Welcome to FWIW, ACRONYM’s weekly newsletter breaking down digital strategy and investments across the political spectrum. Each week, we look at how campaigns are – or aren’t – leveraging smart digital strategies to drive narratives and win elections.
For what it’s worth, some of it might surprise you.
For the 2020 presidential campaigns, meeting supporters and potential voters at in-person events is a *must*, and the Democrats in the race have cumulatively held over 800 events in Iowa and 500 in New Hampshire already – more than seven months out from the first contests. How are these campaigns actually finding people to attend all these events? And how are they using digital advertising and technology to build their crowds? We take a look in this week’s FWIW.
2020 by the numbers
Donald Trump’s re-election campaign has dramatically increased its week over week spend on digital advertising. Aside from the drastic spike in spending around his January government shutdown (we wrote about that in a previous issue), his campaign spent more last week than any other week since the midterms. You can view these charts and more at our 2020 digital dashboard here.
Trump’s sharp spending increase was significant, but we’ve also noticed some new trends around what types of ads his campaign is running –his campaign is up with several hundred ads on both Google and Facebook pushing anti-China messaging.
On the Democratic side, Kirsten Gillibrand and Cory Booker continued to invest heavily on Facebook advertising, mostly with $1 dollar fundraising asks to hit the 130,000 donor threshold for the fall debates. (Gillibrand’s campaign announced they hit the 65,000 donor threshold earlier this week.)
Here are the top spenders on Facebook + Google for the week of June 2 – 8th:
The nonprofit Partnership for Drug Free Kids is flagged as a top political spender last week, as they are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on the platform for their Stop Opioid Silence campaign. Some of the ads feature prominent Senators Mitt Romney, Sherrod Brown, and several others.
Deep Dive: You’re Invited
To be successful in this crowded primary, actually meeting supporters and potential voters at in-person events is a *must*, and according to FiveThirtyEight, the Democratic campaigns for President have cumulatively held over 800 events in Iowa and 500 in New Hampshire already. Events serve many purposes, from fundraising to collecting supporter data, and for allowing the candidates to hear from their supporters directly. So how are these candidates finding and recruiting supporters to attend all these events? Hint: it’s online.
First off, we took a look at how many events each campaign has held in Iowa and New Hampshire. (Shout out to the Des Moines Register and NECN for their awesome candidate campaign trackers!)
Not surprisingly, John Delaney, who’s been in the race since 2017 (no joke), has held far and away more events in those states than any other campaign – it’s not even close. Other lesser-known candidates like Eric Swalwell, Tim Ryan, and Andrew Yang have barnstormed Iowa in hopes of raising their name ID and introduce themselves to potential caucus goers.
You have one job: fill the room
With so many events happening in small towns across the early states, campaigns have to get creative in order to avoid the absolute embarrassment of speaking to an empty room. That’s where a strong digital organizing program can come into play.
Last Saturday, Pete Buttigieg’s campaign ran some of the cutest and most well-designed ads of the cycle, promoting a “Picnic with Pete” in Cedar Rapids for supporters to rally and meet the candidate before the Iowa Democratic Party’s perennial Hall of Fame event aka SIGN WARS. His campaign pushed several variations on Facebook and Instagram targeting supporters in the Cedar Rapids area. We hear the event was a hit. Take a look:
Another prime example of locally-targeted Facebook ads to recruit event attendees: Joe Biden’s campaign ran Spanish-language Facebook ads targeting Latinx supporters living in the majority-Hispanic community of Reading, Pennsylvania to crowd-build for his kickoff rally last month:
Buttigieg and Biden aren’t the only campaigns using digital ads for event organizing. Many of the other 2020 candidates are wisely buying Facebook ads to promote town hall watch parties, rallies, grassroots fundraisers, meet and greets, and other types of events:
Nearly all of the campaigns’ ads drive traffic to each event’s MobilizeAmerica page, a progressive online event organizing platform which allows the campaigns to gather supporter info, opt them into email and text messaging followup, provide them with an “ask” to share/invite friends, and enroll them in automated workflows.
Mobilize has become the primary organizing tech platform for the Democratic candidates hosting events – so we tracked down Alfred Johnson & Allen Kramer, founders of MobilizeAmerica, to learn more about how the campaigns are using their platform. Here’s what we found out:
Q&A with MobilizeAmerica
Q: What’s MobilizeAmerica, and are all the Democratic presidential campaigns using it?
A: MobilizeAmerica is the go-to volunteer recruitment and events platform used by Democratic campaigns, progressive organizations, unions, and, increasingly, 501c3 nonprofits, governments, and companies.Last year we worked with nearly 500 Democratic political campaigns, and 500 organizations of all sizes – from local Indivisible chapters, to national committees and organizations like Planned Parenthood Action Fund, Human Rights Campaign, the DNC and the DCCC.
We’re proud to be working with 14 of the Democratic presidential primary campaigns; in addition to renewed partnerships with many of our 2018 partners and many new national organizations.
Q: What types of events are the campaigns throwing the most? Fundraisers? House Parties? Rallies?
A: In short, they’re hosting events of all types. In 2018, 72% of sign-ups driven through MobilizeAmerica were driven into voter contact events (canvasses, phone banks, text banks), with the balance across meet and greets, community events, and more.
So far in 2019, 68% of sign-ups have been focused on organizing program capacity building — think rallies, one-on-ones with campaign organizers, trainings, house parties and town hall watch parties. The other 32% has been across the board: voter registration, early voter contact, and nonprofits engaging members in advocacy. Certainly, though, the biggest single events on the platform have been large scale campaign rallies, with many rallies exceeding 1,000 attendees.
Q: How are campaigns encouraging their supporters to host their own events?
A: We launched robust “distributed organizing” capabilities earlier this year, which has enabled thousands of house parties, town hall watch parties, and grassroots actions to be created by volunteers across the country. People love getting together, and building community around candidates and issues they are passionate about.
Q: We’ve seen several of the presidential candidates driving paid Facebook ads to their MobilizeAmerica event pages. What are the primary ways that campaigns are driving event RSVP’s?
A: Redirects from candidate and organization websites is a high percentage of total traffic to event signup pages at 20-25%. Paid & organic social media accounts for roughly 10% of traffic to MobilizeAmerica pages. Email and text messaging continue to be strong channels for recruitment used by most programs we work with. Lastly, roughly 10% (and growing!) of shifts through MobilizeAmerica are driven by people bringing their friends using Mobilize’s social recruitment capabilities — an area we are investing a lot in.
Q: How are campaigns doing follow-up to RSVPs? What type of workflow best practices for recruitment or confirmation are being used?
Our platform bakes in a lot of automation to ensure organizers can focus their time on relationship building. 50% of volunteers confirm their attendance ahead of time through our automated email and SMS platform — and of those people that respond affirmatively, 90% of them actually show up.
Campaigns generally layer their attendee confirmation programs on top of the automated confirms to build in personalized touchpoints with volunteers — but the automation allows them to focus that 2nd or 3rd confirm pass on the people that need that extra touch.
Q. How much action have you seen this election cycle versus previous? In the early states?
Last year, nearly 400k volunteers used MobilizeAmerica to sign up for nearly 800k actions, with a high percentage of that coming in the last month of the midterm cycle. Since January, we’ve now crossed a cumulative 500k volunteers and 1,000,000 actions on the platform — a large and early acceleration in activity this year.
BONUS: Thanks, Google!
The teams at Google + Flourish have built a fascinating interactive look at real-time Google search trends of the candidates for President. Take a look:
One more thing… 🤳
That’s all for this week. But before you go, we want to make one ask of you – if you love FWIW, follow us on Twitter. There you’ll find additional insights as we dig through research throughout the week.