E-Campaigning Forum Take-aways

Monday, 18th March 2013 at 16:54 UTC Leave a comment

I had the chance to attend the E-Campaigners Forum in Oxford last week. I spent two days in workshops learning all sorts of exciting things about the world of online campaigning today. There were loads of things that looked really exciting and which I hope I’ll get to use someday, but I’ve written this with a focus on low-cash situations.

Probably one of the most useful sessions I went to was about writing emails, tied with a session on re-activating email lists. Both focused on the kind of email list where a group or organisation sends announcements out to subscribers, rather than discussion lists. For these, everyone seems to have moved towards MailChimp and other email-specific web-services, or Engaging Networks and other Constituent Relationship Management (CRM) tools. MailChimp is pretty popular for anyone with a smaller list.

The biggest consensus was that email newsletters, with lots of info in a single email, is a huge no-no. Its too confused and people don’t read them. Keep It Simple with a single ‘ask’ (action you’re asking people to take). That means one event, one financial appeal, one link to an online action or petition. The exception to this is for professionals or email services that are deliberately information specific. Tell stories and share successes.

The Obama campaign tried increasing the quantity of emails, and got much better results than expected – fewer people unsubscribed than expected and more people responded. Its important to know what previous actions people have taken – ‘segmentation’ of a database so that people receive a little bit of personalisation will go a long way. For instance, thank me if I’ve donated recently or been to an event. Obviously, this is where an email list falls down, as everyone gets the same email.

People had a lot of positive stuff to say about SurveyMonkey (no relation to MailChimp, I don’t think) as a means to engage with contacts, especially lapsed contacts. Added to this, there was much enthusiasm for a WordPress plugin called GavityForms. It costs about £35 for each website its installed on (includes first year of upgrades, subsequent much cheaper) and you even build email-to-single-target e-campaign actions through it. The downside is that you’d need a means to host your own WordPress rather than using WordPress.com.

When discussing websites, one thing floated to the top: having at least a link to a donation page visible on the home page. It might seem a bit ‘forward’ but its a clear indication that you actually are grassroots funded and not a covertly funded AstroTurf campaign. Whilst not everyone will give through PayPal, there weren’t any better options mentioned for non-charities, and few better options for skint charities. Added to this, having people fill out a donation form in several steps does seem to make a big difference.

There were lots of suggestions of tools to try out: Google Hangouts were mentioned as having huge potential for webcasting – the video goes out live, but then you can make it available to visitors on demand. Storify turns out to be a great way to live-blog meetings, as well as dropping in YouTube videos and tweets in near-real-time. Talking of YouTube, put add links using clickable overlays if you can, as these will then allow you to capture traffic from sites where your video is embedded without a link back to your site.

There were some brilliant report backs from campaigns as varied as Greenpeace’s VW ‘Darkside’ campaign, No Dash for Gas, No More Page 3, Obama for America and 38degrees. It was interesting how far I found myself agreeing with 38degrees at times when people attacked the very concept of a reactive campaign. Change.org had a couple of people present, which gave some interesting insights, depending on whether they were present or not.

I hope that’s all useful to some of you who are reading this. I could write a whole second post of reflections. I may write something less technology-specific later. On a personal note, I’m now in the throws of getting myself packed up and out of Manchester.

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Entry filed under: Activism, Barack Obama, Geekery, Politics, Technology.

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