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Our Blog for Tips, Tricks, and News: Politics + Technology

Campaigns & Elections: The Political Startups Rocky Road

People think launching a campaign startup in Washington, D.C. is easy. It’s where the money is, after all. And most national spending decisions are made in buildings along K Street or around the U.S. Capitol. So it’s easy to just lease some office space, hang a shingle, and get a piece of the $6 billion being spent on winning elections. Wrong—sort of. I speak from experience. I launched a political startup in D.C., and some of the challenges we encountered thanks to our geography are obvious only in hindsight. So what follows is some food for thought for anyone thinking about launching their own startup and struggling with where to do it. Where’s the Action? This is the first critical question you must ask. We’re designing and developing a startup called VoteRaise, a platform to apply crowdfunding to campaign finance. While a great deal of fundraising, and all of federal compliance, needs to be done in Washington, most campaigning doesn’t actually happen in D.C. It happens in the rest of the country. Anyone working on a campaign is going to be in the lawmaker’s district or state most of the time, not in D.C., especially if they’re a challenger. Consequently, it takes a lot of effort to connect with people currently staffing campaigns, and face-to-face meetings are usually not possible. And there aren’t many events focused on politics, campaigning, and technology.

Twitter Blog: Testing a way for you to make purchases on Twitter

Today we are beginning to test a new way for you to discover and buy products on Twitter. For a small percentage of U.S. users (that will grow over time), some Tweets from our test partners will feature a “Buy” button, letting you buy directly from the Tweet. This is an early step in our building functionality into Twitter to make shopping from mobile devices convenient and easy, hopefully even fun. Users will get access to offers and merchandise they can’t get anywhere else and can act on them right in the Twitter apps for Android and iOS; sellers will gain a new way to turn the direct relationship they build with their followers into sales. We’re not building this alone: we’ve partnered with Fancy (@fancy), Gumroad (@gumroad), Musictoday (@Musictoday) and Stripe (@stripe) as platforms for this initial test, with more partners to follow soon. In our test, an entire purchase can be completed in just a few taps. After tapping the “Buy” button, you will get additional product details and be prompted to enter your shipping and payment information. Once that’s entered and confirmed, your order information is sent to the merchant for delivery.

Frogloop: 5 Ways Nonprofit Can Reach Millennials

Nonprofits have been trying to reach millennials effectively for some time now. Some organizations like Ask Big Questions, a program of Hillel International and Do Something have figured it out, while others are still tailoring their strategies. We took a look at a couple of surveys, from Millennial Impact Research and from the infographic, Everything You Need to Know About the Millennial Consumer. For those of nonprofits still tailoring their strategies, we've got some tips on how to reach millennials. Text, don't call! 52% of millennials would rather have conversations via text than on the phone. Make an effort to capture the mobile phone numbers of your constituents, and get their permission to reach out by text message. Make your brand accessible. Does your organization advertise in the most optimum spaces? 38% of millennials said that brands are more accessible and trustworthy when they use social media ads vs. traditional ads. Find out where your audience is. Are they on Instagram? Facebook? Twitter? Do they prefer Tumblr or LinkedIn? Engage with them on the channels and platforms where they're at. On average, they're checking their smartphones 43 times per day.

K Street Cafe: 6 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Hitting “Post” or “Tweet”

Who is this post designed to reach? Sure, keeping audiences in mind is common sense, but taking the time to review every post through this lens is an important exercise. When we’re writing posts constantly for clients, it’s important to take a step back and make sure everything we do is clearly targeted. What do I want someone to do after reading? Not every post should be a call to action. Sometimes we’ll want to craft a post that users would be excited to share with their network. Typically these include photos and facts. We might also want to spark a conversation, or even just have our followers digest a point. Is this a post I’d engage with? While audiences react to messages differently, the way people interact, engage and share on social media quite often transcends age or background. If a post is so uninspiring that we wouldn’t give it a second thought, we go back to the drawing board.

Netroots Nation: 10 things to test to make your email program better

Testing, testing, testing! It’s not unusual these days to hear people talk about the importance of testing email campaigns, but what do they really mean? Here are ten things you should consider testing to get more out of your email program. 1. Subject lines If you’ve never done testing before, this is a great place to start. Subject lines are pretty easy to test and can have a dramatic impact on results. As a best practice you should try to test at least two subject lines for every email if you can. Try forcing yourself to come up with 20 subject lines when you’re writing your email, then pick the best two. You can also try testing subject line best practices if you don’t already follow them. Ex: Using numerical targets, deadlines, or personalization (usually the recipient’s name).

Politico: The next big thing in campaigns

Midterm elections are less than three months away, but there’s already a clear winner in 2014: digital advertising. A leading ad research firm recently estimated that more than $270 million will be spent across the country this cycle on digital campaign efforts — an 1,825 percent increase from 2010, when the first generation of tablet computers was just hitting the market. And just wait until 2016, when online political spending could top almost $1 billion and for the first time surpass newspapers, direct mail and telemarketing. Digital spending will still lag a long way behind TV, but it’s creeping closer to cable and radio budgets.

Campaigns & Elections: Is Twitter ruining young press operatives?

In the rush to develop a strong social media presence, too many young operatives have lost sight of what actually moves persuadable voters. Inside a campaign war room on a recent primary election night a young press operative announced in a town crier’s voice: “This is blowing up on Twitter right now.” I actually wasn’t really there, but I’m willing to bet anything that it was a scene played out in many, if not all, of the campaign headquarters staffed with bright young flacks this cycle. How can I be so certain? There have been countless times over the last couple of years when an email pops up on my phone from a campaign communications operative imploring me that immediate action must be taken because of a tweet from a staffer on an opposing campaign.

Mashable: Seeing More Politics in Your News Feed? Facebook Boosts Partisan Sites

Facebook has helped catapult sites like BuzzFeed and Upworthy into social stardom, boosting the visibility of media content on the News Feeds of millions of users and generating a deluge of traffic. But in this rising tide, some publishers have seen a particular lift: political sites on both the left and right. As digital-native publishers have soared, media sites with a political bent are outpacing some viral competitors while picking up a few of their tricks along the way. Sites like Business Insider helped pioneer social media strategies, but outlets ranging from Glenn Beck's The Blaze to 38-year-old Mother Jones have been fast learners.

K Street Cafe: 3 Common Email Marketing Pitfalls & How to Avoid Them

Famously referenced as the ‘cockroach of the Internet’ in David Carr’s recent New York Times piece, email newsletters are here to stay. In fact, despite the proliferation of social media and sophisticated news applications, e-newsletters are actually taking off at an unprecedented rate: >“Newsletters are clicking because readers have grown tired of the endless stream of information on the Internet, and having something finite and recognizable show up in your inbox can impose order on all that chaos,” wrote Carr. “At a time when lots of news and information is whizzing by online, email newsletters — some free, some not — help us figure out what’s worth paying attention to.” Upon reading Carr’s piece in the Times, the marketing professionals I know had one of two reactions: they were either jumping for joy or heaving a deep sigh of exasperation. It can be tough to navigate best practices, especially when the suggestions are vague and/or contradictory (e.g. use images, but not too many images). That said, some email marketing mistakes are largely avoidable, if the right actions are taken.

epolitics: What Political Tools & Technology CAN’T Do

Here’s a great reminder from a tweetchat hosted by the National Democratic Institute’s political parties team today: political technology can help a campaign or an organization do a lot, but it’s not magic. If you don’t have the right candidate or the right ideas, no amount of technological savvy can save you. The tools amplify traditional political strengths, not replace them! For one example, think about data-driven grassroots organizing, which was key to Obama’s 2008 and 2012 victories as well as other political success stories from Terry McAuliffe to Thad Cochran. But when I talk with veteran field staff, they’ll often say that even the best grassroots outreach is good for maybe 3% at the polls. If your candidate is close, 3% will put you over the top. But if you’re down by 20 points, even the most sophisticated voter outreach driven by the best data modeling imaginable won’t win the day.

Mail Chimp Blog: A Purchased List is a Dead List

As a permission-based email service provider, MailChimp doesn’t allow users to send to purchased, rented, scraped, or stolen lists of email addresses. Why? Well, much like Lloyd Dobbler, we don’t want to process anything sold or bought. It’s annoying to the humans on the other end of those purchased lists who haven’t asked to be part of your marketing. And above all, it’s illegal. But here’s another reason to stay away from purchased lists: They’re as good as dead. When you send to one, it’s crickets out there. Let’s go to the historical training data from Omnivore, MailChimp’s anti-abuse system.

Campaigns & Elections: Hacking the political mind

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.

The Campaign Workshop: Hiring a Political Consulting Firm

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?

epolitics: What’s a Welcome Email Worth?

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.

Campaigns & Elections: Debunking 3 myths preventing campaigns from embracing digital ads

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.

Constant Contact Blog: 7 Design Mistakes That Make Readers Trash Your Emails

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.

The Campaign Workshop: A Quick Guide to Hiring Political Consultants

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.

Frogloop: 5 Ways To Make Your Donors Feel Like Heroes

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.

Campaigns & Elections: It’s TV + Online, Not TV vs. Online

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.

Campaigns & Elections: Data-driven politics

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.

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