In just a few short weeks, the spread of coronavirus has dramatically changed daily life for Americans and people around the globe. Tens of thousands of people in the U.S. have already been infected and millions more have had their lives upended by the economic fallout from the coronavirus.
Much of our society has been thrown into chaos – including our politics. Several states have delayed their primaries, and campaigns up and down the ballot have canceled rallies, door knocking, and in-person campaign events to limit community spread of the virus, leaving them without access to many of the traditional tools campaigns use to persuade and turnout voters.
With the health and safety of the country in the balance, this election is more important than ever. Since it is already clear that COVID-19 will have a long-term, wide-ranging impact on our society, economy, and political landscape, campaigns need to adapt now to reach voters in this new environment. Here are some ideas that campaigns can and should implement immediately to reach voters and supporters online:
1) Double down on relational organizing 👫
As campaigns are unable to organize in-person canvassing, they’ll have to focus on using their greatest assets – volunteers – wisely. Instead of having volunteers knock on doors from a list of targeted voters that they likely won’t know personally, digital relational organizing prioritizes volunteers reaching out to people in their personal networks with personalized messages, often using apps that match people’s contacts to a voter file to target relevant persuasion and turnout messages.
For example, the Buttigieg campaign implemented a form of relational organizing through Twitter in what they called “digital door knocking.” The campaign scraped their Twitter followers + their public information into a spreadsheet and divided it up by state, then had volunteers individually reach out to the targeted supporters through their DMs or public mentions to see if their supporters needed any help voting or caucusing.
The Buttigieg campaign’s National Organizing Director, Greta Carnes, joined the FWIW Podcast last week to talk about the opportunities digital organizing presents. According to her, “there were 20 something candidates so we needed to cut through the noise, but [relational organizing] also gave us a certain credibility, because people were talking about Pete… people weren’t expecting to be persuaded by their friend.”
Personalized outreach is so much more important in a pandemic, as panic and misinformation make it even harder for traditional political messengers – including candidates, their surrogates, and their supporters – to overcome the noise. A friend or family member could prove effective at cutting through the news cycle and misinformation online.
FWIW, the relational organizing programs run by some presidential campaigns should be able to provide down-ballot campaigns with best practices as they seek to rapidly scale their relational outreach.
2) Invest even more in digital production 📸
It goes without saying that reaching voters online, where they’re spending more and more time every year, was already an important part of the strategy for any campaign. But it’ll take on even more importance in a pandemic.
For example, we’ve seen both Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders adjust their campaign strategies in the wake of the coronavirus, with both campaigns implementing virtual events. The Sanders campaign held a fireside chat streamed live across Youtube, Facebook, and Twitch earlier this week, while just this morning Joe Biden held the first of his live-streamed addresses to the nation.
For down-ballot campaigns, replacing in-person events like town halls and fundraisers through video conferencing services like Zoom should be within reach for campaigns with limited staff or resources. In addition, for races up and down the ballot, investing in quality paid digital persuasion ads to share information across Facebook and Google will be important as voters become even more online during quarantine.
Groups like the National Democratic Training Committee have rolled out a guide for down-ballot campaigns to help them re-organize their campaign to operate remotely and are holding webinars throughout the week for campaigning during the current pandemic. Run For Something has also rolled out valuable resources for down-ballot campaigns, as has Tuesday Company.
3) Communicate to your supporters often 📣
With millions of voters stuck at home to practice social distancing, it’s now more critical than ever to reach your supporters on the channels where they spend their time. Americans everywhere are scrolling through their news feeds and timelines to get any information about the coronavirus or updates from loved ones they won’t be able to see until the crisis has passed. This gives your campaign a perfect opportunity – and an obligation, even – to ramp up your engagement on social platforms.
There are a million and one resources out there that can help you guide your organic social media strategy – but these are extraordinary times, and they call for a more thoughtful approach than business as usual.
For starters, your campaign can use platforms like Instagram or Facebook to showcase how your candidate is personally handling the crisis. For challengers, that may mean showcasing life while social distancing, as U.S. Senate candidate Teresa Tomlinson recently did by recording a straight-to-camera video from her home office. Or, your candidate can communicate to voters through organic social in the most direct way possible: a live stream. Depending on your target audience, consider using Facebook, Instagram, or YouTube, to give voters a live, digital interactive experience with your candidate as the next best thing to a town hall or rally.
Of course, it’s still critical for voters to hear about and share your candidate’s platform through social media while they’re scrolling. For the time being, it seems voters are basically only looking to consume content about the pandemic, and you should respond to that by incorporating the issue into as much of your messaging as possible. For example, Joe Biden has used this crisis to emphasize the necessity for federally mandated paid sick leave, the need for affordable healthcare (read: vaccines), and how important it is to listen to the scientists and experts in times of crisis.
4) Double down on the power of influencers 💁♀️
We’ve talked in the past about how important influencers will be in the 2020 cycle, but in our current landscape influencers should become an even larger part of your strategy. Influencers can authentically speak to large swaths of the electorate via their own established social media platforms. They have the ability to become critical messengers, organizers, and fundraisers for your campaign in the time it takes to record an Instagram story or craft a tweet.
Surrogate operations have traditionally relied on high-level celebrities or influencers for support in the form of concert events or appearances at high-dollar fundraisers. But in a world where in-person events are off the table, the influence these celebrities have needs to be used for long-term online engagement.
Internally, it’s important that your campaign strategically plans how you’ll engage high-level celebrities and influencers with all the relevant members of your team (digital, comms, organizing, fundraising, etc.) keeping hyper-focused on the intended audiences, goals, and KPI’s that you’ll measure success against. Explain these to the influencers you plan to engage with so that they can also keep these in mind while creating content for you.
You should also think critically about ways to engage high-level influencers in a creative way – if you want to do a direct-to-camera PSA, that’s up to you, but it’s been done over, and over, and over again – especially because we are likely to be stuck indoors for a while.
While high-level influencers are incredibly valuable, do NOT sleep on the micro-influencers who can also help fuel your campaigns. The super volunteers who would have spent hours on the ground knocking on doors should be transitioned to become digital super volunteers furthering your relational organizing programs. These micro-influencers have a deep understanding of what’s going on in their local communities, and can be extremely relatable messengers of a candidate’s message to persuadable voters in critical districts.
Spend time thinking about the best ways, based on your organizational structure, to communicate to these groups – is it a DM Twitter group, a specific Slack workplace, or maybe even a Discord channel? Plan how you will engage with these micro-influencers on a continuing basis. They’re your first line of defense on the ground, and they’re the people you can rely on for a swell of support during important key moments to amplify policy releases, fundraising CTA’s, and more.
If you aren’t thinking about how to engage or train these supporters to be digitally literate, you’re missing out on a huge opportunity to engage with voters through messengers they trust on platforms they spend an ever-increasing amount of their time on.
ALSO: Support expanding vote by mail 📬
While you’re busy campaigning online, election officials must prepare for Americans to safely vote. With uncertainty about how the novel coronavirus will progress, vote by mail may be one of the best voting options for the public’s health. Some groups have rolled out plans for what a national vote-by-mail bill should look like, and Senators Ron Wyden and Amy Klobuchar recently proposed a bill to expand in-person early voting and no-excuse mail-in absentee voting.
You can also help pass national vote-by-mail legislation by signing up through Indivisible, which is currently targeting advocacy calls to Senators to build support for the bill.
These tactics were already critical for winning campaigns in 2020 before coronavirus became a part of our lives. Now, they’re not optional.