With Election Day upon us, it’s worth taking a look at what small-budget campaigns can be doing online to boost their efforts at the last minute.
As general awareness of the election increases and your supporters respond to your requests for volunteers, the pace of your campaigning in the field should be picking up. If you have the money for advertising or direct mail, you’re rolling it out now. Still, every campaign can add a few online activities to help with the final push.
On the advertising front, whether or not your budget includes television, radio, or direct mail, adding even a small amount of targeted search engine ads into the mix can help catch late-deciding voters as they turn to the web to get themselves up to speed on the election. We’re talking about the small ads you see at the top and on the sides of search results.
While Google has the largest market share and is the service that people commonly think of when discussing search engine advertising, Yahoo and Bing also deliver ads with search results. Your goal here is to make it easy for folks who are just tuning in during the final few weeks to learn about your campaign and direct them to your message.
Take the Google Adwords service as an example: you can select what “keywords” you want to associate with your ad – for example, “Jonestown County Sheriff” or “Mayville election.” You can also select what geographic area your ad will cover – if you are running for county commissioner, you don’t need to advertise across the nation. Most campaigns will want to use the “pay-per-click” option – basically, you pay only when someone clicks on your ad. This gives you a tighter control over your budget and how fast you spend it. Whether you’re spending a few hundred dollars or a few thousand dollars, you’ll be able to fine-tune your message and keyword selections each day based on how people are responding.
On the earned media front, bloggers may be your best opportunity to get extended coverage of your campaign as traditional journalists find themselves hard-pressed to cover even the largest campaigns in your state. If you haven’t already established these relationships, now is the time to reach out to the bloggers who cover your state, particularly the political bloggers.
If you’re running one of those campaigns that just emails press releases to bloggers, stop it right now. You’ll get a much better response if you read what the blogger writes and send them a personal email about your campaign and what you have to say. Think of bloggers as one-person editorial boards and consider how you would prepare for an interview with the editor of your local newspaper.
Don’t forget your supporters who have been signing up for your email list and on your Facebook page. They are expecting to hear from you as the election draws near. Don’t miss the opportunity to give them specific information about absentee voting, early voting, and how they can help get others to the polls. Think of your emails to this group as invitations – it’s OK if you’re sending multiple messages each week as long as you keep them short with a specific call to action. You’ve already convinced these people to support you; now your challenge is to make it easy for someone to say yes to showing up and doing something specific.
You should also be using email to ask your supporters for contributions. Election Day gives you a natural deadline. We’ve seen a lot of campaigns have success with tying contributions to a specific project – buying 3,000 signs or renting the phone system to make 5,000 calls, for example. The more tangible your need, the more people feel that their contribution can really make a difference. It also gives you the opportunity to send out multiple updates on the progress of the project (along with additional solicitations).
This is just a start to what you can be doing online as you prepare for the final push. By all means, try new tools – but only if you have the experience and you aren’t shortchanging the basic tasks of the campaign. These final weeks aren’t the time to distract your campaign by experimenting with unfamiliar tools when your real goal is victory on Election Day.
Steve Pearson is the president of CivicNEXT, which offers social media solutions for campaigns and organizations. Ford O'Connell is the chairman of CivicForumPAC and editor of the Political Quarterback.