“I apologize. I did not handle this situation well from top to bottom, and that is why I’ve been completely roasted on this app over the last 48 hours.”

That’s what I heard Congressman Jeff Jackson saying as I scrolled TikTok the way many of us do, multitasking while making a simple pasta dinner after work one evening. Jackson, a young, telegenic congressman from North Carolina with some 2.5 million TikTok followers, was talking about his vote for the “TikTok ban” that recently passed the House. Now, Jackson’s followers were calling bulls**t on him voting for a ban of the platform he’s built a devoted and informed following on.

Jackson’s response was strategic and effective. It was measured, direct, and didn’t mince words—exactly the vibe he’s cultivated on the platform that helped him build such a massive audience. He acknowledged the apparent hypocrisy, and owned up to not communicating clearly the reasons behind his vote. 

And then Jackson leveled with his audience: he didn’t believe that there was a realistic chance TikTok would actually be banned, but he’s privy to national security information that concerned him, which ultimately influenced his vote to force a sale to a US-based company.   

In this short video, which has had 4.7 million views since it was posted, Jackson laid out a guidebook for how politicians will have to engage with Gen Z voters ahead of the upcoming election if they want to win them over. Unvarnished and direct, he spoke plain English—while also respecting his viewers’ intelligence—about the priorities that matter most to his audience.

In 2024, the road to Gen Z runs through TikTok

Candidates up and down the ballot in 2024 can no longer ignore TikTok as a platform. A full one-third of US adults under 30 get their news on TikTok. Because the platform continues to prohibit political advertising, campaigns can’t slice and dice their audience the way they do on Meta or Google to reach the people they want to (or filter out those they don’t).

Instead, they have to rely on getting organic content to go viral, a task that is easier said than done. Organic content that works on TikTok is authentic and unfiltered—often the opposite of most politicians’ more polished and media-trained images. But that doesn’t mean politicians need to start filming Zara haul or “get ready with me” videos in order to seem relatable.

Jackson is a strong example of how to thread this needle. He’s professional and informed, but still relatable and casual. He respects his audience’s intelligence, but also their time—distilling complex issues down concisely. Check out these videos from longtime consummate social media expert AOC (who voted no on the TikTok bill) and NYC Councilman Chi Ossé for more great examples.


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Gen Z voters are hungry for accessible educational information

Gen Z came of age in a deluge of information and advertisers vying for clicks. They’re overwhelmed, and turned off by traditional political ads that can come off as polarizing or extreme. In fact, one-third of Gen Z voters wish they had known more about the candidates and their positions in the last election compared to 21% of Millennials and just 6% of Baby Boomers. (Source)

Campaigns and nonprofits can help close this gap by producing accessible educational information. Think eye-catching infographics, short explainer videos, and more “off-the-clock” content from a candidate talking about their views on a particular issue.

Take the issue of canceling student debt. That’s a top issue for both Millennials and Gen Z, who hold very similar political views. 

But studies show that fewer Gen Z voters know about Biden’s plan to cancel student debt than older voters do. That’s proof positive that no matter how strong a candidate’s stance on these issues, a robust content strategy that meets people where they are is key for communicating with and winning over voters. 

Engage external validators and influencers

Here’s some more fascinating research: Unlike past generations of consumers, Gen Z is turning the traditional marketing funnel on its head. That means campaigns’ usual content strategy playbooks—running awareness ads, gauging interest, then trying to convert voters—should be thrown out the window

“[Gen Z]’s primary marketplace — social media — is also their entertainment center, social hub, learning platform, and news source, making shopping a medley of influences and mindsets,” says a new report in Vogue Business. For candidates, this means that something like a user-generated content (UGC) video might be much more inspiring to a Gen Z voter than a traditional ad meant to convert them into a donor or supporter. These are voters who want to feel inspired and part of a community—not overtly marketed to. 

More than any other generation, Gen Z likes to do their own research before trusting a brand—reading the comments, sifting through reviews, and listening to influencers they trust. Campaigns should lean into partnering with nano and micro influencers who can authentically speak about their candidate, and let these external validators tell the story. 

Influencer marketing has a clear edge over traditional political advertising for many reasons. It’s cheaper to pay an influencer than to pay for a TV ad, it skirts around TikTok’s rules on political advertising, and it is much more effective at reaching younger voters who are more responsive to an influencer they trust than a talking head on CNN.

Beware misinformation and echo chambers

2024 will be the first presidential election that TikTok will play a major role in, and we’re predicting that the spread of misinformation—which has long been a threat to fair elections—will be particularly fierce. 

We’ve already seen examples of this, like a viral video with altered audio implying that Vice President Harris said that virtually all people being hospitalized with Covid-19 were vaccinated, when she really said “unvaccinated.” Or when someone replaced President Biden singing the national anthem with “Baby Shark.” 

From the silly to the serious, it’s clear misinformation spreading on TikTok will be a hurdle for campaigns to overcome this year. And it’s yet another reason for them to develop their platforms as trusted, reliable sources of information. 

As anyone on social media knows, our algorithms create echo chambers—filtering out viewpoints it thinks aren’t relevant with every swipe, and narrowing the opinions you might be exposed to. That means politicians will have to think outside the box, differentiating their content from the herd by making concerted investments in high-value creative, so that they can break onto the feeds of people who might not be actively seeking them out, but could be interested in hearing what they have to say.