Winning in 2012: A Sample Campaign Plan and Related Reading

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This article is from an earlier ebook and is now out of date! Please check out the NEW ebook, “How to Use the Internet to Win in 2016: A Comprehensive Guide to Online Politics for Campaigns & Advocates.”

Ebook: How to Use the Internet to Win in 2016

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.

Final Push

  • 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.

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About the Author

Colin Delany is founder and chief editor of, a site that focuses on the tools and tactics of Internet politics and online political advocacy. 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,” 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 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, 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 You can follow him on Twitter at @epolitics.

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