Think big in 2017

Think big in 2017

So Trump is our President. What do we do now? Last month I wrote a general overview on what to do with your digital infrastructure after a race, and the lessons still hold true. What else?

We’re in a unique moment, with a president-elect who has never before held public office, and a historically unpopular agenda. There’s unprecedented levels of anger and frustration in our country. You can see it with the street-level protests, and in the donations pouring into well-known progressive activist groups.

Planned Parenthood and the ACLU have already seen surges of donations. In the former, many of those donations were given in the name of Mike Pence — a hook other groups could look at replicating.

Meanwhile, various Democratic groups at all levels have been flooded with new activists and volunteers.

So what to do with this new energy? Think big.

Rules for Revolutionaries: How Big Organizing Can Change Everything talks about the organizing they did online and offline for Bernie Sanders. One of their lessons is to empower your volunteers to build the organization itself. This can be a new way of thinking about online organizing. Your email list isn’t just an ATM. Rather, it should be looked at as a membership and volunteer list: every person on your list has unique skills and talents. Use them fully.

Don’t limit your reach by only asking supporters to click on petitions and give money, or for volunteers to sit around and stuff envelopes. Consider asking your best supporters to do more. Help define your work and the direction you should go. Ask them to step up and own parts of the 2017 plan. Set your supporters free, and see what you can build together.

The Sanders campaign learned how much empowered volunteers can accomplish when you set them free and think big. You can do the same.

What do you do post-election?

What do you do post-election?

It’s the end of an era, President Obama’s term is over and we’re living under Trump rule now. Candidates of all stripes can learn from example of what to do after the campaign or elected office ends.

From Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton to a city council race, what you do with your website, email list and social media after Election Day is crucial to your political future– if you want one.

Sanders has taken a popular route — similar to the one Howard Dean took after 2004 — by shifting his campaign over to a new organization. Dean for America became Democracy for America, and the Sanders campaign has become Our Revolution. That makes sense for a presidential-level campaign, with volunteers and resources in all 50 states. Note that Sanders isn’t necessarily prepping to run again, unlike Ted Cruz, who is keeping his campaign more or less under direct control. The Sanders social media accounts are still active and in his voice, which makes sense because he’s built an audience he wants to maintain engagement with.

Hillary Clinton has mostly stepped off the stage, which means the HFA infrastructure she’s built is sitting there unused. She’s slowly started tweeting again, but the future for her (and her campaign) is unclear.

Barack Obama’s OFA infrastructure has revved up after January 20, with on-the-ground organizing of events and his own social media accounts picking up activity. He may be one of the most active former presidents we’ve seen, as his legacy is directly threatened by Trump.

What you can learn from this is that your supporter base is invaluable. But you must keep in touch. Keep emailing your list periodically, keep your social media accounts active to keep your relationship with your supporters alive. It may or may not make sense to transfer your infrastructure to a separate organization, but either way it needs to be maintained.

Make sure that you have full access to everything before the campaign formally ends – if other people were posting to social media and on the website, sending mass emails for the campaign, you will want to make sure you have all logins and passwords to continue, and any instructions needed to operate the mass email software or update the website.

Aim for at least one email a month, if you can, to keep people up to date on what you’re doing on the issues you campaigned on. Social media updates should be more frequent than that – if you don’t have time to put a lot of content out on Facebook and Twitter, perhaps link the two so content is cross-posted. This isn’t generally a good idea, but it’ll do in a pinch.

Make sure to tidy up the campaign website so it has current content info, and old campaign info is hidden or gone. The site itself should be evergreen enough to carry on for another year or two without touching. Make sure the domain name and website hosting is renewed, and the contact info for the registration goes to a real person so it doesn’t slip through the cracks and get captured by spammers (or an opponent).

Finally, be sure to shut down any online fundraising pages, remove donate buttons and links from the website and social media so you don’t need to deal with contribution refunds after the fact.

If all this digital infrastructure is properly maintained, you will have a real boost up when running for office in the future. Or for changing the world as an activist outside the system.

Evaluating your organization or campaign’s existing online profile & resources

Evaluating your organization or campaign’s existing online profile & resources

With a new year almost upon us, it’s time to take digital stock. Whenever I begin working with a new organization, I start by evaluating where they’re at digitally. I’ve walked into a campaign before to find out that email signups on the website are going nowhere! Or that fundraising is a separate system and online donors are not integrated into your mass email stream. Perhaps the campaign has an old Twitter handle from four years ago, and nobody knows the password anymore. Or somebody is squatting on the domain name of your organization because nobody renewed it. Without taking a thorough top-down look, it’s easy for things to slip through the cracks – especially if the organization or campaign has been on digital autopilot for awhile.

So how do you get started in evaluating your organization’s digital program, and planning for the future? Begin by cataloguing all your digital assets, and making sure you have passwords to everything (or start reaching out to Facebook, Twitter etc. to try to get access back to old social media properties).

Here’s some basic questions to ask to help build that digital inventory.


Does your campaign or organization have a website? What technology is it using – it is using one of the popular CMSs (content management system, a la WordPress or Joomla or NationBuilder) or is it custom-coded? How easy is it to manage and update? Is it mobile responsive? Is your website meeting your needs: who is your intended audience, and can they easily do the things they need and want to do? How much are you paying for regular maintenance, and web hosting? What does your typical amount of traffic look like, and are you prepared for surges? Do you have full admin access to the site, or are you dependent on outside consultants? What domain names do you have registered, are they under your name, and how long is the registration good until? Does the website include an easy way to sign up for email updates, make a donation, and find your social media accounts?

CRM (Mass email, online donations, online activism)

Do you have an email list or lists? What CRM are you using, if any (a la ActionKit, Action Network, BlueUtopia, Convio, NationBuilder, NGP VAN, Salsa)? What does your contract and costs look like? Does your CRM meet your advocacy and donation needs? Do you have full admin access to the list? What’s the size of your list today, and how does your email list perform over time? When’s the last time an email was sent to the list? (If it’s more than a month or so, expect a pretty large drop-off from bounces/unsubscribes the next time you do an email). Do you have orphan lists, left in non-integrated donation systems such as ActBlue or an old NGP account, on paper (such as volunteer sign in sheets or meeting attendance sheets), or in old CRMs?

Social Media

What social media properties do you have? Do you have passwords and full admin access to everything? Do any names of pages or accounts need to be changed or updated? What do your audiences look like in terms of raw numbers, and in terms of engagement level? Are there duplicate Facebook pages out there, personal Facebook profiles instead of pages and so on?

Setting Goals

Once you’ve taken stock of where you at, and noted what needs improving, you can start to set numeric goals (benchmark average website traffic, email list size and open/click rate, social media followers and engagement rate, average amount of donations per email etc.).

If you’re wondering how your numbers compare to other non-profits, check out M&R benchmarks, the latest benchmarks study comparing online fundraising, advocacy and organizing for 105 nonprofits around the country. There isn’t anything so transparent for political campaigns, but you can observe your opponents’ social media counts and engagement levels (and their campaign finance filings) to get a sense of how their digital operation is running.

If you’re trying to figure out what are realistic goals on how big you can get, Facebook advertising can be a good tool for this: you can pull counts of how many people across the country are interested in your issue, or how many voters of your party live in your city, region or state. What % of your target audience have you already engaged with?

Once you have an idea of how big you could realistically get, you’re probably wondering how to get there. For your reading pleasure: how to grow your email list.

Taking Advantage of Google

Taking Advantage of Google

Libertarian candidate for President Gary Johnson is telling people to Google him, and I was curious about why. Gary Johnson’s search results aren’t bad, per se. He doesn’t have a Santorum problem. His campaign website does come up first in organic, there isn’t anything negative in the first page of results and so on. But there’s a lot more Gary Johnson could be doing to take advantage of his time in the spotlight- especially if he’s getting tons of exposure via earned media.
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Dirty digital tricks for campaigns and non-profits

Dirty digital tricks for campaigns and non-profits

CampaignTech Chicago is coming up fast, where I will be holding a panel to talk about the seamy underbelly of digital politics. How can you defend against dark arts by other campaigns — or launch your own attacks? Here’s a sneak peak, but you’ll need to attend to get all of our tricks!

What’s in a name?

Make sure you own your own domain names – and check to see whether your opponents have left some obvious ones on the market. This can happen to any level of campaign – Ted Cruz and many others learned it the hard way. You’d be surprised how many campaigns and IEs fail to cover their bases on this one. It’s not only embarrassing, and a potential news story, but there could be some seo effects as well.

Trolling on social media

We’re all aware of the horror stories of politicians + Twitter. Since many politicians handle their own Twitter accounts, this is a way you can get under your opponent’s skin and enable them to make a self-inflicted wound. Start a parody Twitter account and they may personally freak out and make it a story – or in Trump’s case, Gawker played right into his vanity. (Twitter policy on parody accounts here.)

Also you can get your own fan base to flood their mentions with a particular message or issue – annoying for them, entertaining for you. Trolling bonus points if you can enrage their supporters too.

Note that this is definitely happening already on the Presidential level.

Take over search

Google adwords can be a pretty inexpensive tool – be sure to run them on your opponent’s name as well as your own. Going back to domains, if you own a good domain with their name on it, this would be a good place to amplify the content via paid search & social as well as some search engine optimization so it shows up high in organic results too. The Santorum googlebomb was all organic, as far as I know.

These are just a few examples of ways your campaign can harness the power of the dark side, digitally speaking. Come to our session in Chicago to find out more, and be sure to contact PowerThru if you need help defending against some dark arts — or perhaps launching your own.

How to write an effective mass email

How to write an effective mass email

I’ve written before about general online fundraising tips and online advocacy tips, but what makes a good mass email for a non-profit or political campaign — for fundraising or advocacy — in the first place?

Consider that people don’t read email like they read a novel. Most people are skimming the content, especially if they are using a mobile device and/or multi-tasking.

This means you should make sure your email is easy to read. Use short sentences, and highlight key text. Can people understand your message by only reading the bolded parts? Use simple language too – don’t write over the heads of much of your audience.
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What digital lessons can we learn from the 2016 awards season?

What digital lessons can we learn from the 2016 awards season?

Now that the campaign awards season has mostly wrapped up, what can we learn from the winners? The Reed Awards recognize “excellence in political campaigning, campaign management, political consulting and political design.” The winners for 2015 campaigns were announced a couple months ago in Charleston, and you can see the complete list here. Full disclosure, PowerThru won “Best County/Local/Judicial Candidate Website”. The 2015 winners for the Pollie Awards (the political communications and public affairs industries) were announced earlier this month in Puerto Rico, full list here and the first round of the Goldies Awards were announced a month ago, winners here.

What can we learn from these awards about emerging digital best practices for campaigns?
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How to get started with social media

How to get started with social media

If you’re launching a new non-profit or campaign, there’s a lot that needs to be done digitally to start (more tips here on how to successfully launch your campaign or non-profit) but I wanted to talk about social media in particular, since it’s the piece that candidates — or executive directors are likely to get tunnel vision on.

You might be lucky and your candidate already has active social media accounts to start, or you may be able to colonize old inactive social media accounts for your non-profit. If so, how do you reshape and relaunch? Or what if you’re starting from scratch?
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