Ben Carson’s Facebook page is filled with animals. One dog reclines by a sign that says “Brownie Barks for Ben.” Grasshopper the rabbit stands by a homemade “Bunnies for Ben” flier. Lucky and Lulu the hamsters sniff around by a “Run Ben Run” sign planted the food in their cage.
Pictures of these pawed supporters are being posted in droves because Carson’s campaign team created a “Pet Week” on their social media accounts, which they say turned their Facebook account into the most engaged political page that week in June. “We’ve had a lot of pets involved,” communications director Doug Watts says of their social media strategy.
The pet strategy wouldn’t fly at most campaigns. But then, Carson isn’t running just any campaign. Everything about his candidacy has been unorthodox from the start, and even his staff are amazed by the outcome. “None of us … have ever seen anything like it,” Watts says. “It’s a different thing than we’re accustomed to with candidates. Usually it’s a hard sell. With Ben, it just really isn’t.”
The retired neurosurgeon recently tied with Donald Trump for first among Republican voters in one Iowa poll with 23% of the vote, and he ranks second nationwide in Republican polling averages. He has also proved himself a veritable fundraising machine, raking in $21.5 million, according to his campaign, with $6 million coming in August alone. As of August 1, he was behind only Jeb Bush and Ted Cruz in hard money totals.
So how has he done it? With a strategy focused on exploiting social media and engaging his supporters from a distance. While other candidates camp out in early primary and caucus states, he has not set foot in Iowa in nearly a month. His campaign has focused almost entirely online, eschewing television ads for direct mail and posts on Facebook. As a result, he has made almost all of his money from small donations of $200 or less.