Thoughts From CampaignTech

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I was happy to join social media professionals from across the U.S. in Washington DC last week at the 2011 CampaignTech Conference, put on by the good folks at Campaigns & Elections Magazine. As a columnist for the Canadian Edition of C & E, I was eager to attend for many reasons, including the chance to meet a number of regular C & E contributors. But it was also a great opportunity to learn about the current state of online advocacy in the United States and to see how that may be applied in a Canadian context.

You can view highlights from the livestream that ran throughout the conference below, which features a number of interviews from panellists and attendees. I was fortunate to have been interviewed as well and I somehow ended up as the screencap:

The two days I spent in DC were excellent and the Conference organizers should be congratulated for a very well run event. There were dozens of entertaining and extremely experienced social media campaigners, which made for solid discussions and some well thought our perspectives.

Upon reflecting on what I heard at the conference, I wanted to share a few conclusions I was able to draw:

Canada is Not Far Behind

I must admit, given the reports I often see originating from the US on social media marketing, development and even annual budget allocation for online efforts, I was expecting to see some incredibly advanced technology on display. Of course, vendors and panellists alike demonstrated some pretty advanced thinking. In fact, it was fairly obvious from the discussion within the sessions that the US folks have already advanced beyond the techniques we are currently applying in Canada.

But that is not to say Canada remains a backwater when it comes to combining advocacy and/or politics with social media. I would guess that we are one or (in some cases) two election cycles behind our US counterparts (more on that below). Which actually puts us at the distinct advantage of having real data to rely on in determining what works and what does not in online advocacy campaigns. These techniques have already been tested by our American friends.

Data is King

One of the interesting concepts I left the Conference with was the fact that data – and how it is acquired – is absolutely essential to the efficacy of future efforts. US practitioners are now focused on aggregating data from a number of sources, both online and offline, to create a more complete voter profile. They are combining more traditional information (address, phone number, historical voter preference, donation history, etc) with their social profiles to get a better understanding of how to target them online.

I believe we in Canada have an understanding of why this data is important, but nothing I have seen in use right now indicates Canadian politicos have figured out a way to marry an online profile with an offline voter. Of course, Canadian campaigners have a much more difficult task – historical voter information in openly available in the US, but not in Canada.

As social networks like Google+ and Facebook place a greater emphasis on confirming offline identities, all the more reason to begin integrating social data with current voter data. In fact, given the limited data available within our electoral system, it could be argued that any other method to capture data on a target voter would have even greater value. How to aggregate and control that data will be critical.

Realtime Is The Next Big Thing

Whether it is responding to reporters on Twitter or watching user data from come in as visitors interact with your website, it is pretty clear that campaigning and responding in realtime is where things are headed. This will create a lot of pressure to seamlessly integrate all aspects of the campaign with online activities; to the point where data on the ground is collected, analyzed and disseminated (to comms, rapid response, advertising, etc) for use every few hours.

No more 24-hour lag times – data collection will be measured in minutes, not hours. This may seem obvious to those involved in the digital world, but for anyone who has to deal with an approval chain (marketing, politics, brand management, etc) this can be a daunting prospect. The challenge won’t be collecting the data – the systems discussed at CampaignTech are already built and in some cases, out in the field. The challenge is adapting the internal approval/response processes to deal with this new reality.

Likes Do Not Matter. What You Do With Them Does

American practitioners are squarely focused on engaging and mobilizing those who have shown their support or interest in a cause, campaign or elected official through a like, follow or subscribe action. They know about marketing these properties online to increase support. Their focus is now on what to do with those individuals once they have “joined” the cause.

For many campaigns I see in Canada, the focus remains on acquiring likes, follows, etc. Nothing wrong with that. In fact, this is the first important step to building an online presence that will produce reasonable ROI. But it seems that asking members of a target audience to “like” a Page, article, etc is the ask at present. Like their US counterparts, I’m expecting forward-thinking campaigns to already be turning to deciding what to do with those people once they have signed up to interact with you, your candidate or your campaign.

The Conference was excellent and I recommend anyone who is interested in both public affairs and social media to attend next year. Not only will you get a good sense of what is happening on campaigns running today, but (more importantly) the participants offer a preview of future trends.

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