Campaigning online is all about engagement, especially in the final 60 days. That was the advice for the campaign’s stretch run from three veteran digital strategists at C&E's Final Push video e-conference on Friday.
When it comes to communicating via email, Republican digital strategist Becki Donatelli said making small dollar email asks—like many of the fundraising emails sent by the Romney and Obama campaigns—can translate to a missed opportunity for campaigns.
“Use your email to talk to people about what you stand for,” said Donatelli, who was joined by Democratic digital strategist Josh Koster of Chong + Koster and Julie Germany of DCI Group.
With trucks now sporting Internet radio, voice recognition coming into its own, and mobile targeting bringing campaigns closer to voters than ever before, it's easy to lose track of all the engagement possibilities the web offers.
"We've been battling for the last 14 years to get some recognition the Internet is not just good for fundraising," said Donatelli.
While email remains king for fundraising, especially in the latter stages of the campaign, a Facebook presence is critical for activation and Twitter is equally as critical for communication.
As for which campaign is doing a better job online at the presidential level, all three panelists said it’s hard to not be impressed by the sheer scale of the Obama operation. But given how close to the vest the campaign is playing it when it comes to digital, Josh Koster said it’s tough to even analyze Obama’s digital operation in much detail.
While President Obama's campaign webpage is flush with widgets encouraging voters to get involved, Romney opted for a site focused on "meat and potatoes context," said Julie Germany. While Romney's team is spending money on the digital space, a site that simply states who he is and what he stands for won't win him the engagement war.
"I will take our side to task for one thing," said Donatelli. "We want to be the cool kids, so I think we tend to lose sight of what we really want."
Donatelli said the Romney-Ryan mobile app has been a huge success, but the party could do a better job of figuring out who has downloaded it and who is using it.
The panel also batted around the prospect of cookie-based targeting in response to a viewer-submitted question asking whether the technology bordered on “creepy.” Donatelli said while it can be a valuable tool for campaigns, she urged caution, suggesting it was “over-hyped.”
While Germany said voter file targeting is fast becoming one of the best ways to serve voters ads online, it can “border on creepy" when done poorly. In many ways, direct mail targeting over the years has been just as creepy, said Josh Koster—firms have used data-mining and have generated outside, third-party data long before the Internet came around.
"To be fair, none of these people really had privacy in the first place," said Koster.
Koster compared the cookie targeting method to standing in line at a club—the cookie is the invisible stamp on your hand and online ad space is the blacklight used reveal it and then deliver an ad to your browser.
And Germany offered a challenge to people who aren’t sold on the tactic—clear your cookie cache for a week and see if you still enjoy the Internet experience. It’s doubtful.
The Internet being a profoundly visual environment, campaigns are still getting used to the fact that "most people are going to give you less than 20 seconds, even if they're on Facebook; even if they're on Twitter," Germany says.
The upside? Mobile is now the best way to reach people over the age of 35—the fastest growing demographic, particularly if you're working to target women.