Commentary

Digital Engagement: Early And Often

Digital engagement by political campaigns went from being a curiosity to a necessity during the 2012 cycle. Robust email programs (made famous during the Obama ’08 campaign) and thriving social media activities were joined by the ability to deliver targeted media to specific audiences online.

In 2014, the role of digital has expanded and accelerated as campaigns of every size have come to recognize its potential.

This recognition is already playing out as incumbents and challengers are turning to digital to extend the campaign season and impact primary races that are seemingly more closely contested than in the past.

Campaigns that in the past might not have started thinking of media buys until May or June are already exploring digital strategies far in advance of primaries or party conventions. These campaigns are looking to build up name recognition and gain a foothold in communities they haven’t necessarily engaged with in the past. One growing trend is using digital to reach specific ethnic groups, an approach that has not previously been much at play.

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Reaching different voter groups with digital has been difficult in the past – especially at a local level. Digital targeting has come a long way, allowing campaigns to reach voters in different neighborhoods with different messages or in different languages with near 100% coverage. Certain GOP candidates in particular have been working to improve their outreach to the Hispanic community.

An example of a tactic used to do this are online “flash” polls. Candidates or campaigns reach out to local officials to explore the key issues they are facing. These issues are then used to create digital ads that lead to a poll. The banners and polls are locally relevant, can be targeted at a neighborhood level and be translated into any language.  

This approach serves several purposes for a campaign:

  • It provides an opportunity for the campaign to connect with local leaders
  • It helps them identify issues that matter to a community
  • The polls help build name recognition and a establish a candidate’s footprint with defined voter groups
  • It provides context for candidate comments at local events
  • It provides feedback that allows a candidate to engage with local leaders
  • It provides an alternative with significantly higher coverage than direct mail or robo-calls for local engagement – and one that has built-in feedback loop

As candidates and issues-based campaigns look for new and more effective ways to expand and engage their pool of potential supporters, more mature digital strategies are attracting their attention. These tools are giving campaigns the opportunity to engage early and often – and that is exactly what is taking place as the 2014 election cycle gets under way.

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