5 lessons from the AV campaign

Paul Waugh has a great article on ‘Who won the AV digital war’. It’s full of interesting learning about what worked and what didn’t.

In short, the Yes campaign (the link is to the Labour YES site as the cross-party site has already been taken down) tried to build from the grassroots, based on the fact that they inherited a list of 150,000 people who were involved in campaigns like Unlock Democracy. It put it’s effort into converting this online support into offline activities, like getting activists to organise street stalls and events (of which 3,000 were organised). I guess by extension it was also hoping that its messages would cascade down from activists to their friends through social networks.

The No2AV campaign didn’t inherit an email list and focused on buying advertising on high-profile websites, reportedly spending the most of any campaign in UK political history on the day of the ballot (the exact figures will be released in the coming weeks when the final spending figures are released) and pushing people to its sites and You Tube page, which worked as the NO campaign registered almost twice as many views of its YouTube channel. According to Waugh a decision was made not to engage on twitter and also placed a greater focus on using text messages as a tool to mobilise supporters to attend events.

Clearly the result of the referendum wasn’t simply about the success or failure of the digital campaigns (you can read more about the politics of the campaign here) but I still think it has some interesting lessons for NGO campaigns especially as Waugh suggests ‘From its hardline attack ads to its press operation and its mass bombardment approach, the No2AV campaign most felt like a mainstream political party. With its activism and social engagement, not surprisingly perhaps, the Yes campaign most looked like an NGO’

1. Digital media needs to be at the heart of any campaign – Both campaigns put digital media at the heart of their approaches by ensuring the appropriate lead staff attended key strategy meetings. Waugh says ‘MessageSpace’s Jag Singh, an early appointment as Director of Digital Comms for No2AV, was ‘embedded’ in the highest level of the campaign, attending all of their 8am morning meetings for example’ and suggests that same was true of the Yes campaign.

2. You can raise money from online campaigning with the right ask – The Yes campaign generated £250,000 from small donations (the average was £28) in the course of the campaign. A good example of a timely ask to the right audience can raise money as well as lead to activism.

3. Let’s not forget mobile phones as an organising tool - It’s interesting to note the use of this by the No2AV team to mobilise supporters. A few weeks ago I heard that research has shown that most text messages are read within 15 minutes, the same clearly can’t be said of emails where a 10% open rate is considered ‘good’. Should NGO campaigns be investing more in collecting mobile numbers that can be used to inform activists of key events or actions?

4. You need to reach out beyond the usual suspects - Was one of the reasons that the No2AV approach work so well was that in buying on-line marketing it reached beyond the usual suspects on the day of the election, whereas Yes campaign activists were speaking in an ‘echo chamber’ where they were simply sharing their tweets and messages to friends with similar views who were already inclined to vote Yes. One status update on my Facebook wall perhaps summarises this problem well ‘if my Facebook feed is anything to go by, the Yes vote is in the bag. But then, I don’t think I have a very proportionate representation’

5. Decide what to do with the data afterwards before the event – Waugh highlights a problem common to many in coalitions, both campaigns have built significant e-lists but it isn’t clear what to do with that data now. A good reminder of the need to discuss this before your build your list.

Do you agree? Did the politics of the situation mean the digital strategy wasn’t going to make a difference either way?

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