Political campaigns are relying more each election cycle on email, texting, blogs, Facebook™, Twitter™, MySpace™, Linkedin™, of course websites, and a host of other emerging technologies in their voter contact, fundraising, volunteer, get-out-the-vote and other campaign activities. Digital messaging is the next great frontier in campaigns, particularly given Barack Obama’s and Ron Paul’s fundraising and grassroots mobilization success in 2008.
Before wading into the complexities of subject lines, message content, image-to-text ratios, email metrics and the like, let’s first consider how email and text messages should and shouldn’t be used.
In the digital messaging world, spamming is today’s bubonic plague. Most of us spend too much time tossing out the digital junk mail cluttering our electronic in-boxes. Somehow spam seems even more frustrating than robocalls, advocacy calls, TV spots and the campaign snail mail that also clutters the lives of voters.
So, just because political messages are protected by the First Amendment and political emails and text messages are not subject to the Federal CAN-SPAM Act, doesn’t mean you can – or should – litter Cyberspace with your campaign messages. Given their high irritation factor, cam-spam (my contraction for campaign spam) can offend potential voters by inundating them with messages they prefer not to receive.
That’s why campaigns rely more and more on opt-in lists, whether it’s their own or a purchased list of individuals who expressed interest in receiving political communications.
Every campaign should have a plan to gather email and text message data at every opportunity - by capturing email addresses on the campaign website, at rallies, in door-to-door canvassing, during fund raising and in advocacy mail and phone calls.
Smart campaigns now dedicate a portion of their resources to digital voter file development because the ultimate payoff is so high.
Before purchasing third-party lists, make very sure you can test it to prove its accuracy. If you get a lot of returns, the list may be too old to be effective. The third party provider should be credible, dependable and willing to fix any list problems at no cost to the campaign.
But relying solely on opt-in and third-party lists also handicaps campaigns in developing and growing their email and text message data bases. So, is there an alterative?
More and more campaigns are adapting direct mail or telemarketing fundraising techniques to build a file. Campaigns and political parties are constantly doing prospect mailing and telemarketing. They contact individuals based on demographic data or microtargeting (see previous blog) techniques seeking permission to contact them digitally.
Just as smart campaigns constantly prospect for dollars, they now prospect for email and text messaging information to generate low-cost voter contact opportunities.
Also, campaigns that share geographical boundaries can also do list swaps. How do list swaps work? Two groups share their digital lists and each group can prospect a specific number of times – usually once or twice – on the other’s list. The campaign must contact the names on the swapped list to get permission to communicate with them, but it offers a rich lode of names to mine since they have already opted to receive political information from another source.
Digital messaging is an effective, low-cost means of communicating during a campaign. It allows supporters to expand your reach by effortlessly forwarding your information to their email networks, too. It allows campaigns to effectively tap into the growing viral marketing phenomenon.
We’ll look at social networking with Facebook and the other options in a later blog.
But for now, whether yours is a low-budget campaign or one with plenty of resources, digital messaging allows you to tap a wider audience more frequently at less cost than any other communications medium.
Rusty Paul is long-time campaign consultant for state and local campaigns. He did his masters work in Campaigns & Elections at Georgia State University. iSquared Communications is a political consulting firm specializing in state and local races. Email him at www.RustyPaul@isquaredcommunications.com