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Size Doesn’t Matter. It’s How You Use It.

by mturk

Most people who run online campaigns are used to questions about list size.  “How big is our list? How can we get more emails? How can we reach 100k, 200k, a million or more?”  Rarely do the higher ups ask “How many of our people actually read our messages?  How many actually took action on an ask?”

Size is often all that matters.

While most corporate marketing programs focus on the ROI of the list – specifically looking at cost of acquisition, open/response/conversion rates, and lifetime value of the contact – most political and advocacy organizations focus solely on how many names are in the database.  It’s flawed thinking.

Here are a couple of ways to get more from your list without obsessively focusing on the number.

Voter Registration

One of the first questions political campaigns should ask is “How many of our email addresses are matched to a registered voter?”  Campaigns may be surprised to learn that nearly half of their email supporters can’t actually vote because they are not registered.

List appends are typically reserved for adding marginal, opt-out addresses to your file. These addresses are often unresponsive and only serve to clutter your file.  They end up being the Zombies that bring down a healthy list.

Campaigns should instead consider a physical address match to their file.  Many vendors will take your email addresses and provide you with a matched name and physical address.  You can then compare your email file to registration roles.

The benefits are clear.  Identifying your unregistered voters allows you to get them registered.  That’s obvious.  What may be less obvious though is the value of that particular voter.  They came to you.  This isn’t a random grocery store/county fair acquired voter.  These people are interested in your campaign, more likely to turn out if asked by you, and, most importantly, much easier to move to activist status with some work.

They should be guaranteed votes for your campaign – which most untargeted voter registration efforts can’t claim. More importantly, they can easily become your super-activists.

Make Your Emails Personal

Most campaigns think of email in two capacities – as a source of funds, or as recipients of information.  Campaign emails either ask for money, or distribute press releases and random messages.  Rarely do they put more thought into an ongoing relationship.

Think about the types of material the visitor is likely to receive – news or volunteer opportunities.  Those are pretty much it.  Yet many email programs don’t recognize even that basic distinction.

Many campaigns have a simple “Sign up for News” option on their page.  They typically ask for minimal information like first name, email, and maybe a zip code.

The trouble with this approach is it acts as a bait and switch for your supporter.  That person will likely get volunteer information, finance asks, and the news they actually asked for.

Instead, consider asking them to sign up, but include checkboxes for the type of material they want – news and volunteer activities.

News Subscribers

If they choose news, greet them with a message from the Communications Director specifically explaining the types of material they will receive. Make the subject clear so they know the message is in reply to their subscription.

If possible, you should also ask them to visit a page to manage their profile and choose specific news types – including press releases – they might like to receive.

When you send news, don’t just blast out the release.  Make it a personal message from the Comms person with a short note that frames the release.  Don’t assume they are constantly paying attention, and give them context, not just content.

Anyone who has affirmatively chosen not to get Volunteer requests, shouldn’t get any.  They can, however, get finance asks.  These are best done in concert with new ads that are announced, or specific products.  The brief introduction should frame the ad, and suggest a donation to help keep the ad on the air.

Volunteers (and Donors)

If your subscriber chose to Volunteer, make the first message a personal greeting/introduction from the person who will manage your volunteer efforts.  Clearly articulate the kinds of messages they will receive and the types of activities with which they can help

Your supporters will greatly appreciate the recognition of their value, and the personal nature of the message.  They will likely even reply, so be sure someone can answer incoming messages.  Don’t relegate these to an “info@” box.  Theses are the people who will work to get you elected. Don’t take them for granted.

Every message should build on the relationship between your campaign and your supporter.  That is true with volunteers more than anyone else.  You should leave the supporter feeling involved, not lectured, or worse, ignored.

Each ask should be framed in the same way the news content is.  Don’t consider a new ad rollout to just be news.  Send a note to your volunteers sharing the ad (framing it, as above) and asking them to pass it around.

Volunteers should be asked for money, but not without context.  We need your cash to beat our opposition isn’t as compelling as a specific, tangible result.  This is why thermometer fundraising is so effective.  Don’t just ask for money.  These are volunteers, after all.  Instead, give them a project or goal, and specific measurable ways to help.

The Facebook Effect

Many campaigns have applied the same “size matters” approach to Facebook, constantly pushing for more “Likes.”  At the same time, most people recognize that while there may be limited correlation between Likes and election outcomes, there is most certainly no causation.

That is true of email to. I am aware of absolutely no study demonstrating causation (or even correlation) between list size and election results.  It is simply too easy to append data or buy a list.  If everyone on your list was dumped in without permission, and nobody reads your messages, the list is ineffective.  Its impact on the election will be none.

It doesn’t have to be that way.

People who have effective Facebook campaigns invest time in growing and interacting with those supporters.  The same can be true of email.  Spending time to talk with your list (not at them), and developing that relationship into more than a one-way communication channel will yield greater results.

Keeping the email content relevant, making the messages personal, and creating a relationship with your readers doesn’t have to be a daunting task.  It does, however, require more thought.

The upside, however, is the results should more than pay off with regard to supporter engagement, dollars raised, votes cast and their likelihood to carry your message.