Campaign is hiring workers for $2,500 per month to promote Bloomberg to all their contacts
Michael Bloomberg’s presidential campaign is hiring hundreds of workers in California to post regularly on their personal social-media accounts in support of the candidate and send text messages to their friends about him.
The effort, which could cost millions of dollars, is launching ahead of California’s March 3 primary and could later be deployed nationwide, according to people familiar with the matter and documents reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. It is one of the most unorthodox yet by the heavy-spending billionaire and blurs the lines between traditional campaign organizing and the distribution of sponsored content.
Most campaigns encourage their supporters to post on social media about their candidates, but paying them at this scale to express support on their personal accounts is unusual, experts say.
A California staffer and the documents reviewed by the Journal describe a multimillion-dollar-a-month effort aimed at helping Mr. Bloomberg attract support after having entered the race long after other candidates had built their ground campaigns. The documents also say the campaign is adopting a strategy, which it credits the Trump campaign with using to great effect, to try to influence potential voters through people they know and trust rather than strangers.
To staff the effort, the campaign is hiring more than 500 “deputy digital organizers” to work 20 to 30 hours a week and receive $2,500 a month, the documents show. In exchange, those workers are expected to promote Mr. Bloomberg to everyone in their phones’ contacts by text each week and make social-media posts supporting him daily, the documents show.
“The Fight for Equal Rights Has Been One of the Great Fights of Mike’s Life,” reads one such suggested prompt regarding Mr. Bloomberg’s early support for same-sex marriage.
Publicly available job applications for those positions require applicants to provide their social-media handles for review and state that staffers may be asked to undertake more traditional field-organizing work like phone banking.
Helping organize the effort is Outvote, an app that enables users to send pre-written texts, post campaign materials to social media and send data back to campaigns. The app, funded by Higher Ground Labs, a Democratic political technology incubator, generally focuses on pushing volunteers to send content. Outvote also allows users to look up whether their friends have voted in past elections by matching their contact lists against public data.
A spokeswoman for the campaign characterized the workers being paid to promote Mr. Bloomberg as the future of political organizing. “We are meeting voters everywhere on any platform that they consume their news,” a spokeswoman for the Bloomberg campaign said. “One of the most effective ways of reaching voters is by activating their friends and network to encourage them to support Mike for president.”
Facebook Inc.’s policies historically have addressed the worlds of political advertising and influencer marketing as separate. The company has only recently begun to grapple with the intersection of the two.
It is not clear if messages like those the Bloomberg campaign is suggesting would need to be labeled as sponsored content under Facebook’s disclosure rules. A Facebook spokeswoman said posts by outside “content creators” would require labels if a campaign paid for them, but that posts by campaign employees wouldn’t need to be labeled as ads. The company didn’t address how it would categorize posts by employees paid to promote content to their personal social networks.
A review of social-media posts by some people being paid by the campaign found they aren’t labeled as sponsored content.
Officials at the U.S. Federal Trade Commission have said that merely tagging a brand or business on social media is a form of endorsement that falls under its purview–and should be disclosed if an audience would view an endorsement differently knowing that an influencer had financially benefited from the brand.
The Bloomberg campaign spokeswoman said that the campaign doesn’t believe posts from its deputy field organizers need to be labeled, describing them as a new form of political organizing rather than paid influencer content.
Political campaigns have long used a combination of volunteers and paid workers to do things like run phone banks and knock on doors to support a candidate. But experts said the Bloomberg campaign’s willingness to pay to leverage supporters’ existing social connections is novel.
James Thurber, professor of government at American University, said groups promoting political issues sometimes use similar strategies of paying people to express support online, but it is unusual from a candidate. “It’s classic AstroTurf tactics,” he said. “When you have unlimited resources the way Bloomberg seems to, you can do that.”
The Trump campaign includes staff dedicated to digital and social media, but it doesn’t compensate people to post on their personal social media accounts, a spokeswoman said.
At least until recently, the Bloomberg campaign also planned to recruit another 2,500 campaign “digital organizing fellows” who would be paid $500 a month in exchange for posting daily on social media and putting every person in their contact list into the Bloomberg campaign’s database, according to documents reviewed by the Journal and a deputy organizer who had been told to expect to oversee five of the fellows.
The campaign spokeswoman said that it had decided not to proceed with the “fellows.” She also said the campaign had changed the title of the $2,500-a-month deputy digital roles to “deputy field organizer” to reflect that the role may also include more traditional campaign activities.
Bloomberg’s spending has helped spark a rise in the polls, enabling him to qualify for Wednesday’s Democratic debate.
Though he only declared his candidacy late last year, Mr. Bloomberg has exceeded the advertising spending of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, former Vice President Joe Biden, former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar combined.
The Bloomberg campaign also recently worked with an offshoot of media and marketing company Jerry Media to contract with large meme accounts to push the campaign, the New York Times has reported, leading Facebook last week to clarify its rules around such posts.
The Bloomberg campaign will suggest content for sharing and exert some control over the social-media outreach efforts, according to the documents reviewed by the Journal. Though the Bloomberg campaign won’t have direct access or authority over its organizers’ social-media feeds, a team of quality-control staff will verify that the organizers are posting appropriately.
“Ha! Even Republicans think Mike is our best bet to defeat Trump! Let’s prove them right,” said one suggested message for text or social media, linking to a news article citing conservative political operatives bullish about Mr. Bloomberg’s chances.
The campaign’s approach is fine with at least some unpaid Bloomberg supporters, like Jason Miller.
A rabbi in Michigan who runs a social-media marketing company, Mr. Miller said he believes the former New York mayor is “a mensch” and that his willingness to spend a vast amount on his campaign makes him uniquely suited to beating Donald Trump.
He said he believes it is important to be transparent about paid commercial promotions, but he views the ethics of political activism as less clear.
“With a campaign, there is a gray area,” he said, noting the standard campaign practice of assigning both volunteers and paid staff to phone bank and knock on doors. While it is possible there should be clearer lines drawn in social media, he said, “it took decades for TV and radio to figure out what disclosure for ads should be.”