Practitioners on the left have a new resource to help them vet digital tools amid a flood of new offerings.
For the past three cycles, an increasing number of startups and established players have unveiled new outreach tools to help groups and campaigns on the left regain their digital edge.
But the pace of new offerings combined with the opaque nature of campaign marketing and demoing has made it difficult for decision-makers to determine which ones are a good fit for their organizations.
Helping fellow practitioners navigate this terrain helped inspire Greta Carnes and Dan Bram of ACROYNM, a progressive digital firm, to launch their digital tool assessment platform last year.
The second iteration of the online guide, which includes reviews of 20 more tools based on “100 interviews with campaign and organization staff,” was released Feb. 12 and provides users with an overview of the product, information on its competitors and a rough pricing guide. Testimonials are provided for some of the products with others being actively solicited from practitioners.
Carnes, who has a digital organizing background, said that she hopes the database can help democratize the poli-tech space, particularly when it comes to pricing.
She notes that while working on the Clinton campaign in 2016, she used an internally built texting tool called Megaphone that sent SMS messages to supporters at a cost of around a penny.
But when she worked on musician Rob Quist’s race in the Montana House special election in 2017, she found that the Democrat’s campaign was using Hustle at a cost of 33 cents a text. One of the features of their platform’s product reviews is detailed pricing information.
“We identified that as a huge issue that we could help with,” Carnes said.
Transparent pricing is “going to make a lot of these tools more accessible, not just for [presidentials], but for down-ballot races. It’s a race to be which is the most accessible.”
There are other online venues to assess vendors. Last year the DNC unveiled its I Will Run Marketplace, but Carnes notes much of the information available there is simply provided by the vendors themselves. (On the right, Lincoln Network offers some app reviews and advice through its Telegraph program.)
Part of the reason why these types of reviews aren’t more ubiquitous is the nature of the industry. Practitioners tend to do business with friends or established connections, which makes publishing a critical review problematic. In fact, Bram said they’ve encountered some blowback from their reviews.
“There were some vendors who weren’t happy for us calling them out for not being transparent,” he said, adding that other providers are now approaching them asking to be featured.
Something else the ACROYNM team has noticed: many vendors are overpromising and under delivering, particularly when it comes to data, their integration with other platforms or dangling new features that don’t exist yet to lure prospective clients.
And in some areas the sophistication of the tools is outpacing practitioners’ ability to use them. Bram cited relational organizing tools are one example. “Relational organizing strategies haven’t been fleshed out,” he said.