Interview with Kevin Le, CEO of Social Media Campaign "ImagineBernie"

How did you get involved in social media campaigning for Bernie?

I started as a member of the Bernie Connect team, a small team of engineers and designers that helped launch Bernie’s official social media platform. One day, I asked my project manager, Ana Jamborcic, if we had ever utilized user testing on the website before. I discovered that type of system didn’t exist yet, so I decided to gather as many people as possible to help promote the site and conduct a user survey in almost every pro-Bernie Facebook group across the country. In one week I received over 200 responses, not only from each US state, but also from other countries! With this organized group in place, we can raise awareness about Bernie’s policies in powerful ways. We will be finishing up our work for the Bernie Connect team this week and are starting to advocate for Bernie through our ImagineBernie Facebook posts.

What work are you doing with your data analysis for Bernie Connect?

We are analyzing user feedback data on the website. Users answer questions like, “Is there anything you need from the campaign in order to become more involved?” and, “What do you wish was on Connect that isn’t there now?” All of us at ImagineBernie are tasked with analyzing the huge amounts of responses we get from the survey and writing a general report about these responses. We’ll be sending our report to the Bernie Connect team so they can decide what to do with the website moving forward. We’re doing the grunt work, I’d say!

What sort of work do your volunteers do on a daily basis?

The first week was spent supporting the Bernie Connect team by promoting their website and survey to numerous pro-Bernie groups in every state. We want to bring more people to the site and have them start using it because it has many useful resources which supporters can use on a day-to-day basis. Our volunteers are currently helping analyze the survey data that we’ve received over this last week of promotion. After we’ve fully analyzed and understood what the majority of people want from the Bernie Connect platform, we’ll be sending a report to the site’s engineers so that they can further improve the site. Other work in our organization includes photography, videography, and web development! We are implementing “Humans of New York”-style posts on our Facebook page along with other media that we believe everyone should view. As our photographers interview more Bernie supporters, they will post their content on our page. Our videographers are hard at work creating promotional videos for ImagineBernie and are reaching out to local members of the community to participate in interviews and talk about Bernie and his policies. Our web developers are working to build onto our website to include useful features not apparent on Bernie Connect.

What can individuals who do not have time to volunteer do to help spread the word and garner support?

They can come to us. Those who can’t attend organized phone banking sessions or canvas in person can get involved through ImagineBernie. There are quite a lot of supporters who want to do something else apart from those activities, and we provide them with the tools necessary to do exactly that.

How do you move people from simply liking content on social media to becoming directly involved in the campaign (or spin-offs like yours) or get out and vote?

Social media is great for sharing Bernie’s ideas, and when people hear the message, enthusiasm inevitably increases. That helps voter turnout and involvement. For example, we went from 40,000 to 300,000 people reached through our Facebook posts overnight last week! Aside from these benefits, social media is also directly practical: it provides information that people might not otherwise realize they needed, such as details on caucusing, the Bernie Dialer phone bank system, and debate schedules. Most significantly, we show how important it is for any and every Bernie supporter to vote, because it can certainly be an uphill battle going up against a political powerhouse like Hillary Clinton. Bernie is considered “behind” right now, despite having earned 51 pledged delegates to Hillary’s 52, which is undoubtedly indicative of a tight race; however, with Hillary having recently received an endorsement from Harry Reid and taken two states so far, it’s clear that we have to work harder than ever to push ahead. We want to get the message across that what Hillary has in establishment support, we have in numbers and enthusiasm. But if Bernie’s supporters, especially the youth, don’t get out and vote, then all of our online support will have been fruitless. You can talk the talk, but can you walk the walk?

What kind of content do you see being the most persuasive?

Content that people can connect with their personal lives is the strongest. This is why Bernie has such a large support from youth. He’s able to connect with what we care about and demonstrate his plans on solving significant problems facing youth today--global warming, social inequality, college debt, earning living wages, etc.

What sort of supporters are you hoping to garner online? Is there hope for grabbing more than just millennials?

Bernie has an incredibly diverse supporter base. We hope to involve all types of supporters in ImagineBernie. In addition to Americans, we also involve international supporters. We have an international team, headed by Brendan Zerafa of Malta, which consists of about 50 people in countries around the world who are helping us spread Bernie’s message. In our organization, we aim to reflect the diverse range of supporters that Bernie has. Our group of officers represents a wide range of ages, races, and backgrounds. We hope that the diversity of Bernie supporters in our organization, equally split between men and women, will best meet the needs and desires of all supporters while reaching out to new demographics.

How else do you reach out to potential supporters? Have you branched out to other media sites besides Facebook?

Yes! ImagineBernie uses Instagram, Twitter, Youtube, Pinterest, Medium, and, of course, good ol’ word of mouth.

Do you participate in geo-targeting cities with lacking support for Bernie?

Yes! We geo-target not only cities, but whole states that lack support for Bernie, such as Wyoming.

Do you find it interesting that the oldest candidate in the race is effectively utilizing social media in ways similar to Obama in 2008 and 2012?

Yeah, totally! Except that this time, a lot more youth are getting involved. Bernie is winning the majority of the youth vote, largely due to how easy it is to inform the younger generations about him using social media. We’re already showing others how social media can impact voters’ decisions and perspectives on certain candidates.

How does having a Democratic superdelegate (from Bernie's own district, no less) on your Board of Advisors change your business model?

I wouldn’t consider this a “business,” even though we use certain titles like CEO, CIO, CTO. Those are used to denote our responsibilities in our organization! Just like how we have the majority of our managing team labeled as officers on our website. We are a purely grassroots movement by the people for the people. It still amazes me how powerful it is to use social media to unite people all over the world for a common goal.

The support of Democratic superdelegate Richard T. Cassidy has proven extremely valuable. Board of Advisors members like Cassidy provide our grassroots organization of ordinary citizens with an important expert perspective. Gaining the support of such an influential person gives us hope for directly involving even more political figures in our cause. We are confident that, in the future, many others will join him in standing beside Bernie.

How do you hope to expand with new powerhouse supporters such as the aforementioned superdelegate?

I’m currently reaching out to many delegates and superdelegates across the United States and trying to gain their support. Our team is also trying to reach out to celebrities in the entertainment industry who support Bernie.

What do you see as the future for Imagine Bernie?

As the election goes on, our organization will continue to support Bernie in any way we can. Whether it be through social media pushes on primary dates, doing further analytical work for the official Bernie campaign, raising awareness of matters that are important to supporters, or working on one of the many other issues that will present itself over the course of the election season, ImagineBernie will be up to the challenge. By unifying people from across the world whose talents range from programming to public relations, we have created an organization that will adapt to the changing election.

Despite our huge momentum, there’s still a possibility that Hillary could win the Democratic nomination. If that happens, do we support her? If so, how do we go about this? What if we want to turn into an independent news organization or some other type of politics-oriented group? There are many possibilities in our future. I don’t have an answer to that at this time, but it shouldn’t be a focus for us yet. Right now, our primary aim is to get Bernie into the White House.

We hope to expand ImagineBernie’s reach to all audiences across the United States and the world. We want to show everyone that, no matter your race, ethnicity, age, sexual orientation, gender, ability, or religion—whoever you are—Bernie will fight for you. When the people come together to support a candidate who will work to secure a better future for all Americans, we all win. As Bernie famously said, “Not me. Us.”

We'd also like to give credit to our wonderful officers/web developers and their contributions to the team!

They are: Chul Kwon, Brendan Zerafa, Andy Kamath, Kieran Jarrett-Mann, Favour Nerrise, Elaine Lau, Sameer Khoja, Nicole Flokos, Max Goldberg, Zoe Sayler, Rory Slattery, Lucas Rodriguez, Iziah Thompson, Ariana Pooley, Adam Schilperoort, Jennifer Rae Pierce, Emma Schmitt, Dijah Mac, Christopher Bears, Samanta Honigman, Cheryl Claypoole, and Jessica Bocchini.

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