How to Break Through in the First-Ever Digital Presidential Transition

With a new president set to be inaugurated next year, companies, trade associations and interest groups in Washington are eager to engage with the incoming Biden administration. As the clock ticks down to Inauguration Day, these constituencies understand the urgent need to familiarize new federal officials with their priorities and cultivate early allies within the new administration.

In years past, government relations professionals would have jockeyed for meetings with key members of the president-elect’s transition team, positioning themselves for a seat at the table when the new president assumed office. But as COVID-19 surges, in-person meetings are understandably falling by the wayside. Instead, we’re now witnessing the first-ever presidential transition to play out in the digital space.

With the traditional playbook thrown out the window, there’s a need for a new approach to engage the incoming administration. With face-to-face meetings harder to come by, groups that want to reach new federal officials can use the latest digital communications tactics to make sure their message is seen and heard — whether that’s here in Washington or in the new president’s hometown of Wilmington, Del.

  1. Build custom contact lists of transition team members, transition team reporters, and transition team supporters (voter) names, emails, work addresses and social handles to then target through various means of digital outreach, be it organic email marketing and social media communications or digital ad targeting to show sponsored content specifically to this audience where they are digitally and physically located. Interested companies, associations and interest groups can work through a number of digital tools and data companies to obtain this information.

  2. Follow, listen to and engage with what the transition team itself, transition team members and appointees are saying and engaging with on social media. They’re productively and thoughtfully tweeting about what they’re doing, so you can too! For instance, the Biden-Harris Presidential Transition Twitter handle has effectively created and shared appealing and cohesive images for goals and announcements to establish their brand and trust amongst audience members. Companies, trade associations and interest groups looking to connect to Biden announcements and efforts should use this as an opportunity to professionally engage with this great digital content by liking, commenting, and sharing it. Transition social activity can also be monitored through social listening tools to see what corresponding keywords, issues, topics and hashtags people are engaging with and reacting to most favorably, on which digital platforms, to then integrate those learnings into your own digital strategies and messaging.

  3. Identify with and influence the incoming administration by tapping into the trusted human networks of Biden transition team members and supporters (i.e., colleagues, staffers, friends and family) which can receive, share and promote digital content on companies, associations and interest groups’ behalf to complement content being shared from brand handles and digital outlets. Biden’s network has additionally been an active world (#BidenWorld) in Washington for many years, so the people who have become the close-knit community around him and his confidants indeed exist and should therefore be considered as influential assets to map, utilize, and reach digitally. People trust people, often more than brands, so when influencer content is supported by, produced and amplified from reputable (human) digital voices, results are likely to increase.

  4. Run contextually targeted digital ads to reach key readers on top-tier news sites, within articles that specifically mention the Biden administration and transition efforts. Contextual targeting can be achieved through working with native, programmatic and direct-to-publisher vendors who can identify terms to align ads with (i.e., Biden administration, transition team, Build Back Better, and key issues such as COVID-19 vaccine development and distribution, economic stabilization and expansion, foreign policy and reengaging multilateral institutions, gender and racial equality, climate change and sustainability). In turn, your promoted messaging will then show within relevant articles to capitalize on the administration’s applicable and related topics and content. Contextual targeting is also becoming more and more intertwined in digital advertising strategies with the looming demise of third-party cookies.

  5. Keep an eye on administration advertising to also align your digital advertising with Biden priorities by utilizing research tools that can identify what types of ads on which digital platforms, and at what budget levels, are being run in support of the new administration and its priorities to further inform your digital strategies, either mirroring or differentiating from what they are doing in this regard.

All of these tactics can be supplemented and echoed by traditional earned media campaigns, with a focus on breaking through in Washington. Opinion pieces, press rollouts and targeted media placements all help reinforce the messages that groups want the new administration to hear.

Those who dominate the digital space with targeted campaigns, complemented by earned media outreach, will be best positioned to immediately hit the ground running when President-elect Biden takes office. Now is the time to seize the opportunity to use the latest digital engagement tactics to gain a competitive advantage.

Rachel Winer is a digital communications leader with 12+ years of experience in social media, digital paid media advertising, PR, influencer communications and brand marketing for Fortune 500 companies and small businesses, government, coalitions and nonprofits; she is currently a senior vice president of digital at ROKK Solutions, where she oversees and leads the firm’s digital and paid media practice and capabilities, working with client teams to develop and implement digital strategies including social media, search, native, display, audio, video and mobile campaigns.

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