Political Campaigning in the Time of Covid-19
Updated: Apr 21, 2020
I was on a roll. I was finishing up a client's SEO and getting ready to implement a bunch of digital initiatives and watch her win when it all came to a screeching halt.
#covid-19 had crashed into the house.
Most of the candidates moved to push their Facebook and Instagram efforts in high gear, but is that all they could do? In a field where women were already disadvantaged, Covid-19 seemed like one more obstacle in their way.
I was working with Megan Park of Putting Women in Their Place, leading digital implementation for some of her clients. Putting Women in Their Place is an organization dedicated to, well, putting women in their place - the White House or House of Representatives, or the Statehouse; she has dedicated her life to helping elect women to public offices across the country. Is this important? You bet! Just check out this graph from The Center for Responsive Politics.
The first woman elected to Congress—Jeannette Rankin (R-MO)—was elected to the House of Representatives in 1916, four years before the ratification of the nineteenth amendment which won women the right to vote nationally. Since 1916, while the number of women voters has surged, the number of women elected to Congress has advanced far more slowly. Here you can see the gender breakdown of how many women have held office in Congress since 1989. - Center for Responsive Politics
So as the "quarantine" took effect and I watched various digital efforts go viral (think Virtual Tipping Jar and DJ D-Nice Virtual Club), Megan and I went back and forth on how political candidates can benefit from similar efforts - Virtual Town halls, Virtual Canvassing, and Virtual Meetings.
Here are some of the ideas we've played around with that political candidates can adopt:
So what you can't go door to door anymore, that doesn't mean you can't go phone to phone. Going phone to phone or computer to computer is precisely what needs to be done. With so many people lounging around and developing carpal tunnel from excessive phone use, IP address marketing has never looked so good. Expensive, you say? It brings me to point #2.
DIGITAL AD COLLABORATIONS
The price of IP marketing is high, but what's to stop candidates from the same party running for different offices to create bold messaging around platform issues like healthcare, infrastructure, education, food security, and other safety-net programs - all prominent topics these days from buying ads together? Our thought process here is: instead of "Vote for Jane Doe," the call to action becomes "VOTE BLUE/RED. VOTE FOR X, Y, and Z".
VIRTUAL TOWN HALLS
Virtual Town Halls are not new. The ones I tried to be part of, I left after about 10 mins. They are certified snoozers. Enter New Rules for Virtual Town Halls: create a party atmosphere, have candidates bring a beverage, have the audience bring drinks, play virtual ice-breakers, create watching parties, set the mood by cueing the campaign's theme song and, if possible, "design" a theme in the background on your live feed. HAVE FUN. If you were part of the Club Quarantine phenomenon, you know what I mean. A virtual event seeking to sign-up 40 000 voters ended signing up 400 000!
As with the Town Halls, creativity is the key here. Virtual Meetings replace the small group meeting candidates would have had. Since attendees only see the upper body, have meeting attendees wear their favorite earrings (thanks Megan Park for this idea), or hat or do that crazy make-up they keep for Halloween - create themes that appeal to the group so content can live on the groups or attendee's social media long after the session ends.
VIRTUAL FUNDRAISER EVENTS
Can't get that $100 event going anymore? Wait up, because it can still totally happen! Let's think in the abstract here, what virtual experience can you give your supporters that they will pay $100+ to see or experience or hear? IRL, you might seek out a keynote speaker; for virtual, you might seek out a virtual reality option or the opportunity to participate in an online class given by Barack Obama. Influencers tend to be more available for online opportunities. They are more affordable and less taxing. Still expensive to get the influence you want? Consider partnering with other candidates and leveraging each other's resources.
Know how NPR does fund drives using text messaging? Your campaign should be doing the same. Send fundraiser texts with your "why." Don't make these too long, just a short, "Donate to Jane Doe for Congress because she supports reproductive justice and will uphold Roe v. Wade". Change the "why" the next time you text so voters start to understand where you stand on a wide range of issues. One of those issues will resonate and convert at least once. According to nonprofitscource.com, mobile/online donations have been perfected by the non-profit industry, which saw an increase in mobile giving by 205% in 2019. There are huge gains to be made by political campaigns as well.
SOCIAL MEDIA MARKETING
The mother of all digital, it almost goes without saying. Yet, there are so many ways to use social media to drive voters to donate and also show up at the polls. If there's anything to be said about social media, its two things: Influencers and Targeting. Influencers will bring the critical mass needed to line campaign coffers while targeting will make sure everyone who needs to go and vote has heard/seen your message at least five times and can easily identify/recall a candidate's name and their party affiliation.
Every campaign needs Digital Analytics to identify gaps and opportunities in their digital game. What do I mean? Here is just one of many scenarios: Say you have 5 000 followers on FB; each of these followers can be grouped into a distinct persona based on where they are in their lifecycle journey and so forth. So let's say one of these persona groups is comprised of 200-second generation immigrants between the ages of 18-25 who are avid Facebook users and are likely to donate via mobile giving. If you're like most campaigns, you have done all you can to reach out to this group and have had some successes. You're happy with your Facebook strategy and your Facebook Insights show how successful you are. However, are you aware that a similar group exists on another Social Media platform but that group hardly ever uses Facebook? Without proper digital tools, a campaign might never meet this group of potential donors. In the digital world, these are called "Lookalike audiences" because they look exactly like your current audience but you're yet to meet them. Analytical digital tools can make a big difference in campaigns as traditional tools often concentrate on a singular platform and miss these opportunities.
VIRTUAL WHITE GLOVE SERVICE
We often hear that elections are made or broken by who can get the most voters to get up and go. Enter your virtual white-glove service army. After weeks of careful engagement and teaching why voting is important, it should be easy to get-up and go vote, right? No so. But what if the answer lies in the process and ultimately in mailing the ballot? Can campaigns work 1:1 with constituents to look up their polling stations, see where they're registered, assist with absentee voting for those who qualify, and early voting for others? What can campaigns do online to create this white-glove service and use younger volunteers who are agile with digital tools?
ADS WITH A TWIST
Ads are not new, but Boris Johnson's Ad asking the British to vote no to staying in the European Union made me smile. If we have learned anything from the current President and his brand of politics, it's that voters love personality. If Hillary had shown the side of her that she showed in the Hulu documentary, she would have won, so out with the bland campaign videos and give us ads that show personality!
Create evergreen content that can be converted and shared across all platforms. Most businesses know that content is king. Customers no longer want to just buy a commodity; they want to understand where it came from, who made it and how much damage it causes for them to have it. The woke generation won't accept things as they are. The same applies to politics. A popular belief among politicians is that creating content and developing unambiguous stances only serve to give the opponent ammunition to knock you down. Maybe, but it only holds water if you're hypocritical with your views. If you're running for something, you better be able to defend your stance unapologetically. If you can't, then be open-minded about it and let people know that you're "evolving" on the matter.
PODCASTING In the last three or so years, Podcasts have blown the lid off the broadcasting field. Consider these facts from stitcher.com, a leading Podcast streaming service: Over 51% of the US population has listened to a Podcast and 31% of the population have listened to a Podcast in the last month. 62 million people listen to Podcasts each week. One of the key aspects of Podcast success is the niche audience. There are over 750,000 Podcasts out there with most covering very specific topics. A podcast, done thoughtfully on a topic(s) voters will find appealing is just one more way a candidate can complete their digital domination and make sure they leave no voter untouched!
Last but certainly not least is a good working Website. Most candidates have Websites, but not all Websites are created equal. Rather than create a Website for the sole purpose of fundraising, a Website should be informative. A potential voter should be able to visit a Website and get informed on various issues from who's endorsing the Candidate to where the Candidate stands on multiple issues. Websites should be a resource of information for voters and activate voters to either sign-up to volunteer, donate money, or contact the campaign. Voters will not do any of these if the website does not inspire them to action.
What are other ways you think candidates can implement to enhance their digital footprint? We would love to know!
If you're a woman candidate and would love to work/collaborate with Putting Women in their Place out to Megan Park.