The top stories of 2012 tell us that a candidate’s own voice is still the most important communication channel for any campaign to master. The consistently articulate candidate has a formidable tool to push back against negative messaging. For those candidates who can’t stay on message, don’t have a message or have that special talent for mangling the message, there is an inexhaustible supply of aspiring videographers looking for the next “gotcha” clip.
Now that you’ve seen what happens to experienced candidates with debate coaches and media handlers, you may want to think twice about your of-the-cuff remarks at the local diner. In the live-streaming media environment, public events and even many private moments are just a YouTube upload away from worldwide broadcast.
Like a river that has burst its banks, the money that flowed into the political process in 2012 will continue to carve additional paths. You may not see the same eye-popping amounts in your city council race, but look for the pattern of multiple groups spending for or against a candidate to play a role in many state and local contests in the coming years.
The good news is that much of the money that was spent by shadow campaigns seems to have made a lot of noise without delivering the expected results. A strong focus on voter contact and mobilization can still overcome a significant money disadvantage, as the victory of 31-year-old Eric Swalwell over the 20-term incumbent Pete Stark in California’s 15th Congressional District illustrates.
The Pocket Voter
Although micro-data was the buzzword of 2012, the mobile device was the workhorse that turned all of this data into action. For a significant portion of the voting population, the smartphone is the principal channel for receiving information, donating money and responding to requests for action from campaigns. You don’t need to be a teenager to appreciate that an increasing number of voters aren’t answering their kitchen phones or sitting in front of a computer waiting for your banner ad to load at the top of a local newspaper website. If your campaign’s digital strategy—even at the local level—doesn’t incorporate tactics for addressing your supporters via mobile, you’ll be hanging up on a lot of voters.
Alongside the rise of mobile devices, the proliferation of small dollar donation requests points to a realization that fundraising offers more than just money to a campaign. By itself, a $3 contribution is a break-even proposition, but the action of donating establishes the contributor’s commitment to a candidate and opens the door to an ongoing engagement that could be worth much more than the cash value of the initial contact would suggest.
Whether by email, mobile credit card readers or donations via text messaging, small dollar fundraising is a cost-effective way to combine donor prospecting and voter identification that can deliver outsized benefits to campaigns of any size.
Activist Social Media
The social media model has moved beyond accumulating likes and tweets to a more practical focus on personalized contact and engagement. Since 2008, presidential campaigns have made significant investments to develop systems that integrate email, social media, fundraising, volunteer coordination and voter identification to enable very sophisticated targeting and tracking of supporters.
You don’t need a large budget to implement these social CRM and data mining tools, so even if you are not integrating these technologies into your campaign, there’s a good chance your opponent is. Regardless of what technology you use, your key to success will be your ability to adapt to a data-centric mindset and shift your focus from what you say to what your supporters are saying.
Pick Your Path
We see two diverging approaches in how campaigns value data and digital media. One path is crowded with campaigns that approach the process like a takeout menu and try to bolt on a little bit of everything. It’s like dribbling a basketball all over the court and never taking a shot—a lot of energy wasted with no measurable effect.
The other path has campaigns that focus on specific goals, integrate digital tactics seamlessly and relentlessly measure the results. Our suggestion for the former group is to dial it back to the basics and spend your money elsewhere. For the second group, our advice is to remember to incorporate what you learned during your campaign into your constituent service efforts.
Steve Pearson is the president of CivicNEXT. Ford O’Connell is the managing director of Civic Forum Strategies and editor of the Political Quarterback blog.