The Holy Trinity of 2016 Digital Campaigning Tools

Three is the magic number

The new 2016 digital campaigning guide covers a lot of online organizing and communications tools. From Meerkat to mobile giving, it dives deep into the digital politics ocean, and it surfaces with 100-odd pages of best practices and strategic advice. Plus, it has pictures!

But what about the campaigning Big Picture? What are the absolutely essential tools for politics in 2016? Here are my nominations for the online tools trifecta, the Holy Trinity of digital campaigning technology…at least for now.

1. Email

Yep, email’s still king, at least for online fundraising and supporter mobilization. Its dethroning has been predicted at least as long as has been around (see this article from the site’s early days in 2006), but every presidential campaign with a lick of sense is growing its list as fast as possible. Email simply works: in practice, it has the highest consistent response rate of any widely applicable digital medium.

Sure, text messages have a higher effective open rate, but how big of an “ask” can you fit into a text? Ask an online fundraiser what his or her go-to channel is, and I’ll bet you a $50 donation that the answer will be email.

2. Social Media

Email’s great, but it can’t do everything. Plus, it’s private — if someone takes an action based on one of your messages, it’s almost always between you and them. Social media like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram provide a public stage, where your supporters’ actions on your behalf can inspire their friends and family to join your campaign (or at least give you a once-over).

Plus, Democratic party committees and presidential campaigns aside, most of us can only send so many emails before we burn out our lists. We can post all day on social media by contrast, giving us constant opportunities to keep supporters engaged, motivated and involved. Arm them with good content and they’ll spread the word aggressively, doing our outreach for us.

The data social media channels collect on us is also perfect fodder for….

3. Online Advertising

Online ads will play in a big way in 2016: the technology’s advanced to the point that we can target ads effectively and efficiently, both within a district and by people’s demographic characteristics and past online behavior.

Online ads aren’t just for the big guys any more, either. Facebook and Twitter ads (including Facebook content “boosts”) are extremely easy to buy, as are Google search ads. And the rise of campaign-tailored self-serve platforms helps candidates far down the ballot buy banner ads and even video ads targeted directly at their voters and their voters alone.

While TV will still dominate political advertising in 2016, digital ad budgets should rise significantly…and TV’s dominance won’t last forever.

What’s Next?

Of course, some new tools could emerge this election cycle that upset this three-wheeled online apple cart. But if they’re going to matter, they’ll have to move votes. Otherwise, they’re just shiny objects that distract us from the real work of online politics.


Written by
Colin Delany
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