The Intersection: May 2014

Welcome to The Intersection, a series designed to help you anticipate and prepare for public policy challenges and opportunities.

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Amplify Your Impact: The New Online Era of Grassroots Mobilization

There are three major principles of political and campaign advocacy: identify potential supporters, convey your message to supporters and activate supporters.

Not too long ago, direct mail, phone calls and knocking on doors were the best ways to reach and mobilize constituents willing to take action to support your cause. While these methods are not completely outdated (especially for a few audiences, in particular), technology is providing a more sophisticated means of reaching potential stakeholders quickly and effectively.

The high-consumption of the Internet has changed message targeting and refinement to a near-scientific process.

Stakeholder recruitment and management

It’s important to know as much information as possible about your stakeholders, particularly email addresses, first and last names, zip codes (for congressional district identification) and age. Though paying for contact lists may seem like an easy way to build your number of stakeholders quickly, this usually results in low engagement and retention rates. It’s far better to grow lists organically by:

  • Looking at the contacts you already have, including their social media properties, and finding more people with the same attributes;
  • Holding online and offline events that require attendees to enter the information mentioned above. “Free access” to events or resources is often provided online with the intent to capture personal data;
  • Partnering with organizations that might have direct access to the people you want to contact. For instance, if you are targeting small business entrepreneurs, partnering with local Chambers of Commerce or other local business organizations, or co-sponsoring an event, allows you to mine the information of their constituencies;
  • Having a sign-up tool on your website so you can cookie visitors and target ads to them at later dates.

Once you have compiled a list, online tools will help you manage your stakeholders. Google Analytics will show you demographic breakdowns of every person who visits your website, clicks on an ad, or opens your emails. Other tools like online polls help you hone the stakeholder’s preferences and allow more targeted messaging going forward. Utilizing forums creates engagement and allows you to take the temperature of the participants in real time.

While television, newspaper and magazine ads have impressive circulation numbers, the impact of messaging through these portals is usually only an estimate; online tools provide details about every digital engagement, in real time, with immediate and measurable feedback.

Message targeting

Target to your audience

It’s a small detail, but personalizing emails with “Hello [INSERT NAME HERE]” (and actually inserting their name) gives your email a personal touch — and also helps ensure your email gets delivered to the target’s inbox, not dumped in the recipient’s spam folder. Additionally, emails can be targeted to groups within geographic regions. If a national conference is being held in Baltimore, targeted emails can be sent to local zip codes offering different messaging than is being sent to the national audience.

Online ads can be targeted to very specific demographics as well. For example, if you want to run a campaign targeted at moms who like to bake in Portland, ME and Portland, OR, programs such as VOX’s OnTarget! can develop ad buys that target audiences based on their interests, location, sex, age and nearly any other identifying trait. This makes your message relevant to the demographic you want to reach. Specific message targeting is far less expensive than print advertising.

Target to your medium

Ensuring your advertising is visually appealing and strategically placed is critical to capturing your audience’s attention. For example, if you’re running display ads on websites, make sure they’re legible, and make sure that they will stand out nicely against the content of the site. When promoting Facebook posts, use engaging photos with engaging copy — anything on social media should be conducive to conversations and sharing (it’s social, after all).

If you’re sending a message to attendees at a conference that you want them to open and take action on immediately, you’ll want to be certain your email and landing page are mobile-friendly (because, chances are, they’ll be visiting the pages on a mobile device). Tools like VOX’s CrowdEffect create this for you naturally.

A final note on your medium: don’t stop at one. In this high-information age, it often takes multiple “touches” to grab someone’s attention. Frequency is king: the more often you engage and educate your audience, the more likely they are to take action on your behalf. That being said, be careful to make sure message saturation does not turn into message fatigue. It is a delicate balance.

Stakeholder activation

A well-crafted message and a well-segmented list are all for naught if you have a sub-par call to action. There must be a clear purpose behind it, as well as a sense of urgency. The purpose needs to be short and simple, making it as easy as possible for stakeholders to figure out what it is you want them to do … so they can do it!

If not enough people are clicking on your “call to action,” try moving it to a more prominent place, using new messages, increasing the font size or changing the color. One of the benefits of displaying information online versus print is fluidity. Contact information, goals, progress towards goals and so much more can be updated in real time, as information often changes.

Microsites are a great way to quickly create many sites with similar appearances targeted to different audiences — therefore containing different messaging. For instance, a local school bond issue might have a landing page that redirects the user based on age group or specific population. Parents might receive messaging that their children will benefit from the measure. Businesses will find messaging that plays to the need of a well-educated workforce. Directing the right messages to the right audiences will increase your response.

Truly engaging campaigns can have social momentum, which fosters more activists. When is the last time you shared a piece of direct mail with 1,000 of your closest friends? What about your thoughts on a social media platform? “Sharing” enables your message to be seen by an exponentially-growing list of people. It’s fairly straightforward to pre-populate social media posts — just make sure to cover enough of the issue mixed with enough of the call to action.

To be viable in today’s market, an online presence and robust social engagement across platforms is essential. Whether targeting twenty-somethings or senior citizens, keep in mind that users of all generations are digitally savvy. The digital age has brought the world closer and moved interaction and response to real time. Organizations are able to take the pulse of their stakeholders and make fluid changes in strategies that shape, engage and benefit their respective audiences — all for substantially less money than traditional media — and with more direct information about the stakeholder and measurable impact.


Kate Miller

Digital Experience Manager

202-772-5025 \