On Sunday night, the Senate convened a rare Sunday session to debate key provisions of the Patriot Act that were set to expire — and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, a vocal opponent of the NSA’s bulk data collection program, blanketed social media platforms in a strategic effort to rally his supporters to the cause.
As Senate debate over the legislation began Sunday, Paul took to Twitter and asked supporters to tweet pictures of themselves watching the proceedings and to using the hashtag #StandWithRand. The Republican presidential candidate received a flood of responses and retweeted dozens of individuals who sent him selfies of them watching the Senate debate on television. The hashtag quickly began trending, garnering more than 19,000 mentions on Sunday.
Paul’s account, managed by his staff while he was on the Senate floor, retweeted more than 50 supporters who shared photos of themselves watching the Patriot Act debate on TV. They tacked on #StandWithRand and some even created riffs on that branding with #BabiesForRand, #LibertyOnTheRocks, and #endNSAspying, for instance.
Paul’s campaign was notable in its high level of one-on-one engagement with supporters, something that is rarely seen in high-profile politicians’ social media accounts. Typically, every post from a political social media account is tightly vetted; Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign famously required 22 people to approve each tweet from @MittRomney before it could be published.
So far this cycle, candidates seem to be experimenting more with social media. Hillary Clinton let a supporter take over her Twitter account for a day as part of her small business push. But the Paul campaign’s engagement with their supporters — rallying their support to a cause and retweeting dozens of them from Rand’s own account — is a new level of engagement that positions Paul as an early social media innovator among the crowded 2016 field.
Paul’s efforts to personally connect with his fans on social media through his photos, video messages, retweets, and more, has effectively helped him create an army of loyal social media supporters. On Twitter, Paul has over 623,000 followers, making him the second most-followed GOP candidate in the race so far. On Facebook, as well, Paul has an early lead: He has 1.9 million Facebook fans, more than any 2016 presidential candidate on either side of the aisle so far.
On Monday morning, Paul wrapped up the campaign by posting a video message thanking his #StandWithRand supporters for their participation.