Some email discussion over the past few days about the Edwards fundraising text/voice campaign and about last Friday’s desktop widget has really brought home to me the importance of going where your supporters are. A few years ago, online activists had only a handful of ways to reach people — to supplement traditional phone-banking, direct mail and television, the Internet really offered only two channels, email and relatively static websites. Since ’04 cycle, which brought both the perfection of email/online fundraising and the rise of blogs, we’ve seen an explosion of new channels, including an array of social networking sites and other online communities. These days, electoral and advocacy campaigns confront so many possible ways to reach potential supporters that it’s dizzying. How do we allocate resources?
In an ideal world, where we’d have unlimited time and large bundles of money to spend, it’d be easy — try everything! And in the world of presidential campaigns, where money does flow in relatively big chunks, we HAVE seen campaigns try just about everything: connecting with people through official campaign sites, through video, on just about every social networking site under the sun, through cell phones, via email lists, blog postings, search ads, blog ads, etc. The major campaigns have the resources to go just about everywhere a potential supporter might live online. And they’d better — a national campaign needs to mobilize millions, and the presidential campaigns have to offer supporters every way to stay in touch that they might want.
In most cases, though, campaigns have to choose which channels to emphasize, and the first things to consider in that process should be the most basic communications questions of all: who are you trying to reach and what message are you trying to reach them with? If you’re running an antiwar campaign or an anti-Darfur-genocide campaign, much of your audience is going to be young, and while you should still have an email list, you’ll probably want to spend a lot of effort on Facebook and MySpace outreach. On the other hand, if you’re trying to reach a handful of influentials, such as, say, political activists in the mountain states in the West, you’re going to get better results by focusing on the specific blogs and newsletters that these people read — and where possible, to contact potential opinion leaders individually and directly.
And as my mother pointed out in an email yesterday,
One thing I thought of is that a lot of older voters (who tend to vote in larger numbers than you kids) don’t use text messaging, computers, or even cell phones. Don’t know percentages. BUT the candidates may have to let a generation die off before they can really reach their bases. I don’t like to think of that.
Don’t worry Mom, we’re not running you guys off just yet — a campaign focused on your age cohort would probably need to put a lot of effort into direct mail and may also want to think about radio or tv advertising in certain markets, though they’d have to be carefully selected because of cost. Good database work can really help zero mailings in on people most likely to act. But don’t underestimate how many AARP-eligibles use computers and even social networking sites such as Gather or Eon regularly — and as more products like this one come out, cell phones as well.
Overall, the message is as simple as the means are complex — know who your people are, go find ’em where they live, and make it easy for them to stay in touch. And when you find things that work, let me know. I’m happy to write ’em up.