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'It's about rebranding politics from the inside out': Q&A with Girl and the Gov
An Instagram DM between Sammy Kanter and Maddie Medved led to growth on TikTok, a #VIRAL newsletter, and a podcast featuring lawmakers, activists, and strategists.
Sammy Kanter and Maddie Medved’s 2020 Instagram meet-cute — Medved sent Kanter a message hoping to learn more about the ‘Girl and the Gov’ account — aptly foreshadowed the digital company they teamed up to build. Like many 20-somethings who are interested in (or maybe even obsessed with) campaigns and elections, at the start, the duo was frustrated by some friends’ decisions to abstain from politics and took to social media (and later a podcast) to reach mostly young women with info about civics and politics. Three years later, you may have seen Kanter, who’s 29, and Medved, who’s 27, on TikTok, read their #VIRAL newsletter, or listened to their podcast featuring lawmakers, activists, and strategists.
Girl and the Gov is on a two-part mission to rebrand politics for young people and help politicos better understand digital trends. To learn more about their vision, I chatted with Sammy Kanter and Maddie Medved, co-CEO’s of the progressive startup.
RJ: Tell me a bit about yourself, how you met, and the impetus behind starting Girl and the Gov.
Sammy Kanter: I started Girl and the Gov a few years ago following the 2018 midterm elections. It was one of those elections that for people that were really energized from 2016, that were like, ‘Oh my God, what that hell is going on?’, you know, it really became an election to focus on. Regardless of that, I still found that friends of mine were not registered vote. They weren’t participating. It caused me to ask a lot of questions. ‘Ok, well why aren’t you voting?' or ‘Why aren’t you engaged?’ So much of the answer was, ‘I’m overwhelmed. I know it’s important, but I’m intimidated by it. I don’t know anything about it.’ And the vernacular around everything was so hard to cut through. That feedback led me to think okay, ‘How do we change this narrative?’
Maddie Medved: We met on Instagram. It was very random but very on brand for what we ended up creating — having such a digital space for politics to live. Sam actually followed me from the Girl and the Gov account on my personal, and I had just finished working on a campaign. I saw the mission and what she was doing with it and was really inspired by it. I reached out and slid into her DM’s, and the rest is history. We ended up chatting on the phone for an hour and decided to start a podcast together. That was the birth of so many other things that came afterwards: the newsletter, consulting, and more.
RJ: What’s been the evolution of Girl and the Gov since you teamed up in 2020? Who’s your audience and what type of services are they looking for?
SK: The company started by trying to get our peers engaged with politics … but politics internally also needs a rebrand. The people in politics need to understand how to reach young people and how to use digital media. So what began as a consumer-oriented business became twofold and it's about rebranding politics from the inside out. Our consulting is a targeted look at social media, digital media, and how the political community can learn from our interesting cross section. We have a newsletter, #VIRAL, that goes out every Tuesday, and it's social media consulting to people's inboxes, specifically political professionals. It provides trends — from sounds, to CapCut, to what emojis to be using, and the color schemes that are in, the templates, everything. It’s your ‘How To’ guide for social media for anyone in the political sphere, on any given week. With #VIRAL, we do audits… We're trying to be more accessible, knowing that a lot of campaigns (especially smaller campaigns), can’t actually afford to have someone on full time on retainer.
Interested in #VIRAL, you can subscribe here.
RJ: You mentioned ‘Cap Cut.’ For those unfamiliar, what is it? Is that an app we should all use?
MM: It started as a mostly editing app for short-form video, for TikTok specifically (it’s also a company of ByteDance). I've been using it for a while just to edit our podcast clips, but they recently launched this new arm that is basically video memes. All of the meme culture from honestly the past decade, it’s playing off of that and taking funny or famous moments in pop culture or movies and applying it into a meme-like format, usually partnered with a specific sound. The algorithm favors it well. It’s a trendy tool that has been very successful and, I think, will continue to be. It takes out that kind of face-to-camera content that can be kind of daunting for a lot of people, especially candidates and politicians.
RJ: Looking forward to 2024, what do you predict will be the biggest trends for reaching younger audiences online?
MM: It’s hard to answer that given that you don’t even what trends are going to be out there and what's going to be working next week. But I think people really need to step into TikTok. That's the best place to get the farthest reach, but it's also a great place to get a targeted reach. And there are ways to mirror paid media, which campaigns are used to. TikTok is where the majority of young people are, and it's also the algorithm that's going to get you in front of more people that aren't just the people who already follow you.
SK: I think we're gonna see a lot more influencer campaigns, and like Maddie said, a lot more use of TikTok. We’ll be curious to see the comfortability of different campaigns and whatnot, and also just electeds. I mean, we've got (Sen.) Cory Booker and his pink Barbie Jeep, which I'm obsessed with.
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RJ: Along those lines, how do you advise politicians to keep content as authentic as possible? Given that younger audiences are really good at sniffing out what is authentic vs. what is cringe…
SK: It’s hard. You have to just be you. Whenever we’re talking with a campaign or with their team, you have to have a really honest conversation, and you have to say, ‘Ok, what's their strength?’ It's not a one size fits all situation.
RJ: Twitter (or ‘X’) vs. Threads for 2024? Is Threads going to stick? Is there an audience there?
MM: I’m not sure honestly. I would like to see Threads win this battle — it’s kind of the lesser of two evils. But Threads has a long way to go to continue to upgrade their platform and stand out. Right now, I’ve been using both, and Twitter (X) is still the place that's going to get you the most eyes, and that’s why I don't think people will leave it anytime soon. I hear there’s a lot in the works from Meta on the Threads front, and they are trying to make it better and one of their main products. It'll be interesting to see what they come up with and how it stands out from Twitter (X), especially.
SK: It also makes me wish that Meta had waited a little bit longer to launch the product with some of the tools we’d like to see — to make it not just accessible, but to make people’s content really viewable... But there’s still a lot of people, still a lot of accounts, and I still think it’s worth posting there for sure. Especially if you're already, you know, posting on Twitter (X), by all means, then definitely repurpose the content. Why not? It doesn’t do any harm to do it. But just it seems preemptive.
Youth vote in the news 🗞
Joe Biden, America’s oldest sitting president, needs young voters to win again. Will his age matter?, Will Weissert for The AP
Op-ed: I Interrupted the White House Press Secretary Because Climate Can't Wait, Elise Joshi for Teen Vogue
Gen Z and the Gerontocracy, Gabe Fleisher for Wake Up To Politics