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Regardless of the national dynamics at play, local factors will determine the outcome of many an election in 2012, and a campaign’s own hard work is part of that equation. As we’ve seen, smart campaigns can turn to the internet to increase the effectiveness of almost all of their activities and shift the odds in their favor. The internet absolutely excels at providing channels for campaigns to maintain connections with individual voters and energize them to recruit their friends, donate their money and volunteer their time. Extra bodies equals extra votes.
Of course, online tools are’t likely to win many elections on their own, but campaigns that employ online strategies intelligently and with real-world goals in mind should have a significant edge over their rivals, particularly in tight races. Not-so-bold prediction: online ads, online recruiting, online messaging, online mobilization and online fundraising can (and will) make a difference in elections for the Senate, Congress and state and local offices in 2012. TV still matters, field organizing DEFINITELY still matters, but for more and more political fights the key battlegrounds are in virtual space. Ignore that ground at your peril.
And if you want to know more, or are a journalist working on a story, let’s chat.
A Basic Online Oureach Plan
Now that we understand the essential tools and tactics of online political organizing, let’s put them together into a coherent plan to win an election.
Phase One: Getting Established
At the start, campaigns need to focus on getting the basics right, a process that may take from a few days to a few weeks. For a presidential race, this stage should have taken place a year before the first primaries. Other campaigns are likely to get a much later start, taking these steps between a few months and a year of the primary or the general election, depending on which will be contested. The initial steps:
- Begin monitoring the race; set up Google Alerts on the candidate and opponent.
- Build and launch website with integrated supporter signup/CRM/fundraising system.
- Establish Facebook page and Twitter feed and connect with local political activists.
- Establish YouTube channel with initial content (even if only a single clip).
- Identify relevant (usually local) political blogs based on audience and topic.
- Identify other prominent online voices, including those on Twitter and blogs and frequent commenters on local political sites.
- Begin connecting with these online influentials and persuade them to support the campaign when possible.
- Begin running Google and Facebook ads to build the campaign’s list, even if the initial buy is only a few dollars per day.
Phase Two: Feeding the Beast
With an infrastructure in place, a campaign moves into the long middle period between the candidate’s announcement and the actual voting. List-building and fundraising will be usually be the highest priority, supported by outreach and content creation.
- Integrate website promo into all print materials and broadcast advertising.
- Recruit new supporters/list members at in-person events.
- Continue online advertising aimed at recruiting donors and volunteers, particularly on Google and Facebook but also on blogs and local media sites if possible.
- Begin comprehensive email-based online fundraising via CRM.
- Solicit and organize supporters’ volunteer time, also via CRM but possibly through custom social network or other tools.
- Expand/improve campaign website content.
- Expand connections on social networking websites and Twitter; post new content regularly.
- Encourage supporters to spread the word and recruit friends through their online and offline channels.
- Post additional online videos to YouTube profile and campaign website as needed and as available
- Build relationships with and aggressively court local bloggers, Twitterers and other online influentials, with an eye to pitching stories and arranging opportunities to speak directly to their audiences.
- Continue monitoring independent online content posted about the race; respond as necessary and able.
- Two-three months away from the beginning of early/absentee voting, begin grassroots canvassing operation, facilitated by technology if possible.
Phase Three: Run-Up to Election Day
Once an election is close, an online campaign will shift into full mobilization mode. This phase typically begins roughly a month before voting begins
- Begin final field-organizing push, including canvassing and phonebanking.
- Organize volunteer teams for turnout operation.
- Begin early/absentee voting push, if applicable.
- Send urgent fundraising appeals, stressing urgency of race.
- Encourage last-minute supporter online evangelism on Facebook, personal email, etc.
- Ramp up email campaign intensity via CRM to support all of the above activities.
- Switch emphasis of online advertising from recruitment to persuasion of fence-sitters.
- Field organizers switch to pushing voter turnout, particularly in targeted neighborhoods and demographics.
- Online ads switch to a mix of persuasion (to reach voters still making up their minds) and turnout-boosting.
- Email/Facebook/Twitter program pushes last-minute donations.
- Email/Facebook/Twitter program also pushes voter turnout, with an emphasis on tell-your-friends asks.
- On Election Day, send final appeals via email, social networking outlets, text messaging, campaign website, Twitter, semaphore, smoke signal and all other available channels. Field teams get people to the polls. Hope for the best.
- After the election, send follow-up message to supporters.
For More Information
Other Guides from Epolitics.com
- As Obama’s Online-Enabled Grassroots Operation Takes Shape, Do Republicans Have Anything to Match It?
- How the Presidential Campaigns are Using Facebook: A Side-by-Side Overview
- Glimpsing Obama Campaign Fundraising Segmentation and Micro-Targeting
- 2012 Online Advertising So Far: Dems Outspend Repubs by a Factor of Two
- Obama Campaign Spent $4.3 Million on Digital Ads in January — and $3 Million on Staff
- How Online Advertising is Playing in the 2012 Presidential Race
- Obama Campaign Goes Big on Mobile Fundraising
- Spam Alert: Is Rick Santorum Buying Email Addresses?
- Obama Campaign Hiring Still Hiring State-Level Data Directors
- Meanwhile, Obama’s Re-Election Machine Rebuilds His 2008 Online Army
- Obama Campaign Recruiting (Buying Names) on Care2 & Change
- Republican Presidential Sites (Largely) Fail Usability Test
- Fun with NewtGingrich.com
- Newt Gingrich’s $800,000 Tiffany Website Puts His Campaign into Debt
- Online Politics is Usually Trench Warfare, Not Blitzkrieg
- Scott Brown’s Massachusetts Insurgency Shows How Online Organizing Has Shifted the Political Calculus
- The Online Strategy Behind Scott Brown’s Victory, Plus Details on His Massachusetts Moneybomb
- Bob McDonnell’s Impressive Online Campaign for Virginia Governor
- Learn from this City Council Candidate
- If You Want to Change Congress, Fund Challengers’ Staff Early
- Twitter is NOT a Strategy
- Video: Applying Obama Online Lessons to State, Local and Advocacy Campaigns
- Ten Ways to Blow It Online in 2010
- More on Scott Brown and Internet Politics and More Brown/Coakley Online Politics Post-Mortems
- An Internet Politics Index to David Plouffe’s The Audacity to Win
- Overview: Social Media and 2012 Political Campaigns
- Prop 8 Battle Shows that the Left has No Monopoly on Internet Activism
- Strategic Social Media 101: Where to Begin
- Nine Things Campaigns Shouldn’t Forget in the Gee-Whiz World of the Social Web
- What Matters More in Politics: Message or Mechanics?
Tools & Tactics
- Inside the Obama Numbers: Tiers of Engagement
- Reaching the “Network Influentials”
- The Enduring Value of the Online Communications Tripod
- Campaigns Turn to Protected Twitter Feeds for Volunteer Organizing
- Pinterest for Politics: Not Just a Shiny New Toy
- Using FourSquare, Gowalla and Facebook Places in Political Campaigns
- Video: Talking Campaign Social Media with Meltwater’s Kimling Lam
- Case Study: How Facebook Ads Defeated a Florida Ballot Initiative
- Integrated GOTV: Getting Out the Vote Online
- Using Google Mobile Advertising to Catch Voters Waiting at the Polls
- Six Questions a Candidate Should Ask before Tweeting, Blogging or Posting a Status Update
- All Buzz is Good Buzz: Taking Online Rapid Response to the Next Level
- Online Fundraising that Respects your Supporters: The Essentials
- Using Social Media to Build Your Email List and Vice Versa
- Online Advertising Late in an Election Cycle: Focus on Persuasion
- Online Advertising Early in an Election Cycle: Focus on Acquisition
- Time for a Change: Facebook Timelines for Political Campaigns
- Brilliant Jane Corwin Parody Campaign Site (Or, Why Campaigns Should Buy Alternate URLs)
- Political TV Saturation Driving Commercial Advertisers to Google In-Stream Video Ads
- Digital-Age Media Relations: Pitching Stories in a Challenging News Environment
- David Plouffe: The Obama Campaign Used Grassroots Data and Computer Modeling to Allocate Resources in Real Time
- Illuminating the Presidential Campaigns’ Internet-Driven Ground Game
- After the Debates: Using the Internet to Win at the Water Cooler
- Obama Email Pushes Voter Registration
- Obama’s Texting for Turnout during the Potomac Primary
- Measuring the Effects of Social Media Marketing
- Ten Rules for Blogger Outreach
- Targeted Facebook Ads Aren’t Just for Big Political Campaigns
- Two-Thirds of Obama’s Online Fundraising was Via Email
- Content was Key (and Overlooked) Part of Obama’s Online Juggernaut
- Four Steps for Effective Social Media Monitoring in Politics
- You’ve Got a Friend in Barack Obama: Integrating Social Networking Tools into Political Campaigns
- The Enduring Power of Small Online Donors
- Obama Campaign Saw “Ridiculously” High ROI from Google Ads
- Getting the Most Out of Google Ads and Other Pay-Per-Click Advertising Campaigns
- Creating Effective Political Video for the Web
- Ten Commandments of Campaign Social Media
- PerryForPresidentFML: Clever Site Helps You Tweet Against Rick Perry
- Scott Brown Used Google for Field Organizing, Not Just Advertising
- Don’t Copy this Al Gore Email
- Michele Bachmann’s Strap-On iPads: New Tools for Field Organizers
- Four Ways Political Campaigns Can Use QR Codes
- C is for Cookie: Why Do I Keep Seeing the Same Allen West Political Ad?
Staff & Infrastructure
- A Political Campaign’s First Two Hires: A New Media Director and a Fundraiser
- What Makes a Good Campaign New Media Director?
- Obama Campaign’s New Media Staff was NOT a Part of the Tech Team
- Five Talents Campaign Managers Should Look For in a New Media Director
- What a Modern Communications Team Looks Like
- Top Ten Signs a Social Media Expert Isn’t
About the Author
Colin Delany is founder and chief editor of Epolitics.com, a site that focuses on the tools and tactics of Internet politics and online political advocacy. Epolitics.com received the Golden Dot Award as “Best Blog – National Politics” at the 2007 Politics Online Conference, and Delany participated in DC Fox affiliate WTTG-25's live coverage of the 2008 general election night. He was honored as one of “Ten Who Are Changing the World of Politics and the Internet” at the 2010 World E-Gov Forum in Paris.
Besides “Winning in 2012,” Epolitics.com features two additional downloadable e-books, “Online Politics 101: The Tools and Tactics of Online Political Advocacy” and “Learning from Obama,” the definitive guide to Barack Obama’s 2008 online campaign. “Online Politics 101″ and “Learning from Obama” together have been downloaded from Epolitics.com over 50,000 times.
Delany started in politics in the early '90s in the Texas Capitol (where public service is considered a contact sport) and moved into the online political world in 1995. In 1999, during the first internet boom, he helped to start a targeted search engine for politics and policy, which lasted about as long as such ideas usually do. Since then, Delany has worked as a consultant to help dozens of political advocacy campaigns promote themselves in the digital world, and between 2003 and 2007 was the Online Communications Manager at the National Environmental Trust. Besides editing Epolitics.com, he currently serves as the Director of Outreach and Online Communications at the National Women’s Law Center, and occasionally plays bass in a rock and roll band.
For media or consulting inquiries, please email Colin Delany at email@example.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @epolitics.