Why the pollster and traditional media consultant shouldn't get every dollar they ask for in 2012.
Itʼs nice to know something that only a handful of others know. I relished being on the better side of that equation in 2008, leading campaigns by the nose toward leveraging the power of the Internet. Last cycle, most political entities with which I worked were complacent in the false belief that the Internet was there as a fundraising tool only—cultivate a massive email list and create your own digital blank check. In 2012, this won’t be the case and campaigns not only need to be ready for it, they need to be willing to devote the resources online to make it work. All signs point to Facebook being a primary battleground. A recent Pew poll revealed that Facebook users who utilize the site multiple times a day are an additional two and half times more likely to attend a political rally or meeting, 57 percent more likely to try to persuade someone how to vote and an additional 43 percent more likely to have said they would vote. There’s a clear “consumer desire” for campaigns to leverage here and the result will be ampliﬁed exponentially by the politically active nature of Facebook users. Leveraging it effectively starts with data. Three basics will get your campaign on the right footing ahead of 2012: Engage a political media firm: Many of the solutions necessary to compete online require extensive technical, programming and user-experience skill, not to mention effective creative execution. A successful campaign will recognize early on that a specialized online political media consultant is essential, as is an online budget to make it work. Most campaigns still view digital electioneering as secondary and those campaigns that do spend on new media usually don't spend enough to guarantee full effectiveness. The problem is that campaigns continue to view digital spend from the wrong angle. Unlike traditional media, which is about saturation and quantity, new media is about precision and quality. For Campaigns to succeed in the digital world, they will have to divorce themselves from an archaic reliance on saturation, reach, frequency and the "7-times" rule. They will have to begin analyzing their spend based on the quality of the audience, which can be achieved for a fraction of the cost with new media.Cultivate your data: Facebookʼs “Insights” program, like most mass analytic trackers, offers little in the way of detailed user data. To really engage and mobilize voters, anonymized and aggregated data simply won’t cut it. Any effective political Facebook campaign will require microtargeted, speciﬁc and personal Fan data, which means integrating Facebook with outside applications. The Obama campaignʼs “Are You In” application, which was launched this spring, was created for just this purpose. It allows voters to express support while engaging and mobilizing one another. But its real value is in the data. The app requires users to grant permission for access to their personal Facebook information—birthdate, hometown, affiliations, networks and even addresses and phone numbers if they’re listed. It’s all data that can be used to better target and better craft messages to supporters and even deduce how undecided voters may be persuaded to join the ranks. Campaigns that can afford to develop an integrated app should certainly do so. But there are less costly options. Some companies develop integrated apps like this and license them non-exclusively. Also, consider what your campaign is spending on polling. They are by no means dispensable, but pollsters are less effective than a system that gleans voter data seamlessly. Consider that with an app, your campaign will not be merely collecting data, but collecting better data and engaging voters simultaneously. Perhaps it’s time to reallocate some funds from the polling line item to the digital one. Break through the glass walls: The ultimate goal is votes and Facebook is already a place to intercept users most likely to vote. If a campaign succeeds in nothing more than tipping these votes in their favor, that may already be a big win, but it doesn’t exploit Facebookʼs most awesome power: share-ability. Using Facebook itself to reach beyond Facebookʼs own walls is key to success. To mobilize users to share campaign messages beyond their own sphere of friends requires innovation, freshness and an intelligent disruption of the creative status quo. Take, for example, a campaign I worked on in 2008. The client was a national 527 who’s fundraising and electioneering efforts had apparently hit a plateau. After much testing, it became clear that my client’s supporters were not refusing to help, they simply weren’t getting the message, which was being lost in the shuffle of their busy Facebook lives. We created a series of short films that stood out on the Facebook walls of supporters and were shared with friends and beyond. The short films found their way onto the news shows of virtually every major TV network, and the "free" exposure led to drastically increased fundraising success. If you haven’t learned this lesson yet, 2012 is your chance: A mere online presence is no longer enough for campaigns to be viable. A holistic, consistent and innovative emerging media campaign managed by experienced digital political media specialists is what’s required. The smartest campaigns have long since begun this quest. Duke Greenhill is the founder of rEvolutionary Media, a boutique political media firm based in New York. He’s worked races at the federal and presidential level, along with advocacy campaigns and efforts for national 527 groups.