This is the last of four parts of a larger article I wrote for the Campaigns & Elections special edition on the CampaignTech conference, which is shipping with the current issue of the magazine. This piece appeared earlier in the C&E blog, and see also Part One, Retail vs. Wholesale Online Politics, Part Two, Data-Driven Politics and an Advertising Explosion, and Part Three, Twitter Duels, Faster Politics, and the Importance of Integration.
Key Political Tools for 2012
Sure, Pinterest and Tumblr are cool, but what tools really matter for campaigns in 2012?
1. CRM Platforms: If you’re trying to stay in touch with a few thousand (or a few million) people at once, you’ll need a database to do it. Fortunately, modern CRM (Constituent Relations Management) tools are up to the challenge. Many political consulting firms offer their own platforms, and campaigns can also take advantage of standardized toolsets like DLCCWeb (on the Left) and NationBuilder (nonpartisan). A good CRM automates the process of signing up for your email list, and most will let you track (and target) supporters based on their past actions or indicated interests. An effective CRM is crucial for any campaign trying to get the most value—in time, money or both—out of its supporters.
2. Fundraising: Speaking of money, online fundraising is where it’s at, whether you’re building a network of small-dollar grassroots donors or trying to increase the efficiency of your big-money bundlers. Every transaction is easier to process if it comes in electronically rather than on paper. Remember, too, that grassroots donors typically give small amounts, meaning that they can donate again and again without reaching FEC limits.
3. Advertising: Online political advertising will be everywhere in 2012. Woe be unto you if you live in a battleground state and hate politics, since you’ll have to turn off all electronic channels to avoid the campaigns. Though even if you hide under your bed, someone’s likely to be figuring out a way to run ads on your dust bunnies
4. Mobile Field: Field should go mobile in a big way in 2012, with mobile apps and mobile optimized websites sending data to canvassers (directions, talking points, even video) and taking it right back from them in the form of information on voter contacts entered directly into a phone. iPads and other tablets will also play a significant role, particularly in the hands of event staff and volunteers. We should see the first widespread use of mobile fundraising as well, particularly at events, where tablets and cellphones using technologies like Square will process credit card transactions on the spot.
5. Video: Online video remains a powerful persuasion, training and mobilization tool, with YouTube and other video hosting sites making it easy to publish and share. The biggest development of 2012: the spread of rapid-response videos, which we’ve already seen from presidential candidates and party committees like the DNC. Look for campaigns up and down the scale to crank out video clips in vast numbers for both attack and defense.
6. Facebook: When you’re trying to reach a big audience, you want to go where the people are. In 2012, that means Facebook. Campaigns will use Facebook pages, Facebook apps and online advertising to recruit and engage followers, but the biggest development this year is likely to revolve around mobilization, with online organizers across the country testing strategies to actually put those Facebook fans to work.
7. Twitter: Twitter shapes the modern political environment from moment to moment, with bloggers, journalists, activists and campaigns jockeying to define the discourse. Smart campaigns will at least listen to what’s being said. Smarter ones will try to influence it, either via behind-the-scenes communications with online influentials or by wading directly into the public fray.
8. Email: Email’s been declared “dead” more times than I can remember, but in 2012 it’s still the most consistently effective tool for mobilizing supporters, donors and volunteers. A typical response rate for an email appeal bests a Facebook post or Tweet by a factor of ten or more. Social media’s great for recruiting and for keeping your most committed supporters engaged day to day, but when it comes to getting people to actually do something—like give you money—email pays the bills.