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FWIW Virginia: How Westboro Backfired; Danica Roem Raised Nearly $30,000 in Just One Week

"This level of response and impact is only possible because of the value Roem has put on social media since her first campaign in 2017"

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Interesting…from FWIW Virginia,” a weekly newsletter covering digital spending trends on both sides of the aisle in advance of Virginia’s state legislative elections in 2019.”

HEY, you’re receiving FWIW Virginia because we think you’ll be interested in digital spending trends on both sides of the aisle in advance of the 2019 Virginia legislative elections. Each week, we’ll look at whose digital spending is up, whose is down, and whose is non-existent across the Commonwealth. 

For what it’s worth, some of it might surprise you.

Last week marked the end of the fundraising blackout period for members of the General Assembly. And while many incumbents will be focusing more time and resources on emailing their lists and running digital ads for direct contributions, we’ve seen a number of freshmen delegates take a different approach – and leverage their social media followings to raise some serious $$$.

But first…

2019 by the numbers

We’re tracking digital investment by party committees, statehouse leadership and candidates in some of the top competitive state legislative districts in Virginia in advance of the 2019 state legislative elections. Here is how investments by Republicans and Democrats compare since the 2018 midterm elections.

Here is a list of top Virginia political spenders on Facebook the week of Feb 24 – March 2.

This website is free

The Democrats elected to the House of Delegates in 2017 have been investing fewer resources in running digital ads – and that may be because they’ve already built substantial organic social media followings. These freshmen legislators have been using those social media channels to not only push their messages but also raise money now that the fundraising blackout period is over.

None have more effectively used social media than Delegate Danica Roem –– the first openly transgender person to be elected to the Virginia General Assembly. Though Roem has spent less than $100 on digital ads since the midterms, she has remained active on Twitter and Facebook to give her constituents and supporters updates on her work in the General Assembly.

Last week, when the Westboro Baptist Church attacked Roem with hateful language in a press release, she took to Twitter and launched an online grassroots campaign to raise money for her reelection. Roem tweeted out a link to her ActBlue page after the news broke, which began a multi-day online push that used both organic social media and earned media to raise nearly $30,000 in just one week (more than either party has spent on Facebook advertising since the midterms).

Using the hashtag #WestboroBackfire on Twitter, Roem tweeted or retweeted supporters about the fundraising push nearly 100 times to her 79,300 followers and posted 8 times to her 21,758 Facebook followers.

Roem’s online fundraising success is in part due to her supporters rallying around her – but this level of response and impact is only possible because of the value Roem has put on social media since her first campaign in 2017. She has leveraged digital platforms to cultivate, communicate with, and engage her base, and has continuously used these channels to keep voters informed and ready to mobilize when an event like #WestboroBackfire happens.

Roem isn’t the only freshmen delegate with an impressive social media following. Delegate Lee Carter also made a fundraising push to his 33,300 Twitter followers –– and raised over $10,000 since the blackout period ended. Carter hasn’t run a single digital ad this year (that we could find), but he’s incredibly active on Twitter and has built a national brand on the left.

Both Carter and Roem have larger Twitter followings than all the other incumbents in 15 of the most competitive House districts combined.

TL;DR
Investing in a sustained, engaged social media presence can pay dividends for candidates and elected officials at any level. Social media enables candidates to introduce themselves to voters on their own terms, without being defined within traditional media structures. It allows elected officials to have direct lines of communication with constituents where they can give updates and receive feedback about what’s going on in their communities. And it also enables them to build followings ready to rally – or donate – around key moments or events throughout the campaign. And that’s how #WestboroBackfire can happen.
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– The team at ACRONYM