Heard on the Hill

Democratic Staffers Learn Digital Strategies From Social Media Gurus

Social media star Sen. Cory Booker kicks off first annual Digital Day on the Hill

New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker kicks off the Democrats’ Digital Day on the Hill on Thursday. (Courtesy Democratic Digital Communications Staff Association)

Democratic staffers heard from social media gurus over the House recess last week about creating strategies to amplify their party’s digital efforts.

Many offices don’t have a digital director, especially minority party staff on committees that don’t have the resources to fund a position. Their digital efforts fall to other staffers, often the press secretary or communications director.

The Democratic Digital Communications Staff Association created Digital Day on the Hill to help share resources for those staffers with too much on their plate. Congressional social media star Sen. Cory Booker on Thursday kicked off the inaugural event, open to House and Senate Democratic staffers. 

[New Staffer Association Wants to Unite Digital Democrats]

“It’s a simple message that if you want to be remembered in life, you should embrace your authenticity,” the New Jersey Democrat advised the more than 100 attendees in a hearing room inside the Capitol Visitor Center.

Booker referenced the “West Wing” episode “Let Bartlet be Bartlet,” which the staffers recalled. The episode was about letting fictional president Jed Bartlet be his true self.

The senator talked about how successful his colleagues have been when they adopted a similar approach. 

“[Sen.] Chris Murphy, I watched him suddenly just, like, flex [and] let his authentic voice come out,” he said.

“I’ve seen people like [Sen.] Angus King, who is 20-plus years my senior, on Instagram,” he added.

Booker’s address was followed by a series of panel discussions and breakout sessions. Event organizers Yuri Beckelman and Jessica Presley said they chose panelists by asking themselves about people they see on Instagram when scrolling through their feeds before bed. (Beckelman is the deputy chief of staff to California Rep. Mark Takano, and Presley is digital director for the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee minority.) 

photographer Jared Polin, stylist Mary Elizabeth and staffer Jessica Presley. (Democratic Digital Communications Staff Association)
From left, photographer Jared Polin, stylist Mary Elizabeth and staffer Jessica Presley at the Digital Day on the Hill event. (Courtesy Democratic Digital Communications Staff Association)

Most of the panelists echoed Booker’s advice: Show off the authentic, natural personality of your boss.

Public relations consultant Erick Sanchez, famous for petitioning Chef José Andrés to abandon plans for a restaurant at the Trump International Hotel and for rallying diners to Comet Ping Pong after a gunman fired shots at the restaurant, told the staffers he’s motivated to start campaigns to change the perception of D.C. outside the District.

“D.C., nationally, gets treated like a toilet bowl, as a place where people make bad decisions,” he said.

Stylist Mary Elizabeth and photographer Jared Polin, who both have well-watched YouTube channels, spoke about how amateurs can make simple videos.

One staffer asked them what three items they would purchase to make a video of her boss on a $500 budget. While acknowledging the difficulty in working with that small a budget, Polin suggested lights, a microphone and an autofocus camera.

Another staffer asked for advice on getting creative people to want to come work on Capitol Hill. The panelists said to reach out to college and high school students, especially those back in the member’s district.

Other Digital Day panelists included running group founder Ashlee Lawson, photographer Tamon George, “Brightest Young Things” founder Svetlana Legetic and local musician Heather Mae, among others.

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