That’s the question which is – or perhaps more accurately, which should be – at the heart of many online lobbying campaigns which seek to flood people’s inboxes with emails.
Done well, at the right moment and aimed at the right target, these mass email campaigns can be a very effective tool for stressing the level of support for a point of view and making people engage with it. Done badly, they are an extremely effective way at lowering the reputation of the lobbying organisation and damaging its cause.
A good recent example has been the online campaigning around electoral reform, particularly during the post-general election coalition negotiations. Some of this was well intended and well executed, but some was woefully ill thought out and simply resulted in pro-electoral reform Liberal Democrats, who should have welcomed the campaigning, cursing badly aimed and poorly phrased identikit emails.
This question of what makes for an effective email campaign comes to mind thanks to the recent spat between Conservative MP Dominic Raab and 38 Degrees. Dominic Raab took exception to the emails he was receiving from the public via a 38 Degrees campaign and though there are some decent points about bad mass email campaigns lurking in his account of the affair, any MP who gets to the point where they ask the Parliamentary authorities to remove their email address from Parliament’s website so that people can’t use it to contact him has seriously misjudged affairs.
38 Degrees have printed the full email exchange on their own site and overall come out far the better from the exchange, though their own reliance on blanket mass emails in other campaigns has not always struck me as a useful approach, except in the rather cynical sense of wanting to build their own list regardless of whether or not the mass emails are being effective.
The risk for 38 Degrees is that though they have done other campaigning too, their model is so heavily built around the email approach that they may end up being stuck with using a tool because it’s what they do rather than because it’s the right one for the job.