Denisse Myrick often reminds her Instagram followers to vote.
“But this time, I brought some backup,” she said.
Myrick, an Arizona-based photographer, is one of several social media influencers who are partnering with voter registration groups to spread the word about voting.
Celebrities, athletes, models and TikTokers alike are helping groups such as When We All Vote, Rock the Vote and NextGen America engage with communities of potential new voters online.
Former first lady Michelle Obama hosted a call Thursday between When We All Vote, the voter registration group she co-chairs, and influencers including Myrick, YouTuber Patrick Starr, former Team USA gymnast Josh Dixon, model and YouTuber Taylor Phillips and activist Nadya Okamoto. The call encouraged the influencers to use their platforms to reach people who are not registered to vote and to ensure that everyone has a plan to vote, according to the group.
Myrick has already started taking such steps. In her Instagram story on Wednesday, she told her followers to swipe up – she had linked to When We All Vote’s Voter Resources Hub, a site where people can register to vote and request mail-in ballots.
Myrick also posted a story in Spanish, encouraging her Spanish-speaking followers to do the same.
“We have to meet people where they are, and influencers and micro-influencers have mastered that authentically. They are trusted messengers, and the content they share with their communities resonates. By partnering with them to spread the message about voting, we can reach people who may not respond to our traditional outreach, and target our outreach to people who have historically been underrepresented in our elections, including young people and people of color,” Crystal Carson, vice president of culture, communications and media partnerships at When We All Vote, told CNN.
When We All Vote is also partnering with Community, a platform that enables celebrities to text fans, to drum up enthusiasm for voter registration. The Jonas Brothers and Amy Schumer, as well as When We All Vote co-chairs Kerry Washington and Liza Koshy, have sent text messages to fans on their 18th birthdays to encourage them to register to vote.
Koshy often shares messages about voting with her 18.6 million Instagram followers. Obama recently shared a vote-by-mail explainer led by Koshy with her 41.9 million followers on her own Instagram account.
Obama and When We All Vote are not alone in tapping into the power of influencers.
This summer, the nonprofit Rock the Vote teamed up with Influential, a tech platform that connects brands to audiences, as part of its “Democracy Summer” initiative to register new voters.
Rock the Vote worked with more than 30 unpaid influencers who posted mostly on Instagram about registering to vote. In addition, the group hosted virtual voter registration events with celebrities including actress Rosario Dawson, actress Logan Browning, singer Katy Perry and The Black Eyed Peas, as well as a celebration of the 19th Amendment that featured House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, actress and activist Alyssa Milano, activist Cecile Richards and actress and singer Hailee Steinfeld.
“In order to reach and turn out young voters, we have to meet them where they are. Young voters consume a lot of information, but as a whole they don’t do it through traditional platforms like cable news. Influencers have real power to engage millions of young people around this election for two main reasons: In most cases they are young people themselves, so they have a unique ability to connect, and they exist on the platforms that Gen Z uses every hour of the day,” Carolyn DeWitt, President of Rock the Vote, told CNN.
As a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, much voter registration outreach has been conducted online and digital political organizing has entered uncharted territory on platforms like TikTok, Twitch and Animal Crossing.
Still, NextGen America, the progressive youth voter engagement organization founded by businessman Tom Steyer, says it has been using influencers for almost two years to engage with people ages 18-35.
“We’ve found a way to build a program of influencers big and small; most have around 1,000 followers. Makeup bloggers, Greek life on campus, doggie Instagrams, drag queens and everyone in between have been really receptive to us sliding into their dm’s to save democracy. Our influencers are typically nonpolitical and have audiences who trust them, so when they are providing links to register or pledge to vote we see really great engagement levels,” said Heather Greven, communications director at NextGen America.
While NextGen has paid some influencers, Greven said, the organization has found that the majority of its influencers don’t want to be paid because they believe in NextGen’s mission of getting young people politically engaged.
“We’ve actually found content that wasn’t paid for seems to have higher engagement,” Greven added.
Bigtent Creative, a digital production company, has paid micro-influencers – those with smaller followings and niche audiences – small sums to create TikToks about voting and to spread the word about voter registration to their followers. For example, Bigtent paid Nia Stanford, who has more than 275,000 followers on TikTok. Stanford mostly posts about “blackness, queerness” and short-form raps, she told CNN. Stanford is part of a community on the app focused on Black Lives Matter activism.
Ysiad Ferreiras, who took over as Bigtent’s CEO last month, said the goal is “to channel funds to young people – particularly young people of color – so they can organize their own communities and have self-determination.”
Bigtent recently launched an initiative called TikTokVoters.com, through which it paid young people – primarily young women of color – to create TikTok videos leading to direct voter registration. The creators link to the site in their bios, where potential new voters are prompted to register using Rock the Vote’s registration tool. Bigtent spent $12,500 on the initiative and so far has registered more than 1,175 people.