Today, I violate two cardinal rules of blogging, or at least responsible blogging:
- I'm veering well outside of “my lane”
- I'm talking politics
Now I hope that our relationship – me as blogger and you as reader – gives me a little leeway – OK, rope – to go out on the poetic justice limb to make what I believe is a key point. Because today I'm talking about deep-rooted perceptions – and how to change them.
I've become a believer that many of the social tools available to any and all of us are powerful “change agents,” no matter how entrenched perceptions may be. I think we've seen the sweeping impact of social throughout our country, especially in the political realm in recent years. It has the ability to affect hearts, minds…and votes.
Let's start by my veering all over the media highway as I embrace the concept of social media memes. While once thought to be those harmless little videos of dancing babies or dogs playing poker, memes can get attention, they can be intensely viral, they can take on lives of their own, and they can change attitudes and shape perceptions. That's not a bad day's work for little videos or even photos (usually doctored, photoshopped, or captioned) that capture the emotion of a moment in time.
A number of years back, our social media queen and guru-ette, Lori Lewis, summed up the meme movement nicely, talking about those animated GIFs:
“Gifs are life. They allow us to quickly express a visual emotional response or quickly reference pop culture.”
And a quick visit to Giphy.com shows you all the memes trending at any given moment in time.
But outside of celebrating birthdays or big moments in sports, memes can be so much more powerful. Just ask Joe Biden.
Now here's a politician who's admittedly had a tough go since being elected President in 2020 (and even that is not an accepted fact by many Americans).
Biden has spent more than 18 months playing to type: he's old, he's doddering, he stumbles, he doesn't get it. Even when he has actually gotten something done, his approval ratings and the tracker that measures whether America is “on the right track” have been generally abysmal.
Many in his own party don't want him to run again in 2024. And the opposition has been able to demonize him with memes of their own, especially the wink-wink, if-you-know-you-know “Let's Go Brandon” that's manifested itself in many different forms – in memes, cheers at sporting events, and on merch:
Last month, the White House took action, making a strategic addition to their communications staff that already appears to be paying off. They hired 25 year-old Rutgers grad, Megan Coyne, as their Deputy Director of Platforms in the Biden administration's Office of Digital Strategy.
That means she's in charge of their social accounts – the overall strategy, the messaging, and what gets posted and where it shows up.
Coyne held a similar position for New Jersey governor Phil Murphy. She started her now meteoric career as an intern for that office in 2017.
Like the sharp, savvy (and yes snarky) “digital native” she is, Coyne has proved to be quick, on-brand, and in the moment, not just when she was in Trenton, but in her new role at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
She also has the ability to take what is usually a serious social effort and make it fun, entertaining, and highly shareable:
don’t compare when u can’t compete https://t.co/gfyjg9l6hF
— New Jersey (@NJGov) June 23, 2022
Since joining the Biden team, Coyne's tweets and posts have only gotten more tactical, proactive, and intentional. And edgy.
Via social media, the president's persona is taking on a more aggressive tone with no shortage of bite. When Biden's student loan forgiveness plan came under expected attack, Coyne unleashed a Twitter torrent of her own citing critics who happily received forgiven PPP loans:
Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene had $183,504 in PPP loans forgiven.https://t.co/4FoCymt8TB
— The White House (@WhiteHouse) August 25, 2022
It wasn't that long ago when Biden was tagged with the “Sleepy Joe” handle by his 2020 adversary, Donald Trump. And then the “Let's Go Brandon” meme, another branding swipe by his opposition.
Thanks in no small part to Ms. Coyne, his new online handle is “Dark Brandon” – a complete 180 that twists a weakness and flips it into a badass strength.
We're also seeing memes, social messaging, and cutting edge online Molotov cocktails being used in the Pennsylvania gubernatorial race, pitting the former Secretary of State, John Fetterman facing off against television physician, Dr. Mehmet Oz.
Fetterman suffered a stroke a few months ago as the race was heating up, forcing him off the campaign stump. While debilitating, it pushed his team into the social space where his team has launched the most pointed political cyber campaign since Zuckerberg brought TheFacebook to Harvard back in 2004.
Dr. Oz owns several New Jersey homes, and so the Fetterman campaign pounced on those residences to produce several pointed memes featuring famous New Jerseyites, from Little Steven to Snooki, star of “Jersey Shore” on MTV:
Hey @DrOz 👋
JERSEY loves you + will not forget you!!! 🥰 pic.twitter.com/YmaXfMpzUK
— John Fetterman (@JohnFetterman) July 14, 2022
The Fetterman campaign bought that video on Cameo for reportedly under $400, not a bad price for turbocharged, viral creative.
The ability to deliver a powerful message with just a few words, a graphic, or a meme is an art. In the same way, writing and producing a promo that delivers or an effective (re)positioning campaign is a highly refined skill.
For powerful, well-positioned brands (think Apple), an asset like Coyne becomes a key member of the communications team. Companies can hire agencies to produce slick TV ads, attention-getting billboards, and other promotional tools. But a well-placed, well-timed social communiqué can become its own campaign or rally cry.
For brands that are troubled, teetering, or simply off message, a social skillset can provide the right message at the right time. “Let's Go Brandon” has been an effective social meme for the right. And for going on a year, the Biden team has had no answer for it. The President has even acknowledged it in an effort to neutralize it – with no success.
Along comes Coyne, and “Dark Brandon” (pictured at the top of this post) – a counter-attack that repositions #46 as an ass-kicking, name-taking force who won't take crap from any quarter.
Will it work? Let's talk in November, because like in radio, the proof is in the ratings.
But think about a Coyne-esque strategist for the radio broadcasting industry – buffeted by the headwinds caused by new tech, media startups, and other glossy wannabes trying to steal radio's audience and its place on the entertainment and information hierarchy.
Think about broadcast radio positioning its amazing strengths, disaster coverage, community efforts, amazing personalities in a social setting where there's an actual, intentional messaging strategy.
And think about answering SiriusXM, Spotify, and the rest when they launch yet another pay service, institute a rate hike, or launch another product that simply imitates something radio broadcasters have been doing since the days of the transistor radio.
No, I'm not talking about a radio revenge campaign, but the industry has tried using its CEOs to gets its positive points across.
Wrong messengers, wrong missives, wrong medium.
Let's face it. Young people (and a whole lot of the rest of us) get the bulk of their “news” everyday not from newspaper sites or cable news – but from social media. And as we know, when anyone comes up with a clever meme that takes flight, the so-called MSM (mainstream media) covers it ad nauseum anyway – gratis.)
No, none of this fixes the fix broadcast radio finds itself mired in. The competition is stiffer and exponentially stronger. And radio's user experience is far from optimal.
But campaigns are about voting. And voting is about perceptions. And broadcast radio's image need a makeover in the worst way.
Let's not stop posting pictures of giant checks to charities all over the country. They trumpet radio's good deeds. But they in no way approach the heavy social lifting necessary to change minds and hearts.
As my good friend, Pierre Bouvard, often reminds me:
“Perceptions are like glaciers – slow to form, and slower to melt.”
Let's get that social blowtorch out and start disintegrating those entrenched, shopworn, and tired attitudes about a century-old medium that's not going anywhere anytime soon.
There are Megan Coynes out there, smartphones in hand, ready to kick some butt for radio.
Let's go get one.