Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Political Organizing for 2010 & Beyond

Reaching and Activating Voters with 
Social Media and the Next Web

by Mica Cardillo


Political campaigns are beginning to tap into the social graph, and they are doing so with a variety of  new technologies which leverage the supporter’s unique digital IDs (email addresses and/or mobile phone numbers) of supporters.  In conjunction with a strong Facebook program, individual campaigns can use these technologies to improve campaign efforts and build long lasting connections with supporters.  

Once the campaign has its supporter’s email addresses, cell numbers, and/or Facebook connections,  a whole new world of targeting, social media outreach, and polling is possible.  Organizing for America has mastered the art of collecting and leveraging this key information by couching it as a pledge of support for a particular issue, cause, or even to sign the President’s birthday card.  See latest example.  Notice that in addition to collecting the supporter’s name, email, mobile phone, they also ask for the address information needed to geo-code the supporter’s location.  Geo-location comes into play for targeting, blended events, and looking for patterns in data.  Additionally, the more data that can be appended or merged with an email address and/or mobile phone number, the greater the ability to micro-target messages on social networks and digital advertising networks.  

Expected Benefits of Social Organizing to Campaigns:
  • Improved awareness, trust, and lasting connections with voters.
  • Improved targeting.
  • Improved communication between supporters.
  • Increased ability to quickly reach supporters when and where they hang out online.
  • Reduced the overhead costs of collecting donations and encourage more frequent giving and smaller donations from those who might not otherwise give.
  • Increase efficiency and effectiveness in GOTV efforts.
  • Create a community that has lasting value (decrease costs of re-election).
  • Build something that does not end after Election Day (improves the candidate’s public relations and positive constituent involvement).

The Facebook Factor

If the campaign has not been actively collecting the digital ID (emails) of its supporters, another avenue for connecting with new supporters on the web is to deploy a comprehensive Facebook program.  The program should involve a personal Facebook account, a political Facebook fan page, Facebook advertising, proper frequency of messaging, timing of those messages, commenting on other people’s posts in the News Feed, “liking” other people’s posts, and proactively posting to the walls of the most influential supporters.  Additionally, one can send direct messages to “likers” that take on a more personal, urgent, or exclusive nature, such as to offer VIP tickets to an exclusive campaign event.

There are many technical quirks and points of confusion to contend with in maximizing one’s impact on Facebook.   Keep in mind there are two categories of connections in Facebook, “friends” and “likers.”   When someone “likes” a fan page, they are essentially subscribing to anything that occurs on that fan page wall.  When someone “likes” a post from someone’s personal account, however, they are not automatically becoming a friend of that person.    

Many of the candidates already have connections with hundreds or thousands of friends on Facebook  The challenge for the campaign is to reach and leverage both “friends” and “likers.”  One quirk with Facebook is that when a personal account has administrative connection to the campaign fan page, he/she takes on the persona of the fan page when posting updates or response to activity generated from that page.  In order to have fan page activity show up in the News Stream of the candidate’s personal friends, we need to remove the administrative connection between the candidate and the campaign fan page.   

The Roll of Social Networking and the Social Web

In the past, a lot of effort has been spent on building and then driving traffic to campaign’s official website.  However, the social web is changing this equation.  With Facebook, having friends and “likers” provides a powerful opportunity to stay fresh in the supporters News Feeds .  The News Feed has become one of the best places to have conversations and extend awareness of the campaign.  The News Feed is also the place where a compelling piece of content is more likely to go viral.  Every post in the News Stream includes an opportunity for people to comment and “like” the post, which in turn makes the post visible in his/her network of friends.

While everyone seems to agree that social networking is important, the majority of campaigns and businesses are doing a really poor job of being social and building relationships with their followers.  To address this problem for our campaigns, I am recording a series of short video tutorials on how to best use Facebook for political organizing.  These tutorials will help our campaigns and volunteers better understand, embrace, and leverage Facebook.  Additionally, I am providing hands-on coaching sessions to both individuals and groups.  Once we have actually learned Facebook really well, then I will start coaching campaigns on how to get the most out of other social networks such as Twitter.

Social network organizing should start out by leveraging existing contact database of supporters.   Here are notes on the subject:
  • Send reasonably short email blasts with social features embedded (the “Like” button) and other hyperlinks to the candidate’s social network accounts.  Do not pack everything into a long email newsletter.  Instead, publish extra information as a series of blog articles, Facebook notes, or custom Facebook tabs.   Then, use Hootsuite’s dashboard to update the Facebook walls and Twitter accounts with titles and shortlinks to the URLS where the content was published.  
  • Use existing bank of email addresses to do internal invites on Facebook and Twitter.  For supporters already on Facebook, this will decrease the friction of becoming a friend or “liker” down to a single click.
  • Make it easier for friends, “likers,” and followers to participate in conversations and share information with their friends.  Create fluid social experiences on the web.  Start by making sure the visitor can easily hop back-and-forth between all of the candiate’s online resources (blog, Facebook, Twitter, website, donation page, etc).  
  • Implement social plugins on  the campaign blogs and websites (commenting, ShareThis button, the “Like” box, and Tweet box)
  • More social network updates should occur during peak traffic volume (Facebook = weekend, Twitter = lunchtime on weekdays).
  • Note that social media does not occur in isolation from other marketing efforts.  The campaign is best served when it has a team that is tightly integrated across the entire marketing effort.  

Acquire New Friends, “Likers,” and Followers in Social Media:
  • Be social (participate in two-way conversations with friends and followers on social networks).  
  • Frequency of posting, comments, links, videos, and other content is critical to making sure the candidate remains visible in people’s News Feeds (Facebook) and Timelines (Twitter).   This is critical for enabling supporters to comment on the candidate’s posts.  Each time a supporter comments on an post in Facebook, it becomes visible in the newsfeed of all her/his friends.  Likewise, each time a supporter re-tweets a message, it shows up on the Timelines of all his/her followers.  However, depending on how many friends someone may have, your social update will flow downstream quickly and get lost.  The average Facebook follower has 140 friends, meaning that something fresh should be posted each day, and ideally when peak traffic occurs for that particular social network.  Twitter is an entirely different animal than Facebook, and requires a greater frequency of posts.
  • Post updates frequently, but not too frequently.  We must avoid annoying our followers, or they may unfollow the candidate or unlike the campaign.
  • For our local campaign efforts, at least one update or post per day.  Can alternate between candidate’s personal wall and campaign fan page.
  • Have your personal Facebook account do proactive socializing with at least two or three interactions per day.
  • Focus interactions during peak volume (Saturday, Sunday, and early weekday evenings).
  • Collect emails along with other useful targeting data via a custom “Subscribe” or “Join” tab on the campaign’s FB fan channel.  Of course, also collect email information on the campaign’s website and blogs.

Social Content Strategies:
  • Cater to the type of experiences people expect on a specific social networks.  Facebook, for example, should involve the use of images and videos as much as possible.  Twitter, on the other hand, should focus on making impact with just a few words or phrases, shorthand, Tweet lingo, texting lingo, abbreviations, shortlinks, and publishing a series of updates (in which meaning is derived from following the tweets over a period of time).
  • People on Facebook don’t necessarily want to leave the Facebook experience.  Provide supporters on Facebook with many opportunities to “like” and comment on your updates (thereby showing up in more people’s News Feeds) without always linking it to a website.
  • Another element of social is humor and fun.  Avoid being serious all the time.   Also, try to make it as fun as possible, when ever possible.  
  • Help steer “buzz.”
  • Build recognition, familiarity and trust with audience by posting regularly.

Social Advertising

Advertising on social media is an important part of a social media program.  Facebook ad campaigns are best leveraged if the focus is on getting the target audience to click the “like” feature.  The like feature is the number one priority when ad bids are reasonably priced.  If campaigns are expecting to use social ad platforms to activate key votes, the cost of those ad bids may increase as it gets closer to the election.  My recommendation is to get as much of your target audience on board as likers, way before you need to activate the vote.  Once you have them as likers, you can send direct messages in Facebook to remind them about specific actions, events, deadlines, etc.  Facebook’s ad platform offers at least eleven different targeting options, so the best thing is to just start testing ads with very specific audiences and then start re-allocating your budget to the ads that work the best.  If your ad is not adding to your rolls of likers after reaching 25 unique impressions per person, stop running the ad.   Its a waste of your impressions.  To dive any further into ad targeting on Facebook and/or mobile devices, I encourage you to contact me to discuss your unique campaign.

Data Management and Social Targeting for Local Elections

Campaign email and SMS management services have yet to be integrated with VoteBuilder or other GOTV tools, making it logistically inefficient for small campaigns to track, merge, and utilize social network data in GOTV efforts.  However, this should not preclude the campaigns from gathering the data and building community in social networks.  The data and social connections will certainly pay long term dividends.   I am confident that political strategists and technologists will get together soon and address the need for an integrated tool that helps campaigns manage everything from a single dashboard.

The Roll of Email and Email Management Services

The campaign with the most success in collecting and managing emails from existing supporters will have the best foundation for building community on social networks and reaching new voters throughout the campaign.  Emails are not just about sending out the latest news.  Email newsletters and “E Blasts” should be used strategically in terms of timing, frequency, the email’s title, the “calls-to-action” within the body of the email, the hyperlinks in the email, and now the integration of the “Like” button.  Campaign emails should be coordinated with social network messaging so that one does not detract from the other.  

The continued innovation of email management services and tools such as MailChimp are also making it possible to gather additional data and send out very targeted E Blasts to sub-sets of the email lists.   For example, MailChimp’s integration with RapLeaf gives the ability to automatically recognize which email subscribers are already on social networks, and which of those supporters have already started following the candidate on one of the big social networks.   This integration also allow for further segmentation by the specific social network (ie, Twitter).   People ascribe certain relationships and behaviors to different social network accounts, and those typical behaviors usually vary from one type of platform to another.  With Facebook, the average person expects photos to be a part of the core experience.  Twitter, on the other hand, involves only text and shortlinks to other resources.  The type of person who actively uses Twitter is more likely to expect and respond to text messaging on their cell phones.

With fragmentation will come focus. Inboxes are everywhere! From Facebook, Twitter, SMS, and the Web, more inboxes will increase competition [for their attention]. But this will also create opportunity for marketers to create targeted experiences as subscribers delegate certain functions and habits to different inboxes. – Stephanie Miller, on Clickz

As mentioned earlier, emails are also serving as unique digital IDs.  Emails are the key information needed to send out a mass group of friend requests from inside of a social network and is extremely valuable for seeding the candidate’s online community.   Large email databases present some technical challenges and must be broken into smaller chunks of data, formatted as a tab-delimited .csv files, and carefully uploaded to Facebook.  For Twitter, all of the above is true, except all of the contacts must first be uploaded to a major cloud-based email service like Gmail.  Twitter will then extract the emails from Gmail and determine which of those emails already have accounts on Twitter.  There are limits (determined by the way Gmail and Facebook have set up their databases) to the amount of emails and friend requests that can be activated at a given time.  Also, when uploading emails to Twitter, the entire Gmail contact list is brought over.  If uploading emails in chunks to Gmail, be sure to delete those Gmail contacts before uploading the next chunk of email data.

The Roll of Text Messaging

Effective mobile marketing brings a rich, personalized experience for voters.  Text messaging reaches over 85% of all mobile phones, and nearly 90% of those who receive a text message will read it.  SMS blasts are effective with campaigning, campaign events, polling, crowdsourcing, and activating the vote.  Campaigns who are not already collecting mobile phone numbers from supporters should begin doing so immediately on their website, Facebook, and event sign-ins.  Another possibility is running a phone bank via SMS.  A service from realGood Technologies already enables campaigns to run phone banks through a network of supporter’s cell phones, which reduces the need for volunteers to be physically present at phone bank location.

The ability to leverage text messaging with supporter’s smart phones is becoming more and more significant.  Google recently released numbers indicating the number of Android smart phones being activated each day is in excess of 200,000 units per day.  As smart phones begin to proliferate the market, text messaging becomes an even more important tool for calls to action and pointing voters to strategic campaign resources on the Web.


I recommend the use of SurveyGismo because it integrates with MailChimp and has an API for web developers.   There are other similar options also available.  There are also several options for SMS surveys, but more research needs to be done on which service provides the best polling options and API for integration with a future “social bank.”  I will publish an article specifically on this subject once I’ve done the groundwork.

Concluding Thoughts

This article only scratches the surface, as I could probably write an entire textbook just on using and leveraging Facebook.   Hopefully, I have provided some of the ammunition needed for political strategists, campaign managers, and candidates to embrace the social web.  Additionally, I want to start a conversation between political strategists and web technologists about the architecture of the tools we need to integrate real-time social data into voter targeting efforts.   I also highly recommend that campaigns start looking at social networking as a place to actually be social.  Too many small businesses, small political campaigns, and marketing professionals think of social media as simply an opportunity to publish highly scripted outbound messages and links to the campaign’s website.  

About the Author:

Mica Cardillo is Marketing Director at Trilobyte Games and the founder at Grizzly Peak EdVentures. He was previously the social organizing samurai at McHenry & Associates.  He lives in Phoenix, Oregon with his wife, daughter, and dog.  When he is not working, Mica enjoys getting outside with the family, learning about places, and learning new things.  He only reads non-fiction because he says “I’m literally never bored.  I never have enough time to satisfy my curiosity about how and why things work.  Its all just too interesting...more interesting to me than any novel.”

1 comment:

Ben Donahower said...

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