While most political pundits are focused on federal elections and developing story lines of billionaire-funded independent expenditures, another hugely important political effort is underway in many of America’s major cities—the battle for control of the Senate. Right now, 2015 mayoral elections are shaping up in Chicago, Philadelphia, Dallas, and other key metropolitan areas.
With federal government at an impasse for the foreseeable future, many people believe city governments have more impact on our day-to-day life, making mayoral races important battleground for policy innovation. Here at NationBuilder, we've been hard at work providing the organizing technology for dozens of major municipal efforts, not just in the US, but in Europe, Australia, and South and Central America, too.
You wouldn’t compare a five-year-old Blackberry with a touchscreen smartphone purchased last week. The same idea applies to campaigning—from a technology perspective, tactics used by candidates in 2011 will likely be completely insufficient in 2015.
In that spirit, here are some cutting-edge tactical suggestions for candidates quietly gearing up for next year's contests.
1. Build a full-scale digital field program.
Density is increasing in urban cores and more new voters are flocking to city centers. Well-educated young professionals, likely voters, are moving into large apartment building that can't be canvassed by traditional methods. (Unless you hire that pizza coupon guy who somehow always gets to my door.)
Luckily, there's an easy way to talk with them: they're all on social media. This is where NationBuilder Match comes into play. If you append emails to your voter file, we'll directly link voter records to Facebook, Linkedin, Twitter, and Klout accounts for the voter. Instead of spamming voters with emails, you'll be able to canvass them online, with the click of a button. Better yet, the results are saved directly in your database—no data entry required.
Campaigns have started calling this tactic a "tweetbank," and in some cases it yields upwards of 25% positive ID's on the first pass - far greater than your normal canvass or phone banking effort.
2. Use social media to greatly expand grassroots fundraising efforts.
Good government advocates often decry the influence of money in politics, and I agree. Except when donating becomes a step toward deeper civic involvement through a strong grassroots fundraising effort.
Campaigns often take very good care of their thousand dollar donors, but what about the $50 donor who can get 20 more friends to donate the same amount? This person is probably even more valuable because s/he is engaging so many more people, which is especially valuable in low turnout, off-year municipal elections.
There are two key reasons NationBuilder customers have the big advantage in finding these donors. First, you can sort for donors and rank them by social media influence. Second, "recruiter links" are automatically built in. This means that if supporter Bob donates via a link from supporter Amy, Bob’s record in NationBuilder will show you that Bob was recruited by Amy, and vice versa.
As a bonus, we can also show a rank ordering of your best recruiters in a leaderboard on your website. Heck, here's a double-bonus: At the end of the campaign, it’s really simple for all of your grassroots raisers to host their own events through the NationBuilder "Host Your Own Event" tool.
3. Treat all social media interactions like a request to volunteer.
Imagine your neighbor saying, “I like your dog” on Monday. You don't respond, but on Tuesday you ask him if you can borrow $20. It doesn’t make sense and it sounds like you weren’t listening. This is the conversation many campaigns have with their online supporters when their email list doesn't filter social media interactions. It doesn't matter how well you've a/b tested the email, you're still pretty much the weird neighbor.
Any big city campaign will have dozens of online conversations each day. You might be thinking, "Yeah, I understand, but how do I track all of that?" Well, NationBuilder will do it for you. Whenever someone tweets, follows, retweets, comments on Facebook, likes your post, rsvp's, or shares, the interaction automatically appends to his/her record.
All you have to do is run a 20-second daily search for people who took that action the day before and then directly ask them to volunteer. Or give. Or come to the next event. Whatever makes sense. Just respond to, "You have the cutest dog," with, "Great, will you join dog owners for X?" This timely, direct, and personal ask will yield much greater results than all of the hours spent writing slightly different variations of the same email subject line.
4. Run a continual cell phone number capture program.
This one might seem obvious, but there's a big difference in levels of execution between savvy campaigns and the majority who miss the mark. Every single you time you send an email to a supporter s/he is overall less likely to read it. Every day, impersonal emails become less and less valuable, because more and more emailers are flooding inboxes.
But, people always read a text message. Instantly.
Cutting through the clutter when it's most important means having supporter cell phone numbers and blast text capabilities. NationBuilder built these capabilities into it’s tool set in a special way. Campaigns can now accept event RSVP's by text, ask for petition signatures by text, and increase sign-up rates during speeches drastically by using text keywords.
Imagine this—instead of your candidate closing out a speech by asking the audience to go on the website and volunteer, s/he says, "Take out your phone and text WIN to xxx-xxx-xxxx, and we'll automatically add you to our list.” Do that at every event and, before you know it, you'll have newly engaged volunteers like you're Barack Obama.
5. Build social proof into your website.
2015 will be a busy year. Your mayoral campaign will be competing with Presidential efforts gearing up, advocacy efforts pushing a lame duck White House, and general exhaustion from 2014. There's only one hidden-but-powerful tool you can use to get people out of their houses and active in your campaign: the fact that their friends are doing it. Social scientists refer to this phenomenon as "social proof."
The single most irreplaceable benefit campaigns get from building their website on NationBuilder's platform is the ability to show a site visitor that her friends are doing the exact same thing you want her to do. All of our pages include a sign up now prompt that features NationBuilder "social sliders"—social proof in the names and pictures of other people who have taken action.
This is particularly helpful with a Vote Pledge page that asks people to commit their support. I can now view the pledge page and see other people just like me. And the effect is additive - the more people who take part, the more benefit you get from social proof.
If you want to learn more about how NationBuilder features can work for your campaign, give me a shout.