The hyperlocal, microinfluencer campaign that may have impacted the Wisconsin Supreme Court race

Why marketing agency People First specifically sought out people with smaller followings who don’t usually post about politics ahead of the election.
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Daniel Boczarski/Getty Images

· 4 min read

It’s not often that marketers look for people who don’t do brand deals or avoid anyone with too big of a following when sourcing for an influencer campaign. But that’s what People First did ahead of this month’s Wisconsin State Supreme Court election.

The marketing agency found local microinfluencers in the state to post about issues like abortion and gun control before the election on April 4. The posts were part of a campaign with A Better Wisconsin Together, an organization representing progressive interests in the state.

Ultimately, Democratic-backed judge Janet Protasiewicz won the election with a record campus turnout for a State Supreme Court election. While it’s too early to tell if People First’s youth-centered campaign made a difference in getting her elected, CEO Curtis Hougland told us his team’s work “lined up with the results pretty well.”

Go small or go home

According to Hougland, the biggest challenge facing campaigns today, whether they’re commercial or political, is “the collapse in trust of the American people,” who, he said, no longer trust the media, corporations, or the government. “In that vacuum, who do we trust? We trust each other—we trust members of our own communities.”

That means finding people who have local followings. When it comes to People First’s influencer strategy around politics, that typically means working with people who have fewer than 20,000 followers, Hougland said. It also means finding people who seem authentic. “Eighty-some percent of the people that work on our campaigns have never worked for a brand or a cause before,” he said. “They’re sort of indistinguishable from real people.”

While it may seem counterintuitive to work with people who have a smaller reach, Hougland said reach “doesn’t always matter.” What does matter is if a person shared something “personal and emotional” in their post.

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For the Wisconsin campaign, People First worked with 55 people who posted about the campaign across Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook—most of them young people who were not politically active and appeared to have “stepped out of their lane” to express an opinion about the election, Hougland said. In the end, about half of those participants were college athletes and people who fit the “mainstream, nonpartisan criteria.”

Participants were generally paid $200–$300 per post and encouraged to post about what issues were most important to them as they related to the election. As for whether it was difficult to get people who don’t typically make political posts to speak out? Hougland said the response rate on outreach was more than 30%, when a “good campaign would be 10%​​–12%” for People First.

“In this particular case, given the importance of abortion, especially among young people, it was a relatively easy ask,” he said.

I voted influenced

In the end, Hougland said People First was looking at performance metrics like viewers’ willingness to click, share, and engage with posts. So far, he said, engagement rates have performed above 5x the industry average of 1.2%.

Looking ahead to 2024, Hougland said he’s hopeful that this approach to influencer marketing will catch on given its potential impact on turning out young people to vote, something that’s historically been difficult to do.

“With every passing cycle, there’s increasing acceptance,” he said.

The Biden campaign is already planning its influencer strategy for the 2024 election, and the White House is looking to work with influencers who have “local audiences,” according to Axios. As other candidates weigh their advertising options, Hougland said, “The more that they rely on members of the actual community and people that actually have [people’s] trust, the more successful they’ll be.”

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