platforms, but it does not pay people to use their personal accounts as part of that effort.

Singh said, “We are meeting voters everywhere on any platform where they consume their news. One of the most effective ways of reaching voters is by activating their friends and networks to encourage them to support Mike for president.”

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