Q&A with Vincent Harris, the mastermind behind Ted Cruz’s social media success

One of the most important decisions Republican Senate hopeful Ted Cruz made was his hiring of Vincent Harris, a 24-year-old Austin consultant specializing in social media and building internet communities. Cruz’s mastery of social media played a big role in his runoff victory over the better-funded David Dewhurst.

In the aftermath of the win, Texas on the Potomac discussed Cruz’s social media strategy with Harris. Here are extended excerpts:

Q: How important was Ted Cruz’s mastery of social media to his emergence from the pack and then, ultimately, his victory?

A: Social media was critically important to Ted’s win. It allowed the campaign to motivate and coordinate grassroots supporters which was critical for an insurgent campaign in a state as big as Texas.

The campaign led with digital, it was baked into all aspects of the campaign from communications to political field work to polling. Ultimately, social media and the digital space were used as a tool to raise Ted’s name ID, generate online donations, and respond to attacks from the Dewhurst campaign.

Additionally, Ted utilized web videos early on to break through the clutter and get press such as this funny video Spotted.

Q: Did he understand the power of social media and internet communities from the beginning or was he a convert?

A: Ted himself understood the power of digital from the beginning. His third hire on the campaign after the general consultant and campaign manager was Josh Perry, his in house digital director…whom they actually hired away from my firm! Josh is an incredibly hard campaigner who put this campaign before anything else he was doing. He was constantly interacting with the grassroots online and coordinating their messages to Ted and [campaign manager] John Drogin.

Q: Is Ted Cruz the best recent example of the power of social media in a statewide race? Are there other good examples?

A: There’s no doubt that the Cruz campaign ran the most integrated statewide digital strategy in the history of American politics. Other campaigns have spent more money online, but this campaign led with digital in all aspects.

Really, this was unprecedented in politics. To have the digital team have access and input with the pollster, general consultant, and television ad producers.

Another good example would be Rick Scott’s campaign in Florida which spent about a million dollars online and was the subject of a Facebook case study. Also- credit to Targeted Victory who ran Marco Rubio’s online efforts in 2010 in Florida.

Q: Can you tell me a little about your outreach to conservative social media opinion leaders in Texas and nationally? Conservative bloggers? Conservative columnists?

A: The campaign gave access to opinion leaders both on social media and in the blogosphere. Ted met with bloggers one on one such as David Jennings from Big Jolly Politics in Houston to talk about the issues and try to make his case for why he should get their support. He announced his candidacy on a blogger call in January 2011 and we created a robust blogger action center encouraging bloggers to post supportive widgets.

Q: How important was it to expand your circles to others such as Sarah Palin, Jim DeMint, the Club for Growth, Tea Party Express (and Tea Party groups generally), FreedomWorks and other groups?

A: Each of those endorsements and supporters represents their own brand and has their own set of die-hard fans. It was very helpful online in terms of fundraising and solidifying the digital grassroots behind Ted’s candidacy. Once we received a certain endorsement, we were able to advertise for example on Facebook to people who “LIKED” those individuals pages. We also ran ads contextually around their names when they were mentioned in news stories which helped garner donations.

Q: Can you give a few examples of Ted Cruz’s use of social media?

A: The campaign launched an online poll on social media and the website and pushed to the bloggers about voting to choose the official bumper sticker of the campaign. After voting for a week, the campaign utilized the best one.

We utilized Google maps to create an endorsement map for Ted which highlights the breadth of his grassroots support in Texas:

This image was promoted with ads on election day and shared over 1,000 times by people on Facebook

Additionally the campaign would post city specific updates when Ted would be speaking at an event to help boost turnout.

One of the things I am most proud of was the use of ads to rebut the attacks coming from the Dewhurst campaign and his Super PAC allies. We ran unique search ads when someone searched “Cruz China” for example that would lead people to a “get the facts” page on our website.

Q: What does it say when we note that Ted Cruz had so many Twitter and Facebook followers compared to any of the other Senate candidates?

A: It noted the overwhelming organic support Ted has from the grassroots across Texas. This was a victory for the grassroots and their support is expressed in the shear volume of supporters online.

Q: How many social media staffers did Ted Cruz have?

A: The campaign has two in-house folks and then my team of 12 Austin based staff worked with the campaign. The website was constantly updated and edited around events and breaking news. For example during the fast and furious scandal we went up with a poll on if Eric Holder should resign. When Ted was speaking to Glenn Beck or another talk show host, we were up with a splash page promoting that individual event and welcoming listeners. It was a lot of work but it’s the way to run a good campaign.