People aren’t simple, and neither is politics. So why do so many professionals believe simple methods can resolve political questions about a massively complex muddle of voters, candidates, issues and emotions? Understanding what actually causes a change in the big, buzzing confusion of human society and individual minds is tricky. Correlations and observational data can point us in promising directions, but they can’t answer the most important question: Does a certain message or tactic work? For that, we need apply the most fundamental scientific research tool: randomized controlled experiments. Even medical science often gets this wrong. Studies of observational data find a correlation between being treated with hormone replacement therapy (HRT) and lower rates of coronary heart disease (CHD). Many doctors and patients drew the conclusion that HRT caused better health. But recent randomized-controlled experiments suggest the therapy is at best ineffective and at worst harmful; the apparent impact was due to healthier lifestyles overall, not the drug.
We have all sat across the table from a potential employer during which we highlight our most marketable qualities to land a job, but not everyone has been on the other side of that table, actually doing the hiring. Here are a few things that will help you start the process of hiring a political consulting firm. They are meant to help you navigate and simplify what may seem like an overwhelming and complicated task. First, you’re going to want to map out (as much as possible) what it is you’re looking to hire a political consulting firm for: * Do you need a firm for strictly direct mail, or TV production? Alternatively, do you need a firm that does both? Or, do you require a firm that specializes in a particular issue area? * Will this be a local, state or national campaign? * What is your overall budget? How much can you afford to spend on each aspect of the campaign or program?
There’s been a really healthy, if vociferous, argument going around over whether or not to send a ‘welcome series’ of emails to new supporters on your email list. The concept is probably familiar: you send a pre-written package of emails over a few days or weeks to ease new people to your non-profit or political campaign onto your list. The pro and con go something like this: PRO: By easing people onto the list and introducing them to our ladder of engagement, they are more likely to open, click, and donate later on. Good cultivation makes for better members. CON: Other than checking for dead or spam-bot emails on your list, all a welcome series does is feed outdated content to members who otherwise have the highest-probability of being really active, engaged and excited. Why waste people’s initial enthusiasm with emails that aren’t about your hottest campaigns? Well I LIKE a welcome series – dagnabbit. I’m old fashioned that way. But I was nervous about the impact on email deliverability. As I’ve chronicled elsewhere about email deliverability for non-profits and campaigns, there’s a real cost to emailing inactive members. And if all the welcome series was doing was turning people off or depressing the open and click rate, I didn’t want any part of it. So, I set out to prove what a successful non-profit email welcome series is worth. What I found was surprising.
Following the 2012 election, “big data and digital” was the post mortem no one could avoid. Pundits and strategists still refer to the ability of Obama’s digital team to outmaneuver the GOP and win the election. According to Business Insider, digital comprised 8 percent of the Obama’s campaign’s media mix. On its face, it seems like a decent portion of the budget, until you consider that consumer brand advertisers spend an average of 25 percent of their budgets on digital. Since digital was a proven winner in both of President Obama’s victories, what’s holding political campaigns back from increasing budget allocation to be more in line with consumer advertisers? Political strategists spend their careers finding the perfect balance of TV, direct mail and grassroots efforts to get their candidates elected. They aren’t paid to experiment. And despite its success, digital is sometimes still viewed as somewhat experimental. From my perspective, there are three main reasons why political campaigns stick with the status quo. Let’s debunk them. Myth #1 - Brands need big data. We have voter files. First, let’s look at what’s in the voter file. It’s a list of registered voters in an area, their address, birthdates, party affiliation (if it’s a party registration state), and voting history. Assuming you know how they voted (and that’s a big assumption), you don’t know how they will vote next time.
It’s heartbreaking to think that people are making snap judgements about whether or not to read your emails based on a quick glance. But they are. You are, too! Here’s how we all sort through our inboxes: 1. We choose an email message 2. We give it a two-second glance 3. We decide if it’s worth our time 4. If it is, we keep it and read it 5. If it’s not, we hit the delete key, and send the email to the trash How can you keep your email out of the trash? The secret is good design. In those first two seconds, that’s all your reader sees. Let’s take a look at seven common design mistakes that get emails trashed, and I’ll offer more than seven solutions to help your next email get read.
When it comes to political consultants, Forrest Gump was wrong! Turns out, political consultants are not like a box of chocolates, because when you hire your team, you should have a pretty good sense of what you’re getting. It may be that your political consultant comes with a little less raspberry filling than you’d expected, but you shouldn’t all of a sudden discover that there’s a coconut filling (or that they’re just plain nuts). Here are a few quick, commonsense tips to make sure any surprises are minimal.
Instead of treating our donors like ATM machines, we need to make them feel like heroes to our movement. Here are five ways to make your donors feel totally valued. 1. Connect their donation (even if it’s $5) to measurable impact. For example, tell them how their $5 went to purchase vaccines or a pizza pie for 5 volunteers who were canvassing around a campaign in your neighborhood. 2. Thank your donors. Don’t just send them an automated email. Send them a heartfelt thank you note. For example, do you have donors who have donated $25 to your organization every month for the last five years? Great, send them a handwritten note, signed by some of the staff expressing your sincere gratitude. These types of donors are the lifelines of your nonprofit.
We’re agnostic. Not in the religious sense, but in advertising. We don’t care what medium gets the eyeballs of voters as long as it gets them. Hell, it could be a plane carrying banners or trailing smoke signals, or even an electronic blimp. If those could get votes, we’d be for them. So as we hear various versions of the following comments: “This is the year of online, digital and mobile” or “TV is losing viewers in droves” or “TV spending is dropping faster than (insert bad political metaphor of your choice),” we remain skeptical. Why? The reality is that, so far, those predictions have not come true, and we believe they are not going to any time in the near future.
Let’s think more deeply about where data-driven politics is really catching on: Targeting and field. Not coincidentally, both areas are already havens for data nerds. Direct mail mavens have been using voter files and consumer databases to target messaging and fundraising appeals for decades and data-targeting online ads is a natural extension of that mindset and skillset. Likewise with grassroots, since field organizers are consumed by numbers related to canvassing and its results. Walk-lists, after all, come from a database, and voter contacts yield plenty of information ripe for tabulation and analysis.
A political consulting firm is not something every campaign and/or advocacy group can afford but many can. While political consultants provide some services you may be able to replace yourself at a low level, the reality is that many services cannot be performed on your own at the requisite professional level. The real question to ask yourself is what kind of help do you need, and can a political consulting firm provide those services within your budget? The answer to that question simply depends.
What’s Changed: In 2010, MySpace still mattered, apparently, because I mentioned it a lot more than I remembered. Obama HAD used it extensively in 2008, so perhaps it still seemed relevant at the time…though it was clearly on a downward slide. In practice, social-network marketing in 2010 turned out to be all about Facebook, despite some hype around FourSquare and other location-based apps. Those were innocent times: the great Facebook content algorithm traffic drought was years away…. Twitter was still optional, and Twitter advertising was nonexistent. Twitter hype was running full-on, I recall, but at least at the start of the year, diving into that particular social space still wasn’t a must-do for your average campaign for mayor or state legislature. The 2014 book has a long section on Twitter tactics and a sizable one on Twitter advertising, by contrast. Online advertising was focused on Google. We’d already seen some use of Facebook ads by campaigns, but it was still a new thing for most. Banner ads had been around for years, but they suffered from the lack of the targeting options that now let campaigns hit individual voters with relevant messages. Back then, display advertising was a more scattershot affair from a political point of view, unless you were advertising on a network like Yahoo or AOL that had demographic data on its members. Many political people saw banner ads’ low response numbers and wrote the channel off entirely.
Social media strategists (ok, not all) love to discount email in favor of, you guessed it - social media. They have deemed email a dying communications channel, which is absurd. Email lists and email marketing continue to grow, especially for the nonprofit sector where list size grew at least 14% in 2013, according to the 2014 eNonprofit Benchmark study. Here’s just a few reasons why email still rules: People who take action on advocacy campaigns via email are 7x more likely to donate money to your organization. You have the most control of how you engage your audience. For example, who sees and responds to your message is not based on some proprietary social network's secret algorithms and you are not forced to pay a premium to target segments.
Unfortunately, you can’t just hop on Facebook and Twitter and expect people to come flooding to read your feed. One common mistake: to treat Facebook and Twitter as just another set of broadcast channels. Of course, you CAN just post your content and sit back to watch the results, but you’re likely to see a more robust response if you actually interact with people when you can. But going back and forth with people takes time! Which is one reason that campaigns tend to focus on the big venues like Facebook and Twitter and ignore the plethora of smaller networks unless they meet a particular need (for instance, connecting with an ethnic- or interest-based community). Of course, many campaigns will play in spaces like Instagram and Pinterest (each of which has political uses, as you’ll see if you click those links), but they’ll usually be posting content there that they were already planning to put on Facebook (recycling is a virtue!). As in every other area we talk about in this book, each tool has an opportunity cost: spread yourself too thin by building profiles on too many social sites and you won’t use ANY of them well. So in this chapter, we’ll focus on the big players: Facebook and Twitter.
TechPresident: Survey Suggests Young People Unengaged With Politics and Voting, Engaged with Social MediaNew data from Harvard University's Institute of Politics finds new evidence that young people are disenchanted with government and are not enthusiastic about voting in the Midterm elections, though are enthusiastic about spending time on social media, echoing in some respects the findings of a recent Pew survey. Overall trust of Americans between 18 and 29 in institutions such as the President, Congress, the federal government, the U.S. military, the Supreme Court and the United Nations has been trending steadily downwards since February of 2010, an analysis of the survey data shows, with the average now at 32 percent down from 39 percent. Only 24 percent of young Americans under 30 say they will definitely be voting in the Midterm elections, down 10 percentage points since the fall.
According to many political campaign consultants, the decision to put political campaign resources into social media is a risky proposition. Whereas investing in television ads, field efforts and other traditional campaign tactics are well within their comfort zone, social media is filled with uncertainty. Critics say it is not that good for fundraising or direct action. And while social media appears to be good for branding and persuasion, the performance data is still limited. This all adds up to an uncertain return on investment.
These are truly amazing times for grassroots advocacy oriented organizations. While the power to share information that engages members has never been greater, most organizations aren’t making the most of the opportunities they have. There are many reasons for this. One of the greatest is not organizing their advocacy campaigns around distinct activities. Organizations that lead the way in effective advocacy do four things consistently well and are always looking for ways to improve them. They are to Educate, Engage, Mobilize and Measure.
Earlier this year, Adobe released a Social Intelligence report based on consumer data from Adobe Social, Adobe Media Optimizer, and Adobe Analytics. While the data's comprised of both aggregated and anonymous data from retail, media and entertainment, and travel websites during 2013 - 2014, the data is also useful for nonprofits to examine. This report answered a question that has come up for many of us, are our constituents still engaging as frequently with us on social media?
Let me tell you about Wikipedians, who write and improve Wikipedia articles. Wikipedians take this role – self-appointed, uncompensated, largely unrecognized – more seriously than you probably take your full-time job. When your Congressman's staffer tried to whitewash a Wikipedia entry ahead of the election, erasing well-cited coverage of an illegal campaign contribution, Wikipedians noticed, undid the change, and shooed him away. That probably all happened while you were watching a 30 Rock rerun. And when your daughter clicked Google's first link about the Pythagorean Theorem, arrived at Wikipedia, and finally really "got" how it worked – a Wikipedian wrote that article. The article was a collaboration, some Wikipedians knew the math, others knew how to communicate it and others just fixed typos.
The news that Twitter has taken the first steps towards a stock market flotation has triggered a predictable storm of speculation about the valuation of the company. How much is a corporation with 200 million monthly users actually worth? How does it compare with Facebook, with its billion users? The answer is: nobody knows. But that doesn't matter because it's not the important question. Although Twitter and Facebook are categorised as social networking services, in fact they are as different as chalk and cheese. And, of the two, Twitter is more important in one respect: its impact on the arena in which societies discuss their political issues.
Between the massive shifts occurring today among marketers in the use of digital versus “traditional” media (i.e., television, radio, print) – and the associated questions of the relative effectiveness of each – one can’t help but wonder if the use of digital media in politics is actually advancing the political process. It is certainly undeniable that digital media played a pivotal role in securing both the 2008 and 2012 elections for President Obama. The Obama campaign’s “Digital First” strategy, architected by David Plouffe, pioneered new ways of reaching and mobilizing voters based on a differentiated strategy. This approach contrasted with a Republican campaign built largely around reaching voters through traditional media.
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