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hfeature-profile.pngDuring the ‘08 presidential primary, precinct captains in Massachusetts were given access to voter data from a previous race - the ‘06 gubernatorial - for the first time. No one knew it then but this move had a huge impact on the race. The tactic sounds simple...but it’s not. Giving a precinct captain access to data means you have to set up specific permission sets, so he or she only sees a subset of the data (as opposed to everything). On top of that, the data needs to be editable but secure enough that any major issues can be undone. All of this requires extensive training and changes the fundamental job description of a field operative. Ironically, while George W. Bush was talking about the “ownership society,” Democrats were building this exact concept into their field operations, out of the necessity that comes with being underfunded. 

The problem with the data ownership model is that it only applies to the voter ID, not anything that happens after the ID takes place. But basic contact info, vote history, and support level is only a small fraction of what defines the relationship between the campaign and the voter. We also need to know if a voter has ever donated money, is willing to volunteer, sign petitions, and the voter’s social influence. There’s a big difference between an identified supporter who has 2,000 Twitter followers and one who has no presence in the community—the former should be targeted to become a campaign leader.

The way campaigns run is also changing. Outside groups are engaging voters and raising dollars well in advance of the race, and opportunities to engage years before election day are proliferating rapidly. We know the candidate with the strongest base almost always wins. We also know that a full-fledged field ID program can’t occur until the public is largely engaged.

So, how can you build a “Digital Precinct Captain System” and use it to develop a super-engaged base?

1. Collect better contact info in your database.
Not just “field” contact info like phone numbers and home address, but also “digital” contact info like Twitter, Facebook, and Linkedin. This is what NationBuilder Match, named “Innovative Product of the Year” by Campaigns and Elections Magazine, accomplishes—it turns an email address into a person.

2. Give precinct captains access to far more relationship data.
Critical actions of digital engagement are things like small dollar contributions and willingness to volunteer, so you should automatically sync these actions with the voter record. And for the first time in politics, NationBuilder’s people tab brings together social info and complete contact history into every supporter record.

3. Design a permission structure more advanced than, “Here’s all of the people in the precinct.”
You have to decide who can email, who can download, etc. You’ll also want to establish a real “point person” for recruited individuals, so you also need to track how someone joins the campaign online. NationBuilder’s recruiter links and online tools do this automatically.

4. Record online engagements the same way you’d record a phone call or a door knock.
Ideally, Twitter and Facebook actions would magically appear in the voter file. This would require a “CRM” to be built into the file. NationBuilder does this, too.

5. Open up all of this new data to digital precinct captains, assign them as point people for swaths of your online community, and have them directly communicate with supporters from a much more advanced platform.
Your goals: spread your message, recruit influentials, take online actions to support a cause, and raise money. This requires the website functions to directly feed into the database. For example, a petition signed online would also appear in the voter file CRM. This is why you build your website on NationBuilder’s platform as opposed to Wordpress—it all automatically comes back to your data.

To recap, here’s how it would work from the perspective of the digital precinct captain (as opposed to the campaign manager perspective).

  • I’m appointed a digital captain. I fill in a profile and get my own “recruiter link” for fundraising, volunteer recruiting, etc. Anyone who visits through my link is assigned to me.
  • I can click to log in to my control panel through the site because it remembers my admin settings.
  • Once logged in, I see everyone I’m in charge of engaging, and most of them are already in my social network because the data is connected to social media accounts.
  • I can see their social info and communicate online directly from the platform, and record online actions as contacts.
  • The campaign prompts me to engage in a particular action. I log in, engage everyone assigned to me, and every interaction is logged and tracked in the database.
  • Now, instead of just calling people, I’m reaching targets in a high ROI, deeply personal way. As I engage people, they become digital precinct captains too, and engage their social network the same way.
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