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Top 5 – Lessons from Online Political Campaigns for Government Agencies

I’m fascinated with online political campaigning. Personally, I think there is a lot government agencies can learn from political and advocacy groups from their online campaigning work.

Last week, I spent some time with experts from both sides of the aisle – Republican online guru Jordan Raynor to Democratic RootsCamp. With the main goal of learning how other industries were using online communications – from web to email to social media. The people I talked to have run the online piece of Senate races, raised millions of dollars online, and been the leading thought leaders on new media in politics.
I asked a lot of questions and here are the top 5 things I learned:
1) Email is king and email addresses are golden – Everyone says email is still the #1 way to communicate by factor of 10 to 1. Facebook, Twitter, and others are cool but still a majority of effort is on email. And everyone focuses really hard on getting email addresses. People brag and fight about list size. Because pretty simply that’s more people they can reach. Interesting that government doesn’t do this.
2) Content and Consistency is King – It’s a little basic and boring but the #1 to have success in online ranging from blogs to email to Facebook to Twitter….is really interesting compelling content on a regular basis. Some suggestions were at least 1 Facebook post per day and 2-3 emails per week. Government agencies should make sure they are sending out regular content and also think how to make their content compelling
3) Life is Linear and Builds over Time – Everyone says that people think “new media” is magic and should grow exponentially over night. Everyone who actually has done it says it is really hard and is simply linear and builds over time. For example, one friend who grew a candidate FB page from 3,000 to 20,000 fans says there was nothing magical. Just lots of hard-work and pretty linear growth. Government agencies should think the same.

4) But Capitalize on Timely Campaigns– Despite the linear growth, a number of folks told me they tried to capitalize on short campaigns on timely events. For example, when the Oil Spill hit or a certain topic like healthcare became important, they would capitalize with specific related content, petitions, and requests. This would get a lot of people to join the general broad email/FB list they could use later. Government agencies should make sure to capitalize on big events as well – for example the 2010 Census is a once-in-decade opportunity to grow the broader Census FB/email list they can use to communicate with for years to come.

5) Experiment with Testing – Every political online specialist is consistently testing and learning and there are lots of information out there. Some people say 10am is the best time to send email. Some say that it is key to have a short title for the email. Others suggested asking questions. Another person told me that guest bloggers or guest email senders are huge. The key is that they are consistently testing and learning and sharing best practices. Government agencies should do the same.

Biggest Difference – In the end, the biggest differences I see between online politics new media campaigns and government agencies is that there was a sense of that it is clearly a strategic advantage and there is a best/worst. People clearly cared about size of email lists and # of Facebook fans as a core asset to winning.
I think government agencies should think of it in the same way. It is a government asset to have a lot of people subscribed/engaged with their information. Think of everything from alerting on disasters like Katrina to getting people to mail and fill out their Census forms (or tax forms,etc).
What’s your take? Am I off? What am I missing?
Over 15 great comments on related discussion “Who is the Best at Citizen Engagement?”

**Disclaimer – I care about this stuff more now that GovLoop is part of GovDelivery which is #1 digital communication company in government***

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Peter Sperry

As a recipient of many of those emails and facebook notifications, I would add a few points —

1. Do not abuse your email list by spamming it. I am more than willing to read your email if you actually have something new to say but will add you to my spam filter after 2-3 weeks of daily spin messages that say nothing.

2. Contact me when you do not need me. It often seems that every email or FB contact is nothing more than a lead in to a request for money or volunteer time. These are important but mix them up with more meaningful messages about issues or events.

3. Get real. The fact I gave you my email address or friended you on FB is an indication that I am interested in public policy and just might know something about it. I’ll defriend or block you if you insult my intelligence with simplistic dogmatic nonsense (This means you Newt!!!)

4. Ask for my input believably. a) “Do you believe in protecting democracy by opposing demon worshiping child molesters running for elective office or are you willing to accept the degradation of cultural values as an acceptable part of the modern welfare state?” is not seeking my opinion, it is insulting my intelligence. b) “We really want your opinion, please complete the following survey and include your VISA card number at the end so we can process your contribution.” is just as bad (particularly if the first question in the survey is [a]).

5. Do not allow your email and fb efforts to become the social media equivalent of robo calling. This may (or may not) be effective in a short term election campaign but trying to sustain it over prolonged periods will do you more harm than good.

6. Choose your social media consultant very carefully. Identify the tangible results you want them to deliver (votes and $$$$ have meaning – friends, likes, tweets and retweets are simply means to an end). Also identify things you want them to avoid (like alienating your constituents or donors with excess spam). Look for someone who understands social media is a tool, not an end unto itself. Run away from anyone who uses buzz words excessively, exudes an air of superiority or claims unrealistic experience (I’ve read claims of “Our team has a combined 80 years of online results” indicating either their team is too large or they started spamming people using acoustic couplers).

Caryn Wesner-Early

I’m not sure where your source got “2-3 e-mails per week.” If I’m getting that many e-mails from someone, they should be able to recognize me on the street!