In June, Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign scored one of the sickest election season burns.
Republican presidential nominee Donald J. Trump had just gone after President Barack Obama for backing Clinton in the race. “Obama just endorsed Crooked Hillary. He wants four more years of Obama — but nobody else does!” Trump tweeted.
Five minutes later, the campaign fired off a classic, clever retort: Delete your account.
Twitter went wild. Within an hour it became the campaign’s most retweeted post. Some users commented on the barb using fire emoji and that famous gif of Angela Basset walking defiantly from a burning car in the film Waiting to Exhale. In just six weeks, the tweet has gained 636,000 likes and 482,000 retweets.
Jenna Lowenstein, digital director for the Clinton campaign, says the tweet reflects the efforts of a talented staff of writers who love the art of riffing — and know how to cultivate a voice on the internet.
Lowenstein manages the campaign’s daily digital operations and a team of more than 100, which includes staffers who develop content and strategy for social media, video, email outreach, audience development, digital organizing, advertising and The Briefing blog. Lowenstein was previously the vice president of digital at Emily’s List, a nonprofit organization that works to elect Democratic women running for congress and governor.
Her team has what may seem like an impossible task: alternately playing offense and defense while channeling Clinton’s message, competing for users’ fickle attention online and translating that into donations, volunteers and voter turnout.
To achieve those goals, says Lowenstein, she knew it wouldn’t be enough to make viral internet jokes. Indeed, behind that breakout tweet is a nimble operation that churns content by the hour.
This week alone the campaign launched a Spanish-language website and Twitter account, a Facebook Live of staffers reading the case names of more than 5,500 lawsuits associated with Trump, a Snapchat filter trolling the Republican National Convention and a social media tool called TrumpYourself that allows users to overlay Trump’s most controversial statements on their Facebook profile photo.
While social media platforms were important then, in the years since even more people have moved away from consuming news through the home pages of traditional news outlets and toward discovering information and commentary through online networks. “It wasn’t going to be enough for us to be very good for a political campaign,” she says. “If we want our content to break through, it has to be good for the internet.”