September 10, 2015 5:50 AM EDT

1. FRIEND FACEBOOK

Gimmicks like Pet Week, when fans post cat pics, have earned Carson 2.7 million likes, nine times as many as Jeb Bush. If Carson posts, “‘I’ve scratched my left ear,’ we get 9,000 likes,” says aide Doug Watts.

2. SELL BUS SPACE

Dubbed the Healer Hauler after an online competition, Carson’s tour bus has children’s names written on the sides for $50 a pop, “so he would remember why he was running,” says Carson’s campaign manager.

3. KEEP IT SMALL

With an average donation of $50, he raised $6 million in August alone. He raised $160,000 in two days by asking supporters to chip in $40 to pay his South Carolina ballot-filing fee.

4. STAY LOW-KEY

Carson’s team made a decision never to attack another candidate, even if Carson gets hit first. “It’s not Dr. Carson,” Watts says. “It’s not the way he works.”

This appears in the September 21, 2015 issue of TIME.

Write to Tessa Berenson at tessa.berenson@time.com.

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