December 2nd, 2008
Now that the details are slooowly creeping out and we have a clearer idea of the Obama election team’s online numbers, what conclusions can we draw for the future? Right off the bat, Jose Antonio Vargas’s recent piece in the Post suggests something critical: online communications campaigns should consider offering supporters tiers of potential engagement.
It’s a rule of thumb in the advocacy world: the more difficult an action is, the fewer people will take it and the more valuable it will be. The more someone goes out of his or her way to communicate with Congress, an agency or a targeted corporation, for instance, the more likely that action is to register. Email is easy to send and Congressional offices drown in it, so individual advocacy emails count for relatively little even when from constituents. A phone call requires more effort, and as research from the Congressional Management Foundation has shown, Hill offices tend to accord them more weight. The same idea applies as you move up the scale, with a personal visit from a constituent ranking highest of all, particularly if that constituent is also a donor.
Now let’s look at the Obama numbers and see how they break down. Thirteen million people on the email list, three million online donors. Five million “friends” on the public social networking sites, two million profiles on MyBarackObama.com. Three million individual donors, 70,000 people creating their own fundraising campaigns via MyBO. If we had more information, I bet we’d find similar trends throughout the Obama online army: of those 400,000 blog posts on the campaign site, how many were written by a small core of prolific contributors? The basic rule applies: as you move up the ladder, each rung requires more commitment, creates more value, and will tend to hold fewer people.
Even without the Obama campaign’s massive resources, other online campaigns can apply this model. If all you have is an email list, track your members and note the most reliable activists. Once you have these “super-volunteers” identified, try to put them to work in ways that use their skills, connections and time. It works in the other direction as well — if you’re planning a create-a-video contest, find a way get people involved who AREN’T actually doing the shooting and editing, perhaps by asking them to rate or comment on the submissions. The overall goal: to provide opportunities for the most casual supporters to stay involved, while also providing more strenuous opportunities for the smaller core of activists. As in so many other ways, the Obama campaign lights the path.