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Can Joe Biden become cooler online? One group’s $70 million bet on yes


The center of ProgressNow’s plan is an app developed by the group called Megaphone. Users who download the app can scroll through a series of liberal memes, videos and graphics created by the organization, add their own captions, and then quickly share them across social media platforms.

“ProgressNow has become an important partner for groups supporting the Biden-Harris agenda,” said Anita Dunn, a senior White House adviser and top Biden 2020 strategist, who added that she was making her comments in a personal capacity. The ramp-up “ensures they will be in an even stronger position to deliver compelling digital communications to people in their communities through a core network that effectively complements efforts in 2024 and beyond.”

Inherent in the ProgressNow strategy is that liberals have been outmaneuvered online by the conservative movement for years, something the group’s leaders readily admit — and which more than a decade later former President Barack Obama was said to have inaugurated a new form of electorate. communication, the party has not been inventive under Biden.

To combat this phenomenon, ProgressNow is hiring more than 65 new digital organizers in 10 battleground states to manage a group of volunteers who will be responsible for sharing the organization’s online content everywhere via Megaphone. By fall 2024, the group seeks to expand its base army to 13,000 volunteers nationwide.

The group has already begun testing its efforts, revealing unexpected details.

For example, the organization examined a handful of social media graphics touting Biden’s handling of the economy, a critical weakness for him among voters. Staffers thought a bright pink image depicting a text message conversation — rather than graphics featuring photos of Biden himself — would work better.

But social media users liked content depicting the president, as well as text stating “Bidenomics puts working families first” and “Bidenomics recovers the economy faster than ever.” »

“Full disclaimer: This is not the content that I think would be the winner,” said Anna Scholl, president of ProgressNow. “What worked was both more words and more images of Biden. »

Scholl described the project’s digital volunteers who use the Megaphone app as “nano-influencers” — people “active within their local PTA and church group.” They will serve as critical voices, she said, as voters have turned more to these types of small-scale community leaders as trust in the media and politicians plummets.

Scholl and other ProgressNow executives said the investment aims to reach people living in today’s fragmented media landscape, who are increasingly turning to social media and streaming services for news. information., as well as more diverse communities. It is also an attempt to strengthen the president’s standing with young voters, who spend much of their time online.

“They get their news and information from what their friends and colleagues post and share on TikTok, on Instagram, on Facebook,” Scholl said. “They also trust these people as trusted messengers, much more than elected officials.”

ProgressNow, a nonprofit group founded in 2003 that tries to boost progressive communications online, will also run digital ads and expand its national operations. ProgressNow has 26 state affiliates, which are also 501c4 organizations and sometimes operate additional super PACs.

The group sings the same hymn as the Biden campaign. In a memo released earlier this year, the president’s reelection team identified breaking down the fragmented media environment as a top priority, saying that “while trust in the media may have eroded, trust in people’s personal networks has never been higher.

ProgressNow operatives and donors have said in interviews that they hope to fill a void that has long plagued them: As the right has built a 24/7 attention machine, online as well as on television and radio, Democrats have relied heavily on paid advertising and traditional media. media organizations to get their message across. The problem, they argue, is that people are paying less attention to these spaces as they turn to streaming services like Netflix and Hulu — and as news sites put up paywalls.

“The left is getting further and further ahead online,” Scholl said. But, she added, “Megaphone’s goal is not to replicate the infrastructure of right-wing echo chambers. It’s about building our own echo chamber infrastructure.

Democrats have lamented the far-right echo chamber for decades, and it’s a complaint that often erupts when the party is feeling more anxious.

The Strategic Victory Fund, an initiative of major donor group Democracy Alliance, plans to raise the majority of the $70 million for the effort.

Scott Anderson, president of the Strategic Victory Fund, called Megaphone “the future of recruiting.”

“What we’re trying to do here is get in front of people with information in their feeds, allow them to become amplifiers in their own right, and try to drive the conversation in a way that doesn’t “It doesn’t just require people to be face to face,” he said.

ProgressNow targets 10 states: Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, Arizona, Georgia, North Carolina, Nevada, Montana, Ohio and Minnesota. They will almost all be presidential or senatorial battlegrounds in 2024.

The Megaphone app will be available to its state affiliates and other outside groups helping elect Biden and Democrats, including Future Forward, the super PAC raised by the president’s aides, and America Votes, a liberal organization focused on voter mobilization. .

ProgressNow also plans to rigorously test the messages it delivers on Megaphone to see what works and what doesn’t, data that could prove valuable in 2024. Often the results are counterintuitive, as with the chart Biden.

Halfway through last year, ProgressNow piloted Megaphone in the key state of Michigan. The group’s researchers found that their target audience was extremely interested in astrology. So they created a digital ad to boost Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson that was like a horoscope.

“See today’s horoscope,” it read. A few seconds later, new text appeared: “Renewing your vehicle records and updating your voter registration online is easier than ever thanks to Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson. »

“I have worked in political communications for over a decade. And if you told me we were going to create an astrology ad, he wouldn’t have believed it would work, said Lonnie Scott, interim CEO of ProgressNow.

It ended up being the organization’s most successful ad in the state this cycle.



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