Winning Campaigns: Integrating Offline & Online Strategies is Key
By Shayna Englin, founder, Englin Consulting
My first campaign job was in 1995 at Colorado NARAL.
We didn't have an email list and we were just about
to launch a website—complete with animated Graphics
Interchange Formats (GIFs), natch. Among my
responsibilities was maintaining the citizen
lobbyist phone trees—a job that entailed calling
everyone on it every so often, in addition to
activating it—sometimes just to make sure everyone
on it still knew what to do. Over the many
intervening years, I've worked on many campaigns.
These days, I'm far more likely to step back and
marvel at how much easier it is to do some of the
basic work of campaigns than I am to test a phone
As a consultant who specializes in helping
organizations recruit, identify, and mobilize
activists, donors, and members to make social
change, I'm often working at the intersection of
offline and online campaign teams and plans. It's
encouraging to see integration of online tactics,
and tried and true campaigns out here in "meatspace."
Leveraging the strengths of online
campaigning—efficient, affordable, trackable,
flexible—with those of offline campaigning—targeted,
long-lasting, high-impact—can make all the
difference, and I've developed a few “big picture
best practices,” to help guide the way.
The cardinal rule of offline campaigns is layering:
Multiple contacts on the doorstep and on the phone,
build on each other to create momentum.
Neighborhoods that have had multiple passes of
canvassing tend to deliver higher ROI on each
successive pass—the second, third, and fourth
contacts aren't "cold calls," they're follow-ups.
Adding contacts through online advertising and
content, social networks, email, text, mail, etc.
can build momentum, too. The more times a voter,
donor, or advocate sees, hears, reads, or
experiences a message and call-to-action, the more
likely it is to penetrate the noise of every day
life, and each successive layer builds on the last.
More than a rule, layering has proven effects. For
example, online donors are more likely to donate,
and donate more, if they receive a snail-mail
When you're considering an email, Twitter, social
networking, or other online campaign, consider how
you'll build on offline efforts to layer your
message delivery in a way that can break through.
Follow up emails with postcards, postcards with
phone calls, and, when you can, social networking
Be Consistent and Self-Referential
In order to build momentum and truly integrate your
efforts, choose elements that are consistent across
channels. Use the same images, taglines, and
branding to clearly tie the layers together.
Moreover, reference the other elements of the
campaign as much as possible. Send people to your
website in your mail; include an opening to ask for
an email address at the doors and on the phones; and
reference recent mailings in your email. Remind your
audience that they're seeing you everywhere, and
that you're excited to engage with them, wherever
they want to plug in.
Be Focused on High Value, Strategic Action
A fair criticism on online action is that it's too
ubiquitous to make a difference anymore. It's hard
to find recent examples of online-only campaigns
winning the day. The conventional wisdom, borne out
by evidence, is that online activism is only
effective when it's paired with offline actions like
phone calls, events, and snail mail. It is in this
environment that integrating offline and online
campaigning presents real opportunities. Consider
carefully what actions are most valuable, and drive
online and offline enthusiasm to those activities.
If an email campaign isn't going to help win your
campaign, but calls into a state legislative office
will make a significant difference, integrate tools
like Advomatic's Click-2-Call into your emails (no,
I don't get any kickbacks) to make it almost as easy
to make a phone call as it is to sign an email
petition. Or, go low-tech and focus your online
outreach on urging your supporters and volunteers to
download a PDF postcard, print it, sign it, and send
it to your targeted decision-maker (or back to you
to deliver in bulk).
Insist That Strategy Drives Integration
Sophisticated databases, exciting new technologies,
and marginal costs that allow implementation for
ever-more creative ideas for action, are all pushing
the boundaries of what nonprofit campaigns can look
like. That something can be done, doesn't mean it's
the most strategic way to engage your supporters and
volunteers. Be sure your strategy (who do you need
to take action, and what actions will drive the best
results?) drives decision-making about tactics, and
not the other way around. Before investing in
innovative tactics, test them against your strategy
and in the real world. Cool and new may work, but
venture in that direction with as much back-up as
you can get.
Like all campaign tactics, best practices for
integration may work differently for your
organization than they have for others. Test them.
For example, data from Pew, and others, confirm the
conventional wisdom that younger people are less
likely to take political action offline than online.
What isn't clear is what might persuade the younger
people on your list to become offline activists.
Invest in finding out. You might test a phone
outreach campaign to your younger activists, asking
them to patch through to a decision-maker; a
snail-mail program that includes tear-off and return
cards you can deliver as targets; or even a highly
targeted door-to-door canvass to collect petition
---Source: Frogloop.com Oct. 29, 2009
(www.frogloop.com). Shayna Englin is founder of
Englin Consulting. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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