12 steps to effective online political campaigning

1. Email comes first

Email isn’t anything new – it’s been around only one year less than me. For a long time, it was also the least fashionable digital campaigning medium, though Barack Obama, amongst his other achievements, can also add making email fashionable with political campaigners to his list of achievements.

Fashionable or not, it’s the most important digital campaigning medium, so working on gathering more email addresses, using them regularly and using them wisely should be top of the list.

2. Email comes second, third and fourth too

See above. And then see here.

3. Facebook and Twitter come next

There are many other useful things which can be used online, but just as email is like the Focus leaflet – the essential core tool which has to come first – then so Facebook and Twitter are like street letters and direct mail – the next publications to move on to once you’re getting email sorted. If you end up doing all three and nothing else, you’ll still be getting most of the benefits.

4. Plan where to get enough content from

Emails, Facebook and Twitter consume a lot of content. With good content, people are happy to receive and react to emails as frequently as weekly outside of election time, whilst on Facebook and Twitter it’s hard to have much of an impact with less than 1-2 messages per day.

That’s a lot of content – so planning out where you will get interesting, relevant content in those sorts of volumes is no trivial task.

5. Integrate your data

Campaigning is most effective when it is integrated, with different means of communication working together to complement each other and with the targeting of each enhanced by the knowledge gained through others. That’s why options such as Snapchat haven’t really taken off in political campaigning so far.

For example, emails promoting postal vote sign ups work best when integrated with canvass and turnout data so you target low turnout supporters rather than opposition supporters. Likewise, Facebook adverts to promote a petition work best when you know who has already signed the petition and who hasn’t.

Integrating data is hard, it won’t be fully automated and it won’t be perfect, but each little step you take makes things more efficient and more effective.

6. Build a team

Putting out that level of content, consistently year round and dealing with replies and queries adds up to a fair amount of time. Just as the councillor who never builds up a delivery network because they do it all themselves eventually comes a cropper, so too with online campaigning – it’s best with a team.

7. Expect to spend money

Paying for promoted posts on Facebook and for promoted tweets on, er…, Twitter can give content a very effective, highly targeted boost.

Set out with a modest budget. Don’t spend nothing – if only because learning what works best means that when the pressure ups as election day nears, it’s then possible to do more with skill rather than suddenly trying to work out what works at the last moment.

8. Pay attention to the numbers

Online campaigning is blessed with huge volumes of feedback, especially data on how different messages and pieces of content are performing. Pay attention to it – especially learning when is the best time to send an email so that the most people will read it. (Clue: if you’re reading this post, you’re not a typical voter. What you prefer isn’t a good guide to what most voters prefer.)

It’s hard to gather data about the impact of leaflets. Only fools ignore data about the impact of digital campaigning.

9. Use video – but upload it natively to Facebook and Twitter

Videos are only useful if they are seen, which is why uploading video to Facebook and Twitter directly, rather than posting links from – say – YouTube, is the way to go. That’s because videos directly uploaded in this way get more views and more engagement than posting links to videos elsewhere.

10. Look for internal efficiencies

Often the most helpful uses of online campaigning aren’t for reaching the public but are for improving internal communications.

WhatsApp, for example, is increasingly popular with groups of activists for easily and quickly communicating venues for events, where people are on Action Days, changes of venues as the weather alters and so on.

Dropbox, similarly, has many fans for making sharing of artwork files easy yet secure. Or, for something with a stronger social media flavour, private Facebook groups are very popular for local party communications and networking, especially where a couple of people are willing to put in some work to ensure the group is regularly fed with interesting stories and good conversation starters.

Think about what administrative headaches and logistical difficulties there are and then take a look at how digital tools can help ease them.

11. Don’t get lost in debates about paper vs bytes

There is a strain of political activist who is so lost in the past, too loves being rude or is too hostile to change or things they don’t understand that their reaction to talk about online campaigning is to immediately rubbish it and turn the talk to more traditional campaigning methods.

They’re right that canvassing and leaflets both matter. But it’s not an either/or. Online and offline work together and compliment each other in the ways vowels and consonants work best when integrated together.

For more on how to make both online and offline campaigning work, see 101 Ways To Win An Election.

12. Don’t get on to Woo Woo

This advice from 2014 is still relevant.

6 responses to “12 steps to effective online political campaigning”

  1. How can you use Facebook for campaigning if you have decided that Facebook isn’t for you as an individual?

    How do you create a campaign account for a candidate who does not wish to share personal or family information?

    • Phil: that’s an advantage of using a Facebook Page – different people can be set up to administer it, so you can have a team working on it, and also if someone prefers not to use Facebook themselves, they can simply create a minimal profile, lock down all the privacy settings, not add any information about themselves and just use that to be an admin on the page.

  2. Very interesting thanks and don’t forget Jim’s Facebook rule of 3. On counter 3 times then after that the trenches have been dug – move on.

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