Not surprising who won Chicago’s mayoral primary when you study how the candidates (mis)used social media

Chicago voters turned out to make their initial picks in the mayoral race on February 26, 2019 – and I watched the campaigning more closely than I might otherwise (I live in the suburbs) because WCPT radio host Joan Esposito assigned me a task.

She asked if I would critique how the 14 candidates used social media and television ads to get their message across.

I’m a longtime Chicago journalist – a veteran of four Chicago TV newsrooms and the Chicago Sun-Times – so local politics is fascinating to me. Combine that with my love and interest in the use of social media and it was an assignment the team at KloboMedia, and I couldn’t refuse.

How we tracked the candidates

For this monitoring project, I relied on the help of Chicago-based Sprout Social.

Sprout is a publishing and reporting tool that’s ideal for monitoring your own social engagement and growth, as well as the performance of competitors and others you may want to just learn from.

We waited until the final weekend before the February 26 election to start collecting what was going socially. The average Joe and Josie aren’t paying very close attention until the week before election day – and that’s the strength and value of a brand having a strong social media profile.

It’s a great way to speak directly to the voters – and listen back.

Reactions that the candidates received on Facebook are more meaningful than Twitter because 75% of America is on Facebook regularly and there, a candidate is more likely to come across people who don’t have allegiance to anyone in particular.

In other words, Facebook is a great place to meet the undecideds.

Each of the contenders got that memo and had a presence on Facebook, but on the whole, their uses of Facebook were pretty disappointing. More on that below.

Chicago’s mayoral primary report card

Amara Enyia – B+

Enyia gets major points for having a strategy for using Facebook LIVE, a valuable campaigning tool that none of her opponents seemed to fully grasp.

She promoted when she would be available on Facebook to answer questions about her positions – then she sat in front of a live camera and went one-on-one with the public.

Nothing fancy, but Enyia used Facebook as more than a public relations channel. And that’s key.

That said, she fell short of an ‘A’ because her videos – while well done – were mostly shot in a studio environment. The multi-media didn’t feel ‘Chicago’ enough.

Amara Enyia – in her first run for office – finished 6th in the crowded field. And she had the 3rd largest Facebook following by the end of the campaign.

Her top post in the weekend preceding the election featured children, earning a whopping 189 shares.

Amara Enyia – Future |
We owe this election to our city’s youngest generation. They’re ready for us to step up to the plate.

Will you punch 30 on February 26th for Chicago’s…


Daley had the most money – and it showed. His video ads – airing on Chicago television, cable news and across social media – were well produced.

He checked all the social media boxes (except using Facebook LIVE effectively).

Daley was helpful. His team created social media graphics providing tips on how and where to vote. He linked to information about his policy positions.

But what held Daley’s social voice back was well… the candidate.

There was something about Daley’s comfort level on camera. Kinda like somebody’s uncle who’s an insurance agent who was persuaded to get in the race.

He finished 3rd overall – and looking strictly at what was spent he should have easily made the run-off.


Garry McCarthy – C

For McCarthy, social media was a place to show photos of interviews with TV reporters and a few other stops along the way. He drove a Greyhound-type bus around the city.

Where’s Garry? The curious could check his Facebook page for the latest.

3 years ago, I was thrown under the bus…. – Garry McCarthy for Mayor of Chicago | Facebook
3 years ago, I was thrown under the bus.
Today, I’m taking my bus around Chicago. I’m distributing window signs, yard signs, buttons, and literature…

The problem here is that McCarthy’s social media gave voters too little to go on in deciding whether he deserved their votes. The bus became the thing.

Gery Chico – C+

In contrast, Chico felt authentic in his social posts.

The writing, though, was uninspired and felt rushed. He didn’t use Facebook to talk enough about his positions, defaulting to the “McCarthy method” of posting:

“Hey, we stopped by here”

“Then we stopped by there…”

Chico does, however, receive an honorable mention for “Best use of a spouse during the race” for this video in which his wife, Sunny, shares how she fell in love with him.

This video may have scored points with soccer moms, but it wasn’t enough to lift his campaign beyond a #8 finish.

Lori Lightfoot – A-

Lightfoot earned the most votes – and it wasn’t hard to predict that she would finish strong after looking at her Facebook profile and the numbers.

To stand out in our noisy social space, videos must be bold and clear with graphics that are punchy and colorful.

Lightfoot’s videos were all that.

And she talked into the camera with a calm conviction that pierced the small screen.

Lori Lightfoot – BREAKING: We just released our first TV…
BREAKING: We just released our first TV ad! Watch and share if you’re ready to #BringInTheLight!

The game-changer was her messaging. She used social media to draw a bright line – literally – on policy differences.

Lightfoot’s Twitter Status 

Still – the Lightfoot social media strategy could stand some tweaking.

Her videos also belong on the video mothership YouTube, but strangely we couldn’t find a channel. (Maybe that’s something to address for the general election.) And Facebook LIVE was used a few times, but no evidence of a strategy to interact with voters in real-time.


Susana Mendoza – B-

Hands down, Mendoza was the best communicator. While Lightfoot comes across as the somewhat aloof doctor you’d trust to perform surgery, Mendoza brought the bedside manner.

Somewhere in the middle

Willie Wilson – B-

Wilson, far and away, had the most social media followers. On election day, his Facebook page was showing 50K+ likes. He had an aide turning on Facebook Live nearly every day to track his moves. Not terribly meaningful.

Jerry Joyce – B

Joyce’s social media channels grew the most followers over the weekend before the election. That was a signal he might do better than expected – and he wound up coming in 7th overall.

Paul Vallas – B+

Rises a bit above the others by the rest of the pack for his social channels, especially YouTube, to talk about policy positions, like solutions for the city’s pension funding crisis.

Toni Preckwinkle – B

Social channels belonging to Preckwinkle had a ‘public relations’ feel, however, she did link to pages outlining her policy positions. Many voter testimonials. Here’s my take on the value of that. If I don’t know who the person is, his or her opinion about a candidate is probably not going to move me. Candidates should be careful allowing ‘man-on-street’ content to dominate their messaging.

Preckwinkle came in #2 on the strength of her name recognition. I can confidently say it was not from her leverage of social media.

Bob Fioretti – B-

Fioretti had the benefit of having more Facebook page likes than average (8k+), but the execution, especially with video, held him back. Like Preckwinkle, he featured a lot of regular people endorsing him. Not enough to make his campaign stand out.

Final thoughts

Social media is too important these days to leave to chance. Savvy campaigns need to enlist the help of an experienced social media strategist to set activity goals by platform and to manage the style of the graphics and video. Consistency wins – and it never hurts to have a good candidate.


Since 2014, KloboMedia has been helping brands big and small manage their social media from offices in Chicago and St. Louis. Our goal is to drive the best possible business outcomes. Click here to request more information about our services.


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