Design Your Digital Program to Drive Votes

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Your online program isn't about web hits, ad clicks or likes—it’s about how your online activity contributes to your ultimate goal: winning.


An experienced campaign runs itself backwards. That is, it determines how many votes it needs to win and builds a plan backwards from Election Day to get that many voters in its column. Everything else the campaign does is derived from that objective. Your digital program is no exception. It’s not about web hits, ad clicks or likes—it’s about how your online activity contributes to your ultimate goal: winning.

Let’s divide your campaign’s online initiatives into two broad categories: information and activation. The bulk of a campaign’s visible online activity will fall into the information category—generating awareness of the candidate or issue, delivering messages to potential voters through websites, social media, video, email and any other medium in your toolkit. It also includes collecting contacts and other information back from supporters.  Some of this information exchange will lead to low-commitment engagement: signing up for emails, responding to surveys, liking your Facebook page. The typical campaign will then mine this collection of contacts for volunteers and donations, ultimately to help push voters to the polls.  

A natural extension of those efforts is promoting registration, absentee voting and early voting. It can be as simple as asking all who sign up to ensure their voter registration is current. Making it easy to find absentee and early voting information and promoting these activities aggressively to your supporter base should also be baked into your communication plan. Think about the power of the network and ask your supporters to push this information out to their circle of friends, too. 

These are all useful activities and the social web gives you a variety of tools to push messages to your supporters with a frequency that ensures saturation. If this is as far as your campaign takes its online activities to support voter mobilization, you’ve done a good job in translating your communication into the digital sphere. However, you’re still missing significant advantages from the data that go hand in hand with any online activity.

Your campaign has the potential to collect information from each online encounter, channel that information back and tailor your follow up to specific individuals as well as analyze that data to point you towards other voters who could be similarly receptive to your message. Knowing that a specific target audience is responding to a particular message allows you to reinforce that message and offers clues on how to expand your reach into a particular audience. 

So how do you push your campaign to the point where you are not just pushing information through your digital channels but pulling information back and pushing action through networks of mobilized supporters?  If you have the budget, you can enlist the services of ad targeting firms or hire a new media consultant to help you configure and analyze your advertising, emails and website to track how people are reacting to your messages.

But even if your budget is limited, you should consider search ads in the context of your GOTV program.  Even with only a few hundred dollars, the smallest campaign can dramatically increase its visibility in that critical week prior to Election Day. It’s when many voters are tuning in for the first time and searching the web to learn about the candidates. You don’t need fancy graphics and you don’t need lengthy copy to get started with advertising on Google or other search engines. The key is to test various combinations of key words, ad text and landing pages on your website, preferably well before the GOTV window begins in earnest. You don’t have to spend much to get a feel for what will work. That way when you ramp up your spending in the final week, you’ll be on target and on budget. 

One final tip: focus on search ads initially and don’t forget to limit the geography – if you’re running in Georgia, you don’t need your ads running in Oklahoma.

Regardless of how sophisticated your data collection efforts are, the most important step is interpreting your results as they happen and reacting quickly. The social web allows for near instantaneous feedback on everything you say or do. The quicker you can refine your efforts, the better chance you have of maximizing the effectiveness of your online voter mobilization before you get to the final push on Election Day.

Steve Pearson is the president of CivicNEXT (www.civicnext.com), offering practical digital communications and social media solutions for campaigns and organizations.  Ford O’Connell is the chairman of CivicForumPAC (www.civiciforumpac.com), providing analysis on federal and state elections.  Ford & Steve are co-founders of ProjectVirginia (www.ProjectVirginia.com), which publishes front-line insights on using the social web for political campaigning.


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