This is a challenging time for candidates seeking public office. They’ve had to rethink everything about their campaign operations down to their mission statements. COVID has made it harder to connect with people personally, so I have a suggestion for those undergoing a retooling process. Start thinking about digital channels as less of a one-way communication tool. Instead, build a digital strategy that’s more conversational, engaging, and actionable.
OK, sounds nice, but what does it mean?
Drive a message online, and then, simply continue the conversation there. But go beyond sporadically replying to Facebook comments, emails, or tweets. Really plan online engagement the same way a political shop plans a phone bank or door-to-door initiative. Be strategic. Use technology, staff, and volunteers. Build in goals, measurement, tracking, and data aggregation.
Campaigns and elected officials should consider adopting a “social customer service” style digital strategy where they actively engage and, where possible, help solve problems for their followers online.
It should be a familiar process to any campaign operative stuck at an airport trying to troubleshoot a flight cancelation. You tweet @Delta or @AmericanAir and tell them what a mess the situation is at the terminal and, often, you get a response with a direct line to an eager-to-please customer service representative.
That interaction doesn’t happen by accident. In fact, there’s pretty sophisticated software powering most “social customer service” or “customer care” programs. Give those terms a quick “Google” and see for yourself.
Platforms like Conversocial and Khoros are designed to make these social interactions efficient, measurable, and most importantly, impactful. To a brand, that might mean an upgraded sale or a “crisis averted” with an unhappy customer. In the political world it could just as easily mean a “persuaded voter” or “new donor” — or for incumbents a satisfied constituent.
Voters voice their opinions about politics on social media all the time. They comment on paid and organic content. They message campaigns and elected officials through social platforms. They reply to text and email blasts. And constituents regularly reach out online asking for help.
Despite this valuable, organic, incoming data, campaigns still spend most of their time calling and knocking for voters who don’t answer. Why don’t they treat these digital opportunities to engage, persuade, and ID just as seriously.
A “social customer service” program might look something like this:
- First, identify the platforms where you want to engage your users (Facebook/IG Comments/Messenger, Twitter Replies/Messages, Email Replies, P2P Replies).
- Define the keywords or triggers from content sent or posted online that will prompt a reply from your organization.
- Leverage automation technology (chabots) to reply: organize and assign specific messages as high-priority for a staff member, volunteer, or the candidate to address (provide them with communication guidelines).
- Record and score the result of the engagement in the campaign’s CRM or voter file.
- Analyze the data/text from these conversations for sentiment, keywords, language patterns, and common entities. Incorporate this data into your traditional measurement/research programs.
- Rinse. Repeat. Automate. Scale.
Now of course some campaigns reply to emails, online comments, and/or private messages–some better than others. But how often does the data or the context of the conversation make it back to the voter file like survey results from a phone bank, or get analyzed like data from a poll or focus group?
How often do they look for signals to proactively engage a target online, document the conversation, and measure it?
Advancements in social listening technology and natural language processing can mine the digital world for signals to engage a potential voter or constituent, or trigger voter ID data point. In fact, these features are native to many “social customer service” platforms.
They leverage artificial intelligence and bots to handle upper funnel engagement and escalate those that require a higher-level touch to manual operators. This technology provides an organized interface for staff and/or volunteers to access these conversations–along with all sorts of rich analytics on sentiment, language, and outcomes–a perfect mix of quantitative and qualitative data.
If we all accept the premise that voter contact is headed more digital this cycle, the next step needs to focus on how to execute these programs in an efficient and measurable way.
And if we really open our minds to this type of outreach fitting the model of a traditional voter ID program, it’s beginning to be possible to map social profile IDs to voter records. Imagine using the social profiles URLs from these engagements as unique IDs to map data back to the voter file?
We all know how slow campaigns can be to adopt new technology and processes. Thankfully, existing technology and proven “social customer service” methodologies provide a replicable model to point to in these challenging and fluid times. They can be used by campaigns and elected officials to gather valuable intelligence while helping voters or constituents along the way.
Adam Meldrum is an award-winning political & digital strategist. He is a Founding Partner & President of AdVictory LLC, a Republican media-buying firm, a Senior Strategist at DDC Public Affairs, and a member of HeadCount’s Board of Directors. He resides in Washington D.C. with his beautiful wife Christina and their weird puppy, Basil.