AOC’s First Twitch Stream Is a Masterclass on Online Outreach

Digital campaigns are no longer what they used to be–it’s time for politicians to adapt.

Before this pandemic, politicians substituting speeches on packed convention floors with Twitch streams would’ve seemed most-implausible; and yet, as is AOC’s habit with breaking the mold, she organized a stream with some of gaming’s most-coveted fixtures–as expected and given the young congresswoman’s notoriety among the younger electorate, the stream was a massive hit.

What makes AOC’s entry into the streaming space particularly distinct, is that it wasn’t done without any priors or familiarity with the format whatsoever. She’d appeared on a fundraiser for a trans charity last year, and has been a recurrent guest on Bernie Sanders’ channel prior to the suspension of his presidential campaign–the cachet was already present, and all that was left is for AOC to make her official debut on the website. Soon enough she did, and on Tuesday night, she opened up with Among Us to a whopping 439k concurrent viewers at peak with the stream later settling around the 300k mark, placing it only behind the Drake and Ninja collab in 2018 and Shroud’s return to Twitch stream this August as the third in contention for the most-viewed stream in the platform’s history.

Those figures strike such a harsh blow on the typical claim that the internet is ‘not really representative of real-life’–as it turns out, a not-insignificant critical mass of people are interested in watching AOC play video games for mere shits and giggles. If that much attention is so easily allocated to watching an elected official make a spectacle of their triumphs and failures on a virtual playground, the possibilities for harnessing the platform’s power as a galvanizing force for disaffected youth is not to be underestimated–AOC was already doing it to a certain extent with Instagram as she explained the minute details of what is an otherwise routine-ridden job, but this takes it a step further. Indulging the kind of audience interaction that a gaming stream necessitates is uncharted territory for politicians, and AOC did as good a job as ever navigating it.

Separate from the electoral implications of AOC’s stream however, is the fact that what has been traditionally derided as the domain of ‘nerds’ by senior Democratic officials is suddenly proving itself to be a behemoth of an outreach machine–the current pandemic only accelerated that, and it’s not much of a surprise that the first to take advantage of these novel digital strategies are progressives. While conservatives have already made inroads on streaming — undoubtedly influenced by the legacy of conservative talk radio — they’ve not been nearly as successful as progressives have been, and certainly not as infectious to the degree AOC has been for a first-time streamer in a difficult-to-break-in space.

AOC’s success on Twitch blows the doors wide open for more political campaigns to take advantage and recognize the strength of the platform as part of an effective political outreach strategy–it would be easy however to dismiss that what made the stream palpable when it could’ve otherwise fallen flat on its face, is that AOC made it for Twitch first, and for Democrats second. The establishment of a parasocial relationship between creator and audience is key to engagement, and it’s no surprise that a knack for courting followers on Twitter seems to have translated seamlessly into a likable personality on Twitch.

What the future will hold for AOC on the platform is still very much up in the air, and while it’s almost a foregone conclusion that subsequent streams will not be able to hold the attention of as many viewers as the first one did; the fact that it did work at all is worth taking a look at, both for skeptics of online outreach, and those who’ve preached its gospel since the very beginning. As a proof of concept for what’s yet to come, the results are nothing short of incredibly promising.