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If you’ve ever wanted to see Derek Green taking the polar plunge, Jeff Brown dancing in the aisles of ShopRite, or Allan Domb wearing Jason Kelce’s Mummers hat from the 2018 Super Bowl parade, you can find it all on TikTok.
At least half of Philadelphia’s mayoral contenders this year have profiles on the popular video-based platform to promote their candidacy, and the vibes are… interesting.
Pretty much all of the candidates actively use Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter to keep people up to date with what they’re doing on the campaign trail. But while their Insta followings range from 639 to 18k, their TikToks haven’t yet caught on.
A few mayoral hopefuls haven’t even launched an account on the video-sharing platform, which is increasingly popular among millennials and Gen Z. Of those that do, none have more than 250 followers. Only three candidates have posted more than five videos. Some garner engagement by reposting to Instagram, but on the app itself, most have just a few hundred (or a few dozen) views and maybe a handful of comments.
Making TikTok work for political campaigns isn’t easy, digital communications and social media strategist Annie Wu Henry told Billy Penn.
“There’s a lot of helpful uses for social media if it’s used correctly, but it’s not just a copy-and-paste formula,” Henry said. The 26-year-old Philly resident, who said she works for progressive organizations, was widely credited with boosting John Fetterman’s social profile during his successful run for U.S. Senate.
TikTok can be especially useful in reaching younger voters. A quarter of adults under 30 said last year they regularly get news on the platform, according to the Pew Research Center, and around half of people aged 18 to 29 used it in 2021. Overall, 1 in 5 adults used TikTok — fewer than Facebook or Instagram, which were used by 69% and 40% of adults, respectively.
But the app has featured in campaigns and skyrocketed some formerly low-profile politicians to online notoriety, like U.S. Rep. Jeff Jackson of North Carolina, who now has nearly 400,000 followers.
The key, Henry said, is to make sure there’s “intention and reason behind” what a campaign is posting — and to make sure the format fits the platform. Vertical, high resolution, short-form videos are usually the best for TikTok, and capitalizing on memes and trends can help a video go viral, or at least garner attention.
For a municipal election, Henry advised, campaigns would do well to concentrate on showing up on “For You” pages of people who actually live in the city.
“Get on Philly TikTok, get in the algorithm in a way that it’s going to be pushing you out to all the people that are in Philadelphia,” she said, “in the same ways that Eagles content and the stuff that was happening on Broad Street after winning the conference championship game [were].”
Staying true to the candidate is also critical. “The second you’re trying to cater to other people, it becomes not authentic,” Henry said.
A mismatch between the platform and the “spirit of our candidate and campaign” is why Rebecca Rhynhart’s campaign hasn’t launched a TikTok account, a spokesperson told Billy Penn, though it’s regularly active on many other social platforms. Cherelle Parker’s campaign has also passed on TikTok, digital director Nandi O’Connor said, but is using Instagram reels in a “comparable way.” For Helen Gym, a future TikTok account could be in the cards, per spokesperson Harrison Morgan.
Of the mayoral candidates that are using TikTok, each has their own particular style, or is starting to form one — from Green’s day-to-day explanations of life on the campaign trail, to the Domb campaign dipping its toes into trends, to Jimmy DeLeon’s sole post, a straightforward clip of him speaking at a mayoral forum.
We’ve looked through all their campaign accounts so you don’t have to. Here’s a review of what we saw.
Allan Domb (@dombformayor)
Last posted: Feb. 13
Most popular post: Domb knocking on doors and asking Philly residents to vote for him (1,043 views, 113 likes). None of his posts have comments.
Our take: Getting the hang of it. While his first two videos were a bit overproduced and didn’t appear made for TikTok, the more recent attempts are vertical and make use of popular trends like “things that just make sense.”
Social strategy: The campaign is using its social media channels, TikTok included, to share conversations with people across the city and to show off more of Domb’s personality, said digital director Lindy Wittenberg. “Our social media gets to show a side of Allan not everyone sees — speaking with strangers, supporting small businesses, and visiting neighborhoods in Philly,” Wittenberg said.
Maria Quiñones-Sánchez (@mariaqsanchez)
Last posted: Jan. 27
Most popular post: The lone post is Quiñones-Sánchez introducing herself. “I’m Maria Quiñones-Sánchez. I’m running for mayor because there’s nothing wrong with Philly that we can’t fix together,” she says (217 views, 6 likes).
Our take: Too soon to say, but the initial attempt seemed better suited to the platform than some of the other candidates, and her signature campaign colors — blue and yellow — visually set her apart.
Social strategy: The campaign is using the platform to “directly engage with multigenerational voters in ways we haven’t been able to access before,” said campaign spokesperson Sheila Ballen. “Maria is a dynamic person and an engaging speaker with a strong track record in leadership,” Ballen said. “She has bold policy ideas that we want Philadelphia voters to hear about directly from her.”
Jeff Brown (@jeffbrownformayor)
Last posted: Feb. 13
Most popular post: Used to be a now-deleted play on the popular “He knows Barack. I love Barack” TikTok meme using pictures of Jeff Brown with the Obamas, which abruptly transitions into an “I’m voting Jeff” advertisement for his mayoral candidacy (513.8k views and 1,246 likes as of Monday). Now that that video’s gone, the most viewed post is a 2021, pre-campaign video of Brown dancing with restaurateur Saudia Shuler to “All the Way Up” (2,413 views, 43 likes, 2 comments).
Our take: In flux. Prior to Tuesday, the Brown campaign’s presence came across as pretty lighthearted and TikTok-ish. There’s still some upbeat content — like using Taylor Swift’s “Karma” to promote picking up the “damn trash,” or TikTok dancing in the aisles of ShopRite — but there’s not really enough campaign-related content to make a good judgment.
Brown has deleted some of his posts in recent days, including a video of him challenging NYC Mayor Eric Adams to a bet on the Eagles’ playoff game against the Giants last month. The account’s likes were also made private after Billy Penn asked about them. As of last week, @jeffbrownformayor had liked a video of TikTok it girl Alix Earle dying her hair and a 5-minute video that claims to reveal “The truth about UFOs.” It’s not clear who tapped the heart — the campaign says both Brown and the campaign’s digital director have access to the account.
Social strategy: “Our TikTok presence is guided by Gen-Z members of our team who work to link pop culture moments with Jeff’s message and Philadelphia’s values and concerns,” Brown’s campaign comms team told Billy Penn. “We also take note of the viral #phillytiktok hashtag, which is one [of] the highest used on the platform.” Moving forward, the campaign is hoping to spotlight Brown’s “personable nature” and the neighborhoods he visits.
Derek Green (@derekgreenformayor)
Last posted: Feb. 13
Most popular post: Green putting together gun safety kits on Martin Luther King Day of Service at Girard College. “I’m working hard. We’re going to make it happen,” he says in the video (645 views, 153 likes).
Our take: Dad vibes. The account shows him in interviews, donating blood, visiting small businesses, and volunteering, plus a few montage reels set to tunes like “Gonna Fly Now” from Rocky. His TikToks are earnest — and among the mayoral candidates, they’re performing most consistently, with videos generally getting over 100 views.
Social strategy: The Green campaign is using the platform as a way of “meeting people where they are” — particularly young voters — and showing “the human side of Derek, and to break down the barriers that exist between politicians and voters,” said campaign spokesperson Frances Patano. “Yes, Derek is a former at-large councilmember,” Patano said. “He is also a Marvel fan, a dad joke enthusiast, and a dancefloor regular. Philadelphia is a city with a big personality, and TikTok is a way to show how Derek can match that.”
Warren Bloom (@warrenfuzzybloom)
Last posted: Jan. 11
Most popular post: A picture of a person sleeping on the floor of a Broad Street Line car set to the tune of “Aesthetic” by Tollan Kim (414 views, 3 likes, and 3 comments — with two of the comments coming from the @warrenfuzzybloom account).
Our take: “Windows Movie Maker” meets “in with the kids.” The videos consist more of pictures and slideshows than actual videos, but they’re set to popular TikTok audios like “Bad Habit” by Steve Lacy and “Sunroof” by Nicky Youre and dazy.
It’s not quite clear whether the Bloom campaign actually runs the account — Bloom didn’t respond to Billy Penn’s requests for confirmation, and he doesn’t link to it from any of his other social media — but the content is similar to some posts on his Instagram and Facebook.
Social strategy: Bloom didn’t respond to Billy Penn’s questions. But @warrenfuzzybloom did leave a comment on one of the account’s TikToks saying that “word of mouth still beats all technology. Just remember to do the right thing and Vote for Bloom in the Spring first May 16th 4Mayor.”
Jimmy DeLeon (@jamesdeleon18)
Last posted: Jan. 20
Most popular post: The sole video is DeLeon speaking about his plans to fight gun violence at a January candidates forum in Germantown (704 views, 75 likes, and 13 comments — most of which are messages of support like “Good to see U on Tik Tok James D”).
Our take: Too early to tell. His single video performed relatively well compared to other mayoral candidates, but it was filmed horizontally and was a clip from a forum, so not created specially for the platform.
Social strategy: The campaign’s plan is to use TikTok “to get the information of his mayoral administration initiatives and reforms out to the public,” said spokesperson Jarred Rigmidan, while acknowledging DeLeon is still new to the platform. “We also look forward to the feedback that comes with sharing these ideas as well and hope to win over any naysayers to his ideas with a mutual beneficial outcome,” Rigmidan wrote.