John Craig: Which technologies do you think will weigh in most heavily in this upcoming election?
Raj Sherman: I think it is going to be a blend of all technologies. Facebook, Twitter and Flickr will play a big role in our campaign and allows us to talk to a large number of people for a minimal cost. In particular, it will allow us to talk to younger voters.
Demon dialing however played a huge roll in my leadership campaign, allowing us to direct over 100,000 people to our website. Once people were on our website, they viewed our videos and made $5-$10 donations to the campaign. We didn’t have the luxury of donations in the order of $10,000 to $15,000 like other parties. We will be using demon dialing again in the provincial election.
Technology is important to us. Being new to politics we were able to use the technology get the message out quickly. However it is just a compliment to the most important form of campaigning, namely face-to-face. Pressing the flesh. People need to be able to look you in the eyes and know they can trust you.
Danielle Smith: My preferred technology is Twitter. I guess that makes me a member of the twitterati. I find Twitter most effective in reaching out to consult with the public and I was able to do that to open a discussion on the new drunk-driving legislation. It gave me a chance to find out what real Albertans thought about having their cars impounded for having a single drink.
I find Facebook less effective. It’s more of a broadcast medium, and I don’t find it as conversation oriented or interactive. Facebook ads are good to drive traffic to the website and we have had good results with YouTube videos. I also believe QR codes and SMS messaging will play a role in mobilizing the campaigns.
However, the most effective technology tool for us is telephone town halls. The traditional town hall is important, and captures a certain demographic, but it’s important to have a medium to reach out to people who don’t have time to stop in for a coffee and stale donuts and bring them into the discussion when it fits their schedule. We had over 15,000 folks tune into our last healthcare and education town halls. It’s one of the most powerful tools we have.
Craig: Twitter and Facebook were used aggressively during the recent political leadership races in Alberta. How do you see the use of Twitter and Facebook shaping up for the general election?
Sherman: I have 3000 Facebook friends on my own personal page. I haven’t switched over to a political page yet, but I may do that as we build out our social media team for the upcoming election. Facebook has helped us to connect to people are politically and technologically aware, and it’s really me answering those posts, so if I’m slow to reply it’s because I have over 600 messages in my inbox waiting to be answered!
Twitter has been effective as well. Most recently we were able to draw attention to the issue of clear cutting in Castle and its impact on the Grizzly bear population there. By revving up the twitter engine we quickly found the issue on the front page of the Calgary Herald without even putting in a call to the paper.
Smith: As mentioned before, I like Twitter. And a lot of that has to do with the fact that the Twitter app is really easy to use from my BlackBerry. The Facebook app is not as user friendly and Hootsuite wasn’t easy to use at all, so Twitter really stuck with me.
But I think most politicians are using social media in the wrong fashion. Most use it as a pure broadcast mechanism. They don’t interact with the public. The discussion has to be interactive and a leader has to respond directly, and I do. Only recently did I give up my Twitter password to my assistant, and that was only in the event of my BlackBerry dying!
Redford just used it as an election tool. She doesn’t do it in office. Nenshi does it well. Rob Anderson does it well. Redford just uses it to broadcast information, I found she stopped engaging once she was elected.
Craig: Do you feel that Twitter and Facebook are effective in helping you find new voters, or does it only target the ones who are already voting for you?
Smith: If you use it right, you can find new voters. We captured new members as a result of the stand I took on the new drunk driving legislation. We also captured new members as a result of my boycott of Chiquita bananas for their anti-oil sands pronouncements. Being bold, and taking out meaningful stances on Twitter has been effective in drawing in support.
Sherman: We are finding Facebook to be the better medium for capturing new voters, as the casual voter tends to hang out there. The crowd on Twitter is mostly hyper-engaged and galvanized to their cause. We haven’t been successful in capturing new votes on Twitter.
Craig: Have you used Twitter or Facebook for a donation/volunteer call to action at all? Was it effective?
Sherman: Nenshi and the Wildrose have fired things up, and social media is table stakes in the current environment, but getting involved is not enough. You have to engage people to perform real-world tasks. We will be building out some custom applications to get supporters, particularly the youth, to login and engage. We are trying to tap into that 21-year old kid in front of a PC who feels strongly about the party and wants to push information out to his friends and neighbors to get involved. We are talking seriously about crowd sourcing fundraising.
Smith: We have been doing money bombs to pay for issue oriented radio ads using email, and we have used Facebook ads to help get the ask out to our supporters. We have been effective in raising $10,000 to $20,000 at a time. I’ve seen it effectively used in online fundraising for emergency causes, such as the Slave Lake fire and I’ve participated in those initiatives, but I’m not sure it’s ready for the prime time in Alberta yet. There is only a very small overall population on Twitter to draw from compared to the mainstream donors and volunteers that aren’t digitally connected.
Craig: Is your use of social media, including YouTube generating earned media? Do you feel the press is picking up on your messaging?
Smith: Members of the press do follow us on Twitter and we retweet their coverage. I’m not sure if this is the reason we are earning media, but we have also been polling in 2nd place for last two years against the PCs and I think that might have something to do with their choice in coverage.
But I think the press might be missing a more important metric. Our direct reach through town halls has been huge. We are able to make 70,000 calls in 3min and get 15,000 people to stay connected. While they are counting my Twitter and Facebook followers and comparing it to the other leaders, it’s our effective use of technologies that create direct voter contact that I feel is helping to drive our success.
Sherman: The media hasn’t picked up as much on me as I’m spending most of my time canvassing door to door! We have added valuable, award winning resources to our election staff that will be helping us with our YouTube campaign, so stay tuned.
I’d also share that Skype has become a very valuable tool for me, as it allows me to be in two places at the same time. Most recently, I was double booked at an event at the Petroleum Club in Calgary and a town hall. During the event at the Petroleum Club, I was able to duck into a phone booth and connect to the town hall using Skype. One attendee was so impressed with my flexibility they stroked a $1000 check on the spot!
Craig: How are you measuring the success of your digital campaigns? What indicators do you personally pay the closest attention to?
Smith: I’ve really kept my eye on how many people show up to town halls. Politics is a human relationship profession. You have to have the opportunity to meet with them and connect with them to make that relationship work.
As an example, I’ve jumped onto Twitter after conducting a town hall to see what the digital buzz has been. Apart from a few tweeters, there wasn’t much interaction. This told me that the folks attending town halls are not on Twitter. They are two different groups of people, and I have to connect with both. However the there are far more people connecting with me on town halls than there are on Twitter.
I think technology has, however, helped us make an impact sooner as a movement, because we can get our message out quickly, and it does allow us to have a meaningful dialog. Since the last election we have built our membership from 11,000 members to 30,000 members. I think the Reform movement, starting in 1986, took about seven years before it made its impact in 1993. The Saskatchewan party took 12 years to come to power. I think technology may be a factor for why we have become mainstream so quickly.
Sherman: The benefit of digital technology and social media is that you can see things working quickly. But there are always questions on which approaches are more efficient, and how you measure them. You have to be active on Facebook and Twitter to get people involved. You have to coax people to work on your behalf. It’s easy to be a wallflower on social media, so it’s up to us to yank them into the dance.
Demon dialing was useful in this regard, but I think we maxed out on the quantity with demon dialing. Ed Stellmach even received two calls from us to vote in our leadership race! We received complaints, but the technology was effective and is here to stay. We now need to fine-tune the targeting and quality of the engagement, and for that we are bringing in more live callers to follow up on the demon dialers to capture votes.
Craig: What old school approaches to campaigning, particularly radio, TV and lawn signs do you still favor?
Sherman: TV, for my campaign, is simply too darn expensive. It was TV advertising that put our party in over $1M in debt. We can’t afford to spend more than we take in. For our party, community newspapers will be key. I prefer lawn signs to expensive billboards and I like to concentrate my efforts on putting lawn signs on home lawns versus public property. Lawn signs on people’s personal lawns means votes for our party.
Then I have my trucks. I have a red Ford and a red Dodge truck. Both have my picture and website on them, and when we roll into a town we drive to the coffee shops and gas stations. We get 70-100 hits on our website every time we take the truck somewhere. It’s been very effective to capturing the public’s attention.
Smith: I like all of them. I’m a huge fan of trailer signs and door knocking.
Craig: Which old school approach would you most wish to forego?
Smith: None really. The real cost of any campaign is TV advertisements. For me, it’s the most effective way to introduce myself to mainstream, neutral voters. That 6-9pm prime time TV spot is the most expensive and most effective. I’ll always spend on that above all other old school approaches.
Sherman: I wish I had that luxury of foregoing traditional campaigning! I’m planning on running in the next two elections and I’ll run it with the same tenacity as Steve Nash. I’ll be door-knocking the day after the first election to get ready for the next. I’ll run my party and the election the same way I run my own household. I’ll only spend what I have, and I plan to make sure there is some money in the bank to keep us going.
Craig: Do you still use polling firms in your campaign strategy? Do you find them effective in helping you make decisions?
Sherman: I was offered polling for a few thousand dollars in my leadership race and found that I did better going door to door. I get better results than pollsters going door to door than paying for them to find out what I’m hearing every day in the street.
Smith: We use polling firms and focus groups to test campaign messages and adverting spots, but I don’t put a lot of stock in polling in the party horserace. The pollsters and their landline dialing panels aren’t cutting it and they are missing the mark. Just this past week there were two wildly different polls issued by Focus and Leger. If the poll shows you are behind, it can demoralize your team, if you are ahead, your team might coast. You just have to look at the come from behind victories of Paul Henman and Nenshi to know not to take a great deal of stock in polls.
Craig: In the US, online ad clicks have been shown as precursor measures of election success, most particularly in the case of the election of Chris Christie in New Jersey. There is an argument that they can effectively replace polling. If you had to decide between spending cash on scientific polling vs. online ads, which would you favor?
Sherman: When you are late to the party you don’t stop to check the time. If you can get the accuracy of a poll with ads and click-through rates, I’ll go for the ads every time.
Smith: Definitely online advertising. Polling can be good to test ideas, but it’s not a reliable predictor of election success. To be effective in online advertising, you need to know your target audience, and get that message in front of them in a timely fashion. If it proves out to predict success, I’ll be sure to keep my eye on it.
John Craig is the VP of Sales and Marketing at Purple Forge (www.purpleforge.com) that provides iPhone applications to politicians and political parties across North America, in the UK and elsewhere. John was named to the 2011 Aristotle Dream Team for Mobile Campaigning around the Globe.