Sen. Elizabeth Warren is slowly edging her way up in the polls in a crowded field of 2020 presidential candidates, particularly after her successful performance in last week’s Democratic debate. Her grand plan is straightforward: She has laid out a great deal of coherent policy plans about issues people care about, for everything from paying for child care to prison reform. But there’s another secret weapon that’s keeping her campaign chugging along — an almost-compulsive penchant for taking selfies with supporters on the campaign trail.
Warren has taken thousands of selfies (okay, technically they’re not selfies because there’s a staffer taking them); 35,000 as of June 28 and surely counting. She even fought her staff against having a rope line at campaign events in order to be able to greet every single person. "I’ve never been so proud to be so wrong," campaign manager Roger Lau said of their exchange. She convinced him with a people-power argument: "I look to the left [of the rope] I see big donors, elected officials, people I saw backstage," she reportedly said. "I look to the right and I see wheelchairs, and people with walkers, and I can’t get to them because of the bike rack. I look in the middle and it’s all the most aggressive people who got to the front. I don’t see little girls, I’m not able to shake hands with older people. What if, we invited every single person who wanted to to come to stage to take a photo, you know, on stage?"
The photo line is always my favorite part of our events—and last night I took my 35,000th selfie! pic.twitter.com/zsf5Fj9aqC
— Elizabeth Warren (@ewarren) June 29, 2019
For Warren, taking photos with her growing cadre of supporters is both a way to get to know them — and, to get a little cynical about it, a marketing tool.
After a photo is taken, the campaign posts it on social media, and encourages supporters to — which in turn floods our timelines with Warren’s smiling face. This is a powerful form of free advertising, and in a campaign that has refused to take corporate donations (and received fallout for it, depending on who you ask), it’s an effective tactic in getting the message out there. It’s helped her a ton on social media, according to analysis performed by Zignal Labs, a media intelligence firm, for NBC News. "Elizabeth Warren is the candidate most associated with the term ‘selfies’ over the past month by a wide margin, and with mostly positive public sentiment around it," Zignal Labs CEO Josh Ginsberg said.
Patti Wood, body language expert and author of Snap: Making the Most of First Impressions, Body Language, and Charisma, says selfies are also a smart choice because they help the candidate project an image of warmth at a time when female candidates are unfortunately still harshly judged on their demeanor. It’s the same reason she actually calls some supporters on the phone and talks issues (prompting a few of them to completely lose their shit in public places).
"I think it’s incredibly smart," Wood told Refinery29. "She’s a very strong woman, and she has very forceful body language. She is very definitive when she makes a statement, her voice comes down at the end. The selfies balance it all out, because she’s in an intimate zone of space with people, inside their ‘body bubble.’ It shows that she’s warm and likable."
"She smiles a lot in these selfies, which contrasts to when she’s speaking about serious issues and her facial expressions become serious," added Wood. "She often opens up her arms and lifts them high in a dramatic way as she greets people, as if they’re long-lost friends. It’s big and it’s high, which shows both her power and joy in that moment, she makes it feel like she really wants to be with them in that moment." It also helps Warren maintain her image of being a woman of the people. "Sometimes I see ‘power people’ stay ‘up and down’ in selfies, and she’s saying ‘we’re equals’ with her body language rather than trying to maintain her power," said Wood.
Warren has said that the photos are also an opportunity for her to connect with voters on issues.
"Sometimes it’s an issue that really matters to them and someone will say to me: ‘I’ve got $68,000 in student loan debt. I’m teaching public school. There’s no way I can hold this together,’" she told CNN. "Or, ‘I have a child with a serious illness and all of her life she’s going to have had a preexisting condition. Please don’t let them change the law.’"
Taking selfies has become the new autograph on the campaign trail, and other candidates such as Sen. Bernie Sanders are taking a cue from Warren. According to Pamela Rutledge, PhD, director of the Media Psychology Research Center, it’s not only a smart strategy, but a more effective way to engage with voters. Images can deliver more information than text — "they include emotion, context, and attributed meaning," she said — so it is a powerful way to tell a story.
"The shared moment is key," Dr. Rutledge told Refinery29. "If it were just people shuffling by for photo ops, it wouldn’t be as effective. It gives the potential voter a sense of personal connection and gives them a stake in her candidacy. The nature of selfies is that they are shared, and Warren’s campaign benefits from individuals who post their Warren selfies on social media. It also has the advantage of creating an image and narrative of Warren in a human and personal context."
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Source: Refinery29 – Natalie Gontcharova