2024 is here, and there’s no escaping the U.S. presidential election. Get ready for a stream of misinformation from candidates, pundits and social media — though perhaps the country will be spared an insurrection this time.
According to Edelman’s 2024 Trust Barometer, the U.S. has one of the lowest levels of trust in authoritative bodies, such as media outlets, businesses and the government, in the world. As trust erodes in these entities, it is rising in peers, in this case community leaders and creators on social media.
Those content creators — and their talent and publicity agencies — recognize the power they’ll yield this year. As the election gets closer, influencers are preparing to speak to their audiences about pressing political issues.
“A lot of people turn to people for information — people they know, people they trust, and a lot of those individuals are influencers,” says Tyler Vaught, global head of influencer marketing at Edelman. “Increasingly, we’re starting to see influencers play a more active role in the dissemination and analysis of news. They’re starting to have greater impact outside of the niche areas in which they built their communities.”
Social platforms are embracing the change. For example, one of Twitch’s most popular streamers is Hasan Piker, who spends up to 10 hours each day breaking down global news from a leftist perspective. Twitch has featured Piker on its promotional material, including giant billboards in Las Vegas, where the company held TwitchCon in October.
Meanwhile, political chatter from the right is especially hot on X, formerly known as Twitter. When it distributed payouts to creators in July, it sent some of its biggest checks to far-right voices such as Andrew Tate and Ian Miles Cheong.
Community messaging platforms such as Reddit and Discord are also breeding grounds for political discussion.
TikTok, on the other hand, disallows direct political ads. Still, Vaught expects creators to take strong stances on that platform.
The Federal Elections Commission will also leave creators to their own devices, as it’s expected to not require disclosures on paid political promotions, although political campaigns must say which firms they pay that contract influencers.
Creators can’t always parse what’s accurate or not on their own, Vaught said. It’s up to the agencies they work with to inform them of the necessary context and nuance surrounding issues before they speak up. Before one of its creators takes a political stance, Edelman makes them aware of conversations that are happening outside of their community and potential blowback. Talent agencies also educate their creators so they can make an informed decision, but ultimately leave the choice of taking a stand up to them.
“We need to not just be taking the role of pairing political parties with talent,” says Emily Ward, cofounder of Shine Talent Group. “We also have to be educating both sides about how those conversations can unravel on social and how the political party would then have to support the talent if it did go awry.”
To keep a lid on spreading misinformation, either accidentally or intentionally, Fenton has banned creators from using generative AI to make content, as studies show that the technology is spreading both misinformation and disinformation.
The agency is preparing its influencers to work on educational campaigns for community engagement advocacy groups throughout the election season. In addition to giving creators more context on issues they’re tackling, it’s also teaching organizations how to best use creators as trusted messengers across multiethnic communities.
“There’s a need to translate context and language in a way that is culturally relevant to a myriad of communities,” says Shakirah Hill Taylor, chief digital officer at Fenton. “I’m thinking the Filipino community, specifically young Latino men, are going to be a big bipartisan voting block. Black and Latina women will be as well, and there’s of course Black men.”
Taylor expects Democrats and Republicans to take different approaches to reaching these groups via creators. She anticipates Democrats to be overt in bringing creators to press briefings, giving them access to members of the Biden administration and equipping them with talking points. Meanwhile, Republicans have preferred planting their messaging within communities that promote traditional lifestyles, such as the tradwife community that promotes traditional gender roles in relationships, and relying on popular political pundits.
Both parties will lean on creators to inform voters about how to vote, Taylor says.
Jamie Gutfreund, founder of consultancy Creator Vision, also anticipates Republicans will hammer on individual issues such as abortion or the Second Amendment while Democrats opt to make broader appeals rooted in progressive stances. She anticipates both parties tapping creators who lead passionate communities such as sports and gaming.
“Being able to dimensionalize and distribute content that speaks to my personal requirements of what will influence me,” she says. “You can work with a fleet of 1,000 creators and each one can represent those topics.”
Gutfreund says that she has been advising politicians about how to tap into the creator market and expects the Biden administration to ramp up its influencer efforts over the summer.
Ultimately, creator agencies are preparing for a heated election season, but see guiding creators through tense issues as the new norm.
“There’s a lot of pressure to take a side,” says Vaught. “We’re in an election cycle, and that’s important, but I do feel like this is going to be the new normal. There’s always going to be more polarizing issues and pressure to align on one view or the other.”
This story first appeared on PRWeek U.S.