38 Degrees: another email under the spotlight

6 December 2011 ,

A few days ago I put the last-but-one email I have received from 38 Degrees under the spotlight, pointing out that:

On probably the biggest criticism made of 38 Degrees – that it encourages mass, superficial activism which confuses getting a big headline number of petition signers with effective campaigning – the email is unrepentant, eagerly talking up a plan to “flood” the target of the campaign with emails.

Mass despatch of identikit emails in this form is such a controversial subject because the evidence that it works is very mixed, at best and it can be extremely counter-productive (witness the flooding of Liberal Democrat HQ with pro-electoral reform emails in May 2010 which simply served to antagonise people who should have been sympathetic to the campaign).

The 38 Degrees system does gently encourage people to customise their email, but only with a much softer push than systems used by many other organisations. Moreover, a real concern to avoid being seen as a crude mass-clictivism organisation would have seen the word “flood” avoided like the plague.

I had a similar view about the latest email from them, but before I had time to blog about it Andy Williamson got there first and better:

I’ve been impressed with the way 38 Degrees has given grass-roots campaigning a bit of a nudge lately. But their latest campaign is a case study in how not to do it. It’s patronising, doomed to failure and guaranteed to get people off side.

Why? First of all, it’s a petulant knee-jerk reaction. Never a good thing. Second, they did what they accuse politicians of doing… they forgot to listen.

Their response to Simon Burns is a mass letter that is rude, patronising and pointless. Burns is clearly no fan of 38 Degrees and frankly I totally disagree with his arrogance. But this is not the way to respond.

First of all, Burns has a point and 38 Degrees would be well minded to listen to him. Well, a little bit anyway. MPs don’t value bulk cookie-cutter emails. Ten or hundred or a hundred thousand counts as one view. One voice. All they do is irritate the hell out of people who have limited time and even more limited administrative support. It doesn’t make a point, it causes a problem. And it annoys people. It was the same when Greenpeace sent them thousands of postcards, it’s worse now because of email.

Never mind how good intentioned you are, this strategy doesn’t work.

The effect is multiplied in the House of Lords as they have virtually none, if any, support. Baroness Deech made this point forcefully at an event I chaired during Parliament Week.

You can read Andy’s full post about 38 Degrees here.

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