An Online Plan for a Political Campaign by Colin Delany

By at January 26, 2016 | 11:20 am | Print

An Online Plan for a Political Campaign by Colin Delany

Colin Delany 2016

As we’ve seen, smart campaigns can turn to the internet to increase the effectiveness of almost all of their activities and shift the odds in their favor in 2016. Of course, online tools aren’t likely to win many elections on their own (fundamentals like the actual candidate do matter), but campaigns that employ online strategies intelligently and with real-world goals in mind should have a significant edge over their rivals, particularly in tight races.

Not-so-bold prediction: online ads, online recruiting, online messaging, online mobilization and online fundraising can (and will) make a difference in elections for the Senate, Congress and state and local offices in 2016. TV still matters, field organizing DEFINITELY still matters, but for more and more political fights, the key battlegrounds are in virtual space. Ignore them at your peril.

And if you need help putting these lessons into practice, or you’re a journalist working on a story, let’s chat.

A Basic Campaign Online Outreach Plan Now that we understand the essential tools and tactics of online political organizing, let’s put them together into a coherent plan to win an election.

Phase One: Getting Established

At the start, campaigns need to focus on getting the basics right, a process that may take from a few days to a few weeks. For a presidential race, this stage should have taken place a year before the first primaries. Other campaigns are likely to get a much later start, taking these steps between a few months and a year of the primary or the general election, depending on which will be contested.  The initial steps:

  • Begin monitoring the race; set up Google Alerts on the candidate and opponent.
  • Build and launch website with integrated supporter sign up/CRM/fundraising system.  
  • Establish Facebook page and Twitter feed and connect with local political activists.  
  • Establish YouTube channel with initial content (even if only a single clip).
  • Establish other social media channels if appropriate.
  • Identify relevant (usually local) political blogs based on audience and topic.  Identify other prominent online voices, including those on Twitter and frequent commenters on local political sites.
  • Begin connecting with these online influentials and persuade them to support the campaign when possible.  
  • Begin running Google and Facebook ads to build the campaign’s list, even if the initial buy is only a few dollars per day.
  • Identify other online communities that may be good recruiting channels.

Phase Two: Feeding the Beast

With an infrastructure in place, a campaign moves into the middle period between the candidate’s announcement and the actual voting. List-building and fundraising will be usually be the highest priority, supported by outreach and content creation.

  • Promote website in all print materials and broadcast advertising.
  • Recruit new supporters/list members at in-person events.
  • Continue online advertising aimed at recruiting donors and volunteers, particularly on Google and Facebook but also on blogs and local media sites if possible. Sophisticated campaigns may start using hyper-targeted online ads for recruitment and message-testing as well.
  • Begin comprehensive email-based online fundraising via CRM.
  • Solicit and organize supporters’ volunteer time, also via CRM but possibly through other grassroots management tools.
  • Expand/improve campaign website content.
  • Expand connections on Facebook and Twitter; post new content regularly.
  • Encourage supporters to spread the word and recruit friends through their online and offline channels.
  • Post additional online videos to YouTube and Facebook and embed on the campaign website as needed and as available
  • Build relationships with and aggressively court local bloggers, Twitter activists and other online influentials, with an eye to pitching stories and arranging opportunities to speak directly to their audiences.
  • Continue monitoring independent online content posted about the race; respond as necessary and able.
  • Begin grassroots canvassing operation, facilitated by data analytics and mobile technology if possible.

Phase Three: Run-Up to Election Day

Once an election is close, an online campaign will shift into full mobilization mode. This phase typically begins between one and two months before voting starts.

  • Begin final field-organizing push, including canvassing and phonebanking.
  • Organize volunteer teams for turnout operation.
  • Begin early/absentee voting push, if applicable.
  • Send more fundraising appeals, stressing urgency of race.
  • Encourage last-minute supporter online evangelism on Facebook, personal email, etc.
  • Ramp up email campaign intensity via CRM to support all of the above activities.
  • Switch emphasis of online advertising from recruitment to persuasion of fence-sitters.

Final Push  

  • Field organizers switch to pushing voter turnout, particularly in targeted neighborhoods and demographics.  
  • Online ads switch to a mix of persuasion (to reach voters still making up their minds) and turnout-boosting. Ad targeting becomes key to reaching the voters the campaign needs for GOTV. Consider geotargeted mobile ads to reach voters in line at the polls.
  • Email/Facebook/Twitter program pushes last-minute donations.
  • Email/Facebook/Twitter program also pushes voter turnout, with an emphasis on tell-your friends asks. On Election Day, send final appeals via email, social networking outlets, text messaging, campaign website, Twitter, telegraph, semaphore, smoke signal and all other available channels. Field teams get people to the polls. Hope for the best.
  • After the election, send follow-up message to supporters.

Excerpt from  How to Use the Internet to Win in 2016:  A Comprehensive Guide to Online Politics – ebook  by Colin Delany.

Download ebook here

Colin Delany, founder/editor and a seventeen-year veteran of internet politics and advocacy. He is also a sought-after speaker and trainer and a columnist for “Campaigns & Elections” magazine. As a consultant, he has worked with dozens of nonprofit groups, candidates and companies to help them achieve their advocacy, electoral and communications goals using digital tools. This e-book reflects his own years of experience as well as lessons learned from campaigns across the political spectrum.  Epolitics was named “Best Blog – National Politics” at the 2007 Politics Online Conference and received a “Victory Award” as “Best Blog (non-Spanish-language)” at the 2012 Poli Conference. Besides being honored as one of the “Ten Who Are Changing the World of Internet Politics” at the 2010 World E-Gov Forum in Paris, Delany has spoken at venues ranging from Harvard University and the London School of Economics to the South By Southwest Interactive conference.  – 202-422-4682  email –

Management & Strategy

Related Posts

Comments are closed.