How Covid-19 Changed Political Campaigns Forever
None of us will ever forget 2020. It was a crazy year that seemed to change everything, including political campaigns.
When candidates for office couldn’t knock on doors, attend events, or shake hands with voters because of the pandemic, campaign staffs all over the country had to scrap their field plans and scramble to come up with new ideas. Some did it very successfully, while others struggled.
One thing is clear, 2020 was the year when digital organizing took center stage in political campaigns. Any candidate for office, especially first-time candidates, needs to understand the basics of digital organizing and begin to utilize it immediately if their campaign is going to be effective in 2022.
So, what is digital organizing?
Political organizing is the art and science of building personal relationships with people. These relationships can be leveraged to raise funds, recruit volunteers, and turn out voters. Digital organizing is using technology tools to accomplish all of this online. Covid-19 took away the tools of traditional political organizing - knocking on doors, clipboards, weekly gatherings. The campaigns that were successful in 2020 were able to use technology tools to do this same work.
Even though the pandemic is waning, most Americans still have an online life. Successful campaigns from here on out must be able to take the lessons of 2020 and transfer them forward for elections to come. Digital organizing isn’t just the future. It is the present.
What is the difference between digital organizing and digital campaigning?
Digital organizing isn’t the same thing as digital campaigning. Many first-time candidates can get them confused. Digital campaigning is using online tools to get you as the candidate and your message in front of voters. Examples of digital campaigning are going live on Facebook to talk about an issue, running targeted and retargeted ads, and having a quality website. All of these broadcast to an audience who the candidate is and what the candidate believes.
The critical difference to remember is that digital organizing is about building relationships. Relationships require two-way communication. Engagement. Listening. Connection.
What are some examples of digital organizing?
There are many different types of digital organizing and numerous platforms which enable it to be done easily and affordably. It’s beyond the scope of this article to outline all of them, but let me give you a few examples.
We all hate getting those spammy texts that clearly are being pushed out to thousands, or even millions, of people all at once. Smart political campaigns know not to be spammy. However, we all love to get texts from real people who want to listen to us and engage with us. Many of the campaign platforms available to candidates allow peer-to-peer texting. Peer-to-peer texting enables a trained campaign volunteer to text voters that the campaign has engaged with, answering their questions in real-time and inviting them to be more involved in the campaign. Since everyone always has their phone right at hand, peer-to-peer texting is an ideal way to instantaneously relationship-build with voters.
Endorsements are a big part of any political campaign, but have you considered that maybe the personal endorsement of a voter in your area might actually translate into more votes than an endorsement from a national organization or party? Many digital organizing platforms allow your current supporters to seamlessly message their friends and encourage them to support you too. Campaigns can use gamification to track which volunteers have networked with the most friends and with the best results. Prizes, swag, and bragging rights can be given to those who excel. There is nothing like a little bit of competition amongst the team to dramatically improve the impact of your digital outreach.
Many organizations and candidates use online petitions to build their contact lists. Petitions are a low-bar opportunity for engagement with people who care about the same things you do. For instance, a local candidate for city council could use an online petition about the proposed development of a public park to communicate their support of the park and to collect the names and contact information of voters in their city. Petitions are easily shared on social media platforms like Facebook. And, the campaign knows that the voters care about this issue and can reference it when sending them a text or email.
These are just a few examples of digital organizing. With creativity and commitment, the opportunities to reach voters through digital organizing are endless.
Where should I begin?
Digital organizing can feel overwhelming at first. I highly recommend finding a platform that can manage your digital organizing efforts at a scale appropriate for your campaign. Don’t try to text hundreds of voters from your own messaging app. The investment in a digital organizing platform will reap dividends for your campaign.
Look for opportunities to collect data. The best data you can get is from people who have engaged with your campaign - people who you chatted with at the farmer’s market, people who came to an event, people who visit your website. Have ways for people to give you their contact information and then use it to build relationships with them.
There are so many critical aspects of running a successful campaign for office, whether it’s local, state, or federal. Digital organizing is just one of them. That’s why I’ve put together an online course that will walk you through, step-by-step, how to run for office. It is going to launch soon. When it does, you’ll want to be the first to know.
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