With elections in Virginia, New Jersey and a handful of other U.S. locales coming up fast, let’s look at a sample digital outreach plan for a 2023 political campaign. The example below includes a slew of good options for campaigns, though not everyone will have the need, the time or the money to explore all of the tactics and strategies included. Likewise, campaigns outside the U.S. may face legal, technological or cultural limits on which digital tools they can use. Still, the sample plan provides a good overview of what’s roaming in the wilds of digital politics these days. Even nonprofit advocates may pick up an idea or two.
Naturally, this plan is an excerpt from Chapter Three of How to Use the Internet to Change the World – and Win Elections, now in its TENTH edition. Over the course of eighteen chapters, the book covers the ins and outs of using the internet for political purposes, including fundraising, social media, digital advertising, political data and much more. Pick up your PDF or Kindle ebook version today, and please drop me a line if you have questions.
Phase One: Getting Established
First, campaigns need to focus on getting the basics right. The setup process may take from a few days to a few weeks, and generally a campaign should start its digital side rolling as early as resources and circumstances allow. For a presidential race, this stage would usually have taken place at least a year before the first primaries. Down-ballot campaigns are likely to get a later start, taking these steps within a few months of a contested election. The initial steps:
- Begin monitoring the race; run online searches on candidate and likely opponents. Likewise, set up Google Alerts on the candidate and opponents.
- Set up and launch website and supporter signup/CRM/mass email/fundraising system.
- Establish Facebook page, Instagram feed and Twitter account.
- Establish YouTube channel, even if the only content is your announcement video.
- Establish other social media channels if appropriate.
- Run Google and Facebook ads to build name recognition and the campaign’s list, spending at least a few dollars per day at first.
- Encourage friends and family, plus local political activists, to follow your digital channels.
- Identify relevant (perhaps local or statewide) political blogs and other online communities.
- Identify other prominent online voices, including bloggers, activists active on Twitter or Instagram or TikTok, and frequent commenters on local political or news sites, with an eye toward recruiting them to support the campaign.
- Build your email list.
- Start raising money via email.
- Identify grassroots tech (such as peer-to-peer and relational organizing apps) for use by field staff/volunteers.
- Begin the process of recruiting and training volunteers.
Phase Two: Feeding the Beast
In the middle period between the candidate’s announcement and the actual voting, list-building, most campaigns spend their time building relationships and raising money. Name recognition does not hurt, either.
- Promote the campaign website (or QR code) in all print materials and broadcast advertising.
- Continue recruiting donors and volunteers via online ads, particularly on Google and Facebook/Instagram but possibly on other social-media channels, blogs and local media sites. Employ voter-file-targeted video ads and banner ads to reach specific voter segments, but don’t forget the need to influence opinion broadly as well.
- Sign up new supporters for the email list, volunteer list and social channels at in-person events.
- Organize supporters’ volunteer time via grassroots management tools.
- Canvass voters in person, over the phone or via text message to identify persuadable contacts as well as likely supporters.
- Run digital ads (social media or programmatic) targeting specific voters in the days before those voters are to be contacted by field canvassers.
- Grow Facebook community and Twitter/Instagram followings; post new content on these channels regularly, featuring supporters and volunteers when possible.
- Expand/improve campaign website content.
- Post videos to YouTube, Facebook and Instagram and embed on the campaign website. Post on TikTok if the campaign has a presence on the platform.
- Routinely use your digital channels to encourage supporters to tell friends and family about your campaign.
- Continue monitoring independent online content posted about the race; respond as necessary and able.
- Begin grassroots canvassing operation, facilitated by data analytics and mobile technology if possible and appropriate.
- Raise more money.
Phase Three: Run-Up to Election Day
Time for full mobilization! This phase typically begins between one and two months before Election Day, with a push at the start of early voting.
- Begin final field-organizing campaign, including canvassing and virtual phonebanking.
- Organize volunteer teams for turnout operation, including via peer-to-peer text messages and relational apps.
- Begin early/absentee voting push.
- Send more fundraising appeals, stressing the urgency of the race.
- Encourage last-minute supporter evangelism via Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, personal text, etc.
- Ramp up email campaign intensity to support all of the above activities.
- Digital ads usually focus on turning out the faithful at this stage, but ads they may also build name recognition among likely voters or try to persuade suspected fence-sitters.
- Field organizers emphasize voter turnout among targeted demographics and communities.
- Online ads continue the mix of turnout-boosting, name-recognition and persuasion. Data-driven ad targeting helps reach voters the campaign needs for GOTV. Geotargeted mobile ads may reach voters in line at the polls.
- Email/Facebook/Instagram/Twitter program encourages last-minute donations.
- Email/Facebook/Instgram/Twitter program pushes voter turnout, with an emphasis on tell-your-friends asks and encouraging people to make specific plans to get to the polls.
- On Election Day, send final appeals via email, social networking outlets, text messaging, campaign website, Twitter, telegraph, semaphore, smoke signal and all other available channels. Field teams get people to the polls. Hope for the best.
- Have a drink.
- Win or lose, send a follow-up message to supporters, particularly if you plan to remain in public life.