I’ve been covering the “invisible caucus” on YouTube since 2007.
What’s the invisible caucus?
Well, Linda Feldmann of The Christian Science Monitor wrote a story on Feb. 26, 2007, entitled, “Before any votes, a ‘money primary’.” She said there was a lot of media buzz about “what’s come to be known as the ‘invisible primary’ – the early jockeying for money, top campaign staff, and high-profile endorsements that winnow the presidential field long before any caucuses or primaries are held.”
So, in the first edition of my book, YouTube and Video Marketing, I coined the term “invisible caucus” to describe the early jockeying for opinion leaders in YouTube’s news and politics category. And back then, Barack Obama outpaced both Hilary Clinton and John McCain in their usage of online video.
And on Nov. 14, 2008, Jose Antonio Vargas wrote an online column for The Washington Post entitled, “44 – The YouTube Presidency.” In his column, Vargas quoted Steve Grove, who was then the head of news and politics at YouTube, who said, “The Obama team has written the playbook on how to use YouTube for political campaigns. Not only have they achieved impressive mass – uploading 1,800 videos that have been viewed over 110 million times total – but they’ve also used video to cultivate a sense of community amongst supporters.”
Well, that was then. What about now?
An examination of the political videos on YouTube and Facebook today revealed that Democratic candidates for three of the races for the US Senate, which are currently considered toss-ups, aren’t outpacing their Republican opponents in the invisible caucus on the two most popular social video platforms in the U.S. like Obama once did on YouTube.
In Georgia, the re-election campaign for US Senator Reverend Raphael Warnock, the Democratic incumbent,has uploaded 11 videos to its YouTube channel in the last 90 days. These videos have received 5.6 million views and 1,134 engagements. His re-election campaign has uploaded 78 videos to its Facebook account over that time. These videos have gotten 1.8 million views and 57,000 engagements.
By comparison, the campaign for Herschel Walker, the Republican challenger, has uploaded 19 videos to its YouTube channel in the last 90 days. These videos have received 182,000 views and 1,961 engagements. His campaign has uploaded 106 videos to its Facebook account over that time. These videos have gotten 3.8 million views and 259,000 engagements.
In Nevada, the re-election campaign for Catherine Cortez Mastro, the Democratic incumbent, has uploaded 5 videos to its YouTube channel in the last 90 days. These videos have received 28,000 views and 217 engagements. Her re-election campaign has uploaded 59 videos to its Facebook account over that time. These videos have gotten 19,900 views and 3,629 engagements.
By comparison, the campaign for Adam Laxalt, the Republican challenger, has uploaded 47 videos to its YouTube channel in the last 90 days. These videos have received 313,000 views and 1,032 engagements. His campaign has uploaded 91 videos to its Facebook account over that time. These videos have gotten 148,000 views and 12,900 engagements.
In Pennsylvania, the campaign for John Fetterman, the Democratic candidate, has uploaded 140 videos to its YouTube channel in the last 90 days. These videos have received 1.1 million views and 82,900 engagements. His campaign has also uploaded 214 videos to its Facebook account over that time. These videos have gotten 4.3 million views and 418,000 engagements.
By comparison, the campaign for Mehmet Oz, the Republican candidate, has uploaded 52 videos to its YouTube channel in the last 90 days. These videos have received 12.3 million views and 95,900 engagements. His campaign as also uploaded 52 videos to its Facebook account over that time. These videos have gotten 1 million views and 54,400 engagements.
Why is this significant? Well, according to the Pew Research Center, YouTube and Facebook continue to dominate the online landscape, with 81% of US adults using YouTube and 69% using Facebook in 2021. So, it’s curious that the Democratic candidates aren’t uploading more social videos to cultivate a sense of community amongst supporters.
All of this reminds me of “The adventure of Silver Blaze,” one of the Sherlock Holmes short stories written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. It was first published in The Strand Magazine in 1892.
The plot hinges on the dog that didn’t bark:
- Inspector Gregory: Is there any other point to which you would wish to draw my attention?
- Sherlock Holmes: To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time.
- Inspector Gregory: The dog did nothing in the night-time.
- Holmes: That was the curious incident.
In the 2022 midterm elections, video marketing is the dog that didn’t bark.
Why is this a curious incident? Because the Obama team had written the playbook on how to use YouTube for political campaigns. Why didn’t they share their playbook with other Democratic candidates, so they would use video to cultivate a sense of community amongst supporters?
Well, one explanation is that the video marketing strategy and tactics that the Obama team pioneered only worked if your candidate was a skinny kid with a funny name who’d been a community organizer before running for office. When I interviewed Arun Chaudhary, who had been the New Media Road Director of Obama for America (OFA) for my book, he admitted, “With a different candidate one might need to take a different strategy.”
Okay, but what was that strategy – and how did it help Obama win the invisible caucus?
Well, in Steve Garfield’s book, Get Seen, Thomas Gensemer, managing partner of Blue State Digital, revealed the secret to OFA’s success. He said, “Some 11,000 videos were produced over the course of 22 months, (but) fewer than 10 percent of them … actually featured the candidate.”
He added, “The story of the campaign was about people like you … going with a clipboard to sign people up – that became the excitement around this campaign.”
Gensemer concluded, the candidate and his inner circle “understood that one neighbor knocking on the next was more important than flooding the airwaves.”
A second explanation is that the old 2008 playbook now needs to be thoroughly updated to keep up with all the changes in the social video landscape. For example, YouTube’s algorithm replaced “view count” with “watch time” in 2012. And YouTube’s algorithm replaced “watch time” with “viewer satisfaction” in 2015. And 2015 was also the year that Facebook made its first big “pivot to video” to take on YouTube. In 2022, Facebook made its second big “pivot to video” to fend off TikTok.
Okay, so what works today?
Well, if you want the latest best practices, then read my article, “How To Optimize YouTube Videos To Help Ukraine,” which as published by Search Engine Journal on May 19, 2022.
As I told attendees of a webinar organized by SE Ranking, which is located in Kyiv, Ukraine, “I can’t help Ukraine produce more YouTube videos that people in Europe will watch and share. But I can teach you how to optimize videos that tell the truth about the war, so they are discovered when people conduct relevant searches on YouTube, the world’s second-largest search engine.”
Here’s a quick reference that was prepared by Search Engine Journal:
A third explanation comes from Will Rogers, who said back in 1932, “I’m not a member of any organized political party…. I’m a Democrat.” So, Democratic candidates would never agree to anything – especially if it required them to use the same playbook for political campaigns. Why? Well, as the humorous social commentator observed 90 years ago, “If they agreed with each other, they’d be Republicans.”
Nevertheless, the responsibility for trying to get Democratic candidates to use the same playbook for political campaigns falls squarely on the shoulders of the Democratic National Committee (DNC). According to their website, “The DNC is working around the clock to build a strong Democratic Party capable of lifting Democrats all across the country to victory, from the state house, to the Senate, to the White House.”
And the DNC and the Association of State Democratic Committees (ASDC) have a shared training department called the Best Practices Institute (BPI). And according to their website, “The BPI delivers trainings to activists and volunteers, Party leaders and staff, students and youth organizers, candidates and campaign staff, constituency caucus members and community leaders, and so many more! Since its inaugural year in 2018, the BPI expanded the existing training department from four training programs to a robust department with 14 independent training programs, and counting!”
Based on my examination of the political videos above, either the BPI doesn’t offer an independent training program on how to win the invisible caucus on YouTube and other social video platforms, or the Democratic candidates for three of the races for the US Senate, which are currently considered toss-ups, all decided to skip it.
There’s something else that Will Rogers said on Nov. 7, 1932, that is worth repeating today: “There is only one redeeming thing about this whole election. It will be over at sundown, and let everybody pray that it’s not a tie, for we couldn’t go through with this thing again. And, when the votes are counted, let everybody, including the candidates, get into a good humor as quick as they got into a bad one. Both gangs have been bad sports, so see if at least one can’t redeem themselves by offering no alibis, but cooperate with the winner. For no matter which one it is, the poor fellow is going to need it. So, cheer up. Let’s all be friends again. One of the evils of democracy is you have to put up with the man you elect whether you want him or not. That’s why we call it democracy.”