Melissa Ryan's work lives at the intersection of politics and technology. For more than a decade she’s been a staple in the progressive movement, leading digital campaigns to raise money and awareness for left-of center causes. Currently her work is focused on understanding the so-called alt-right movement, and is the author of Ctrl Alt Right Delete, a weekly newsletter devoted to understanding how Trump and his army of right wing supporters organize online.
Ryan launched her career by writing about local and state politics for Connecticut Local Politics, then Connecticut’s most popular political blog. Her commentary about the 2006 Senate race --where Ned Lamont successfully challenged Joe Lieberman for his party’s nomination -- brought her into national political prominence. In 2008 Ryan moved to Wisconsin where she served as Senator Russ Feingold’s new media director. In 2010 she organized a “CheddarBomb,” a coordinated fundraising push that raised nearly $500,000 for Feingold in a 24-hour period. Her team raised more than $5 million over the entire cycle. She also created ‘Fein’Tunes a series of YouTube videos where Senator Feingold recommended music to his supporters, that received positive press from both political and music news sites.
Ryan was instrumental in the #WIunion protests in 2010, helping organizers turn the occupation of Wisconsin’s State Capitol Building (to protest Scott Walker’s legislation that stripped public workers of their right to collective bargaining) into an international news story. She amplified voices of local Wisconsin bloggers and influencers at the protests and helped their work find an global audience, helping their stories be heard by millions.
As digital director at the New Organizing Institute, Ryan helped train over 500 digital strategists, helping build what The New York Times Magazine’s Robert Draper called “the yawning digital divide between the two parties.” She later signed on as digital director of EMILY’s List, which helps elect pro-choice women leaders into office. During her tenure there her team added 1 million new members to the PAC’s online reach, an increase of more than 50 percent. Ryan also worked on Barack Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign on the digital team where she managed outreach to progressive media and other influential people.
Ryan was honored in 2014 with a Campaigns & Elections Rising Star award and was twice named by the Washington Post as a top tweeter for Wisconsin politics. She’s spoken on digital strategy at Netroots Nation, Harvard Kennedy School of Government, Take Back the American Dream, UConn School of Law, and Wellstone’s School of Campaign Management. She’s often called on by conference organizers and the press to be a source on tech in politics.
We Can Solve The Fake News Problem
Daily News Innovation Lab, February 8, 2017
Keynote: From Kissing Babies to Liking Posts: How Social Media has Changed the American Campaign
Technology and Civic Engagement 2016, Pepperdine School of Public Policy, October 14, 2016
Communications MythBusters: Best Practices vs. Bad Advice
Non Profit Technology Conference, March 25, 2016
Getting it Right in 2015
2015 Reed Awards, February 18, 2016
What Crowdfunding Can Do for Your Campaign or Organization
Art of Political Campaigning, July 18, 2015
How to Write a Fundraising Email
CampaignTech East, April 22, 2015
Running Digital Campaigns: What's Changed and What's Still Working?
Netroots Nation, July 19, 2014
The Organizing Edge: Online Predictions for the 2016 Elections
Netroots Nation, July 19, 2014
Screwing with People Fast: Rapid Response Videos in Campaigns
Netroots Nation, June 22, 2013
Social Media and Labor Activism
AFGE Editors Association Conference, February 17, 2012 VIDEO
Organizing the Occupation
New Organizing Institute at University of Wisconsin May 12, 2011
"It’s an old problem, said Melissa Ryan, an expert in digital campaigns, and one that encompasses many different types of information: conspiracy theories, hoaxes, propaganda, etc. People have been trying to “solve” it for many years, but in the age of social media, it has become militarized"
"Don't forget the 'why?' Why are you posting to Facebook? Why are you tweeting? It's important to always remember the goal."
“Last Thanksgiving, I wasn’t online all day and then I saw that everyone was talking about what they were thankful for, and I hadn’t,” said Melissa Ryan, a director of client services at Trilogy Interactive, a digital strategy firm based in Washington. “I had this sense of guilt, like I should be posting about my gratitude.” After all, Ms. Ryan always posts on National Coffee Day (“I drink a lot of coffee”). And as a “Star Wars” fan, May the Force Be With You Day on May 4 is a big deal. (“For normal people, it’s ‘Star Wars’ Day, that’s funny. But I love ‘Star Wars’ and have a lot of friends who love ‘Star Wars.’”)
"We're all media and we're all advocates if we choose to be. And our family and friends provide us with a built-in audience to speak out," said Melissa Ryan, a political operative with a decade of experience in digital and social media on campaigns.
"Your first few years in the workplace are a time to learn your craft, practice, and get really good at what you do. I see a lot of career advice about networking and mentorship but not nearly enough about the importance of working hard to hone your skills. It's difficult to go back and unlearn bad habits so use this time to build your foundation of skills and self-discipline."
Digital staffers are particularly vulnerable to scrutiny, because they likely come with a large archive of social media posts, said Melissa Ryan, a digital strategist for Trilogy Interactive, a progressive communications agency. At the same time, she said, a staff member’s personal brand can be an asset to a campaign if it draws a large number of social media users to the candidate. “I’d be much more nervous about hiring a digital staffer that had less than 500 followers than someone who had a few questionable tweets,” Ms. Ryan said.
“For Wisconsin I think the big moment was when the 14 Democratic State Senators left the state [to avoid a vote on Walker's collective bargaining bill]. I really think that's what triggered the energy around the recall of the Senators, really triggered the energy around the recall of Walker. It changed from people taking to the streets because they didn't know what to do to really having the energy to change something."
" Rather than replaced them I think digital has changed what TV and newspapers are. Newspapers have large digital presences, and TV now includes streaming sites like Netflix and Hulu. People don't view the world as being online or offline anymore. Campaigns need to adopt the same mindset in communicating to and mobilizing voters."
"Ryan is sharp, witty and has her finger on the pulse of politics – we predict she’ll be calling the shots on someone’s campaign next year."
I directed the Digital Department at EMILY's List running an aggressive digital acquisition and fundraising program. In 2013 the EMILY's List community hit 3 million members - a growth of 1 million in just under a year's time.
In 2010 I created and oversaw this moneybomb online fundraising campaign For Senator Russ Feingold. We raised nearly $500,00 from more than 10,000 contributors for the Feingold campaign in one 24 hour period. Wisconsin politicians have continued to use the Cheddarbomb branding for their own campaigns every election cycle since.
I handled progressive media outreach with bloggers and influencers in the final months of the campaign. Here are some stories I'm particularly proud of.
In 2011 I directed online outreach strategy for the fight against Governor Scott Walker’s union-busting budget bill in Wisconsin. I worked alongside communications and digital staff from several different national and Wisconsin labor and progressive organizations. I reached out to bloggers and online activists on behalf of labor, and curated grassroots content for activists, journalists, and supporters. Additionally I communicated what was happening on the ground in Madison to a worldwide audience through my personal Twitter account. My tweets and photos were used in press coverage of the protests worldwide.