A definite winning strategy in social media for political campaigning is authenticity. In an interview with The Hill, Erin Lindsay, the former Deputy Director of Online Engagement for the first-ever White House Office of Digital Strategy, stated:
“Authenticity is a big thing in social media. I think the candidates that are the most successful are the ones that are clearly the most comfortable.”
This strategy is not exclusive to politics in the United States. The current President of Guatemala, Jimmy Morales, ran a successful social media campaign in 2015, primarily on the basis of the “authentic” politician, getting him elected on October 25, 2015. He won in a run-off election with 67.44% of the vote against Sandra Torres, who received a mere 32.56% of the vote. Morales ran under the ticket of being an ‘anti-establishment’ candidate. Torres, his opponent, had previously been the wife of a former Guatemalan president -- definitely part of the political establishment.
Morales’ ability to sell his authenticity through social media is what won him the election.
Did I forget to mention he was also a professional comedian before getting into politics in 2008? He effectively combined his personable and communicative skills with a social media campaign that highlighted his humanity on his Website, Youtube, Facebook and Twitter. He was the “Common Man”.
Even after his being elected, all of these channels still operate under the impression that Morales understands the realities of Guatemalans in ways that political elites of the past could never. And while many of the ads published online are also the ones that aired on television at the time, he was already known on television as a comedian. His face would begin to appear on social media as the political candidate that would change corruption in Guatemalan politics for good.
The Candidate’s Platform or Lack Thereof
There is no doubt that the tumultuous political context in which he entered the presidential race was also a factor in winning the election. Morales knew how to capitalize on it.
The United Nation’s International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala had placed former President Otto Pérez Molina and former Vice President Roxanna Baldetti, under criminal investigation for accepting bribes alongside high ranking officials in the Guatemalan customs agency.
Voters were surely tired of political impunity and corruption at the highest levels of government. The campaign’s goal would therefore be to market Morales as a “non-politician”. Morales would pivot his inexperience in politics into what the campaign termed as “a completely fresh start” for Guatemalan politics.
Morales’ Slogan: “Neither Corrupt nor a Thief”
The campaign slogan all over his social media sites read "Neither corrupt nor a thief". He explained that: “It made the people trust us… lots of people started to believe that politics was not synonymous with corruption.” Voters were more interested in what he was not, rather than in what he was. All the ads seem to use this voter sentiment to their advantage.
Unpacking Morales’ YouTube Ads
While some of his YouTube ads ranged from 30 seconds to six minutes in length, it was clear that his main objective was to distance himself from the political elites of the past.
In one six minute ad titled “Why am I in Politics?”, he goes on to share his own fears about entering into politics (4:36), and goes on to appealing to biblical scripture as a means of connecting with an overwhelmingly Christian population in Guatemala. In fact, Morales is an Evangelical Protestant, and it is clear that the rise of protestantism in Guatemala was also a factor for his citing religious scripture in his ads (something that one normally would not see in American political ads).
His ads are also characterized by an unabashed addressing of reality and speaks to the viewer as if he were right next to them in their living room. In his “Message to Traditional Politicans” ad, he addresses political elites as having had their chance to do something for Guatemala. Now it was the people’s turn. He urges Guatemalans to stop being indifferent before the realities of Guatemala, and even goes on to mentioning how ‘failure’ must stop becoming the constant attitude of Guatemalans toward their own country.
As a comedian, Morales also uses an ad where he appears upside down, because his opponents are trying to ‘turn him on his head’. Unconventional tactics were used to catch the voters’ attention, and without a doubt were effective in doing so.
Authenticity over Experience
Jimmy Morales had recently obtained his Master’s degree in Strategic Studies with a focus in Security and Defense, another Masters in Mass Media Management, and a Doctoral Degree in Strategic Security. He clearly has knowledge in using social media to its full potential.
I would argue his social media campaign was effective because he knew how to combine various factors: his own personable skills, voter sentiment against political elites, and a strategy that would humanize him and fundamentally present him to Guatemalan voters as the only “authentic” candidate.