Mr. Smith goes to Substack
An incoming Congressman joins Substack to chronicle his experience, while former Reps. are using the platform to stay relevant.
Congressional office newsletters are known to be stale missives written by junior staffers and filled with dull (but important) constituent updates. In the era of the Substack newsletter boom, that may be starting to change. In this week’s FWIW I’ll share how one freshman congressman is seeking to authentically connect with constituents via the trendy newsletter platform.
Keep scrolling for new 2024 presidential spending data, breaking political ad news from Twitter, and much more. But first…
By the numbers
FWIW, here were the top-spending political advertisers on Facebook + Instagram last week:
Facebook and Instagram ad spending was relatively light last week, with a bunch of nonprofit advertisers running year-end fundraising campaigns. I did find, however, a host of potential 2024 presidential campaigns launching new ads to grow their lists - more on that below for premium subscribers.
Meanwhile, here were the top-spending political advertisers on Google and YouTube last week:
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis was the top-spending political advertiser on Google and YouTube last week, running survey ads nationwide ahead of an expected 2024 presidential campaign.
One of the marquee elections of 2023 will be the Kentucky Governor’s race, in which Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear will face off against one of several Trump-affiliated challengers. Kelly Craft, a wealthy former Trump Ambassador to the U.N., is one of those potential challengers, and her campaign has already begun running Google and YouTube ads in the Bluegrass state:
FWIW, the incoming chair of the Democratic Governor’s Association has called the race his “priority number one.”
From around the internet
The Wall Street Journal published a new report detailing the efforts made by Facebook's parent company Meta to depoliticize users’ feeds. Read all about it here >>
How did a few bad polls in 2022 throw off everyone’s predictions for the midterm elections? The New York Times has a solid deep dive into “how skewed polls fed a false election narrative.”
At the time of this writing, Republican leader Kevin McCarthy still does not have the votes to become Speaker of the House. Dan Pfeiffer has an excellent take on why he was doomed to fail >>
2024 advertising watch 👀
Over the holiday, eight potential 2024 presidential candidates quietly made moves to build out their digital programs and begin to raise grassroots money. Here’s a quick tally of how much each has spent on Google/YouTube and Facebook/Instagram ads over the past 30 days (December 4th - January 2nd):
Twitter political ads are back, baby
Twitter drew the ire of many digital political staffers in October 2019 when the company announced it would ban all political advertising on its platform. Since then, its political ad ban has been enforced in uneven ways. Flash forward to this week, when the company announced Tuesday that it would relax its restrictions on these types of ads in the coming weeks. While Twitter ads were never an enormous part of political campaigns’ media mix, they can provide value for a few specific campaign objectives.
“Twitter ads in the past have been an excellent fundraising tool for grassroots donors, so we are definitely excited at the potential of [the company] bringing them back,” says Cat Stern, Director of Digital Persuasion at Democratic digital firm Authentic. “We know the donor audience spends a lot of time on Twitter. I suspect these will be part of campaign folks' strategy, especially since Facebook has slowly become less profitable.”
One more thing on the Twitter news: Previously, the company had created a transparency database of political ads running on its platform. It’s unclear whether that will be a priority moving forward.
Mr. Smith goes to Substack
Congressional office newsletters are known to be stale missives written by junior staffers and filled with dull or generic constituent updates. In the era of the Substack newsletter boom, that may be starting to change.
Last month, incoming Rep. Jeff Jackson, who represents portions of the Charlotte, NC metro area, launched a new weekly Substack newsletter to demystify the experience of serving in Congress. For those unfamiliar, Substack is an online publishing platform that many writers use to grow a newsletter community around a certain topic. In his first few issues, he has written about interviewing staff, how he’ll receive committee assignments, and drawing a “not great, not terrible” number in the Capitol office lottery.
The informal style of Jackson’s writing and the personal subject matter stands in sharp contrast to official Congressional “e-newsletters,” which while important, can be some of the least-engaging pieces of content on the internet.
Mr. Jackson goes to Washington
“Connecting directly with people is one of the most important parts of elected service,” Jackson wrote on his Substack about page. “If we’re going to turn the page on a pretty dark chapter in American politics, we need more people in my position to use their platforms to inform, not just provoke.”
I originally saw a link to Rep. Jeff Jackson’s newsletter over the Christmas break from digital strategist and FWIW reader Josh Klemons, who was excited about the potential this new digital tactic brings to the industry. “Jackson understands that “digital” is about more than simply asking for money,” wrote Klemons. “It’s about building a community and gaining the trust of those you hope to lead. My prediction is that we’ll see many more such Substacks pop up in the coming months.”
Josh is right - politicians regularly fill our inboxes with content that is either extremely formal and boring (official e-newsletters) or scammy and self-serving (see: campaign fundraising). As more candidates and politicians pursue authenticity and community-building online, tools like Substack provide a real opportunity to directly engage with voters or constituents.
Reclaiming their time
While uncommon among sitting members of Congress, starting a Substack has become a trend among a few former members eager to share their hot takes with anyone willing to listen. That includes former Reps. Bob Walker (R-PA), Jason Lewis (R-MN), and Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI). The 80-year-old Walker aims to write regular columns about the future of space and technology policy, while Lewis has used the platform to spew typical pro-Trump talking points. Meanwhile, Democrat-turned-opportunist Gabbard is attempting to monetize her opinions and recent party switch - she has a few hundred paid subscribers and her top post is a 2,600 word diatribe on leaving the Democratic Party.
Members and former members alike will undoubtedly learn that writing a strong newsletter requires consistency and is a lot more work than it seems. In October, former Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI) quietly launched a newsletter claiming to “name names and bring the receipts” from his time in Congress. However, he has yet to draft his first post.
Must be writer’s block.
That’s it for FWIW this week! If you enjoyed reading this issue, give it a share on Twitter.
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