I am an unrepentant AOC fanboy. I bet many of you, regardless of gender identity or presentation, are also unrepentant AOC fanboys.
Can you imagine being so deft at PR that your enemies literally can only use a video of you from college dancing where you actually look good?
Because of her ubiquity in lefty spheres (way to dominate your audiences’ channels, AOC) I’m not even quite sure how to start this introduction. What is there to say? You know about her! That’s because she’s very good at communications! We should copy her!
Anyway, here are some of things in AOC’s communications work that we could all start doing.
They aren’t communications strategies.
We are living in an age where there is more public access to knowledge than ever before in human history.
For all of the ways that our world and society is a garbage fire, this is honestly pretty cool. Of course, access is different than equity: theoretically, everyone in the world could get a free MIT degree from studying online, but time, capacity, health, learning style/support, information retention style (not to mention innate in all of these: racism, sexism, classism, other oppression) makes this nigh impossible for most people, even with “access”.
You can get the knowledge equivalent of a master’s in urban planning on the internet for free: why aren’t we offering that level of knowledge with access, support, and community to the people who we are organizing with?
One key tenet of AOC’s communications strategy is that I don’t know if her team calls this “communications strategy”. She posts vulnerable stories about herself and the people in her district, takedowns of the oligarchy running our political system, and PSAs about the information she is privy to as a new ‘outsider’ member of Congress.
We love outsiders: by documenting her reactions to heinous bills+laws, challenging the people responsible for our messed up hellscape during committee meetings, she reminds people of her outsiderness on a daily, if not hourly basis in a genuine way. She is an audience stand in for The People, the George RR Martin’s Samwise Tarly for Congressional politics, sharing deep policy takes and “business as usual’ practices we would otherwise would never know about.
By posting about these issues consistently on social media, in a Netflix special, in goofy Game of Thrones videos and more, AOC and her team are feeding the insatiable content creation machine in the least hackneyed way: providing deep reactions and takes (ie, political education ) on the equally endless world of public policy and Congressional protocol.
Easy Action Step: What is the most widely misunderstood topic in your world? In a campaign, maybe it’s why your target holds power, and how you’re mapping their power and relationships across the campaign. If you’re wrapping up a congressional session in Springfield, maybe it’s what the hell a witness slip is. Take an hour to write out the best, shortest explanation of this topic, and pick a medium you don’t use much (Instagram Stories, texting, a video like Lumen) to share that write up.
Be an Actual Human
We are so doomed as a species that a multi-million dollar pancake chain has decided that the best way to sell pancakes is by broadcasting a nihilistic absurdist ideology on an hourly basis. While giant corporations are paying meme accounts millions to make suicide jokes in Microsoft Paint, nonprofits/organizing groups trying to stop nuclear annihilation are worried about “tone” in their reports on mass extinction.
AOC’s social media presence is different. There’s a lot of hype about her ability to use specific tactics/mediums, especially as she taught senior Congress members how to tweet, but what is really notable about AOC’s social media is her tone. Nancy Pelosi might be tweeting up a storm, but her tone stays “moderate.” Most Congress members’ press statements read like a group of staffers stayed up all night and say nothing more than “that happened, huh?”
It’s interesting that AOC uses Twitch, posts Instagram stories, and hangs out with the Queer Eye dudes, but it’s way MORE interesting that she seems genuinely excited to be on Twitch and meeting the trans gamers she talks to, that she went live on Instagram while building IKEA furniture because she’s ready to unpack American infrastructure: she’s not always comfortable with the medium, but she’s genuinely excited to engage with the people who are on that medium.
Easy Action Step: How do you feel about the latest thing that happened in your field’s news cycle (if you work in environmental justice, try this one. work in affordable housing? look.)
How did it make you feel? Why did it make you feel that way? What do you want to do next after reading that?
Write all of this down. Now — without making edits, changes, or adding “both sides” to your reflection, tweet it.
Care About Other Real Humans.
In a similar vein to the previous posts, what makes AOC’s channels different from other people in Congress is that they have (people want to watch them. that’s it. also, this is what it means to have a goal). Interesting to someone (Queens)
Engagement is a buzzword now (but that’s a whole different conversation). Journalists, startups, politicians, and even sanitation departments are all obsessed with engagement — how to reach different audiences, how to encourage “deep” reading, how to build community in a variety of spaces.
Implicitly, all of these people are asking the question, how do you make people care about what you care about?
Easy Action Step: You have a person in your world that you need to call — maybe it’s for an interview, maybe it’s to ask if you can use a photo that they took, or to follow up on their donation. Call them! Ask them what they think about a relevant question to your work. post on social. repeat!
AOC is first and foremost, a protagonist. As a protagonist, her communications work makes the dysfunction of Congress, impending climate extinction, and the opportunity to rebuild our infrastructure while stopping climate change a story rather than a scenario.
She and her team are deeply aware of archetypes, tropes, and narrative, and it shapes how they talk about her, her work, and American politics. She is genre savvy and invites her constituency/audience to be genre savvy too (see: feeding the content machine w/ genuine civic education).
To me, this doesn’t mean doing a deep Jungian analysis of American political discourse — at least, not for every single tweet.
Easy Action Step: Think about the archetypes that come up for you in your work — how are politicians portrayed? How do women/people of color show up? If you want, use TV Tropes (but be careful, you will lose 2 hours just by clicking that link).
Make your next social media post play with one of these tropes.
** If you are someone working on the Elizabeth Warren campaign — this is time: rehabilitate the Mom Nerd archetype. Talk about moms who triple color highlight their local school council’s rulebook and make 3 ring binders for their Medicaid paperwork. Make raising your hand too much cool. Establish popular enthusiasm for a mom dance that rivals popular enthusiasm for the dad joke. Best of luck.
** If you worked on the Toni Preckwinkle campaign — you missed your shot.