Top Four Essentials of eCampaigning

eCampaigning is increasingly critical to the success of campaigning (aka advocacy). For those organisations just starting campaigning via interactive media, this post should help you understand what is and is not essential.

The Short Version

The Top Four Essentials
  1. Email communications: your most important and powerful tool
  2. Your website: first impressions, enabling people to do things and attracting new supporters
  3. Expertise: develop it or hire it - but don't ignore it
  4. Campaigning actions: you need things for people to do
Beyond the Essentials
  1. Tracking and Analysis: knowing what works (and doesn't work) and why so you can spend your time and money wisely
  2. Time: having the time, effort and focus to deliver a campaigning action
  3. Budget: having budget to spend on creative content, promotion and/or external help
  4. Plan: deciding how you plan to contribute to the campaigning objectives using e-campaigning
  5. Feedback channels: listening to supporters and learning how to engage them

The Detailed Version

I was recently asked to outline the essentials of e-campaigning (aka e-advocacy): what must you do at a minimum to make it work. So this is a perfect post to revive this blog. Before jumping into the top five essential things you must have for e-campaigning, I first need to clarify what I mean by 'essential' and my assumptions.

What is 'Essential'?

By essential I mean that if you do these things you will most likely get good results for the effort you put in and you can regularly repeat your successes

You could, of course, ignore these and go straight to using social networking sites and social media (blogs, photo sharing, video sharing, bookmark sharing) and you might actually achieve something (if you get lucky). But my experience is you'd have a hard time repeating your success since you have no way of directly re-mobilising your supporters from the first initiative you'll have to do all the same basic work over again and that is nor smart!

What these top essentials do is focus on building on past successes and ensuring success is repeatable.

There are, of course, some things that many e-campaigning professions (including myself) would like to add to this list like tracking and analysis. Why I don't include tracking and analysis (I do include it in the 'important' section) in the top four is that many organisations do 'good' campaigning without it. Of course, getting by without it probably also means they are wasting time and money on things that are not working very well and they likely are not improving their e-campaigning with every campaigning action. With talented people and a good budget they may not miss their lost opportunities. By doing it they could be performing significantly better with almost the same budget and effort.

I've tried to draw this line between 'essential' and 'important' to help keep the essentials to a minimum and focused. Mut anyone who wants to do higher impact e-campaigning should definitely not stop with the essentials: just start with them.


  1. Part of your campaign strategy (you do have one - right?) is to recruit and mobilise a key stakeholder group. In most cases this is simply 'the public' but if you have done a power analysis* of your targets then it is likely to be more specific. eCampaigning can be for other purposes than public recruitment and mobilisation, but 98% chance is you want to do e-campaigning to recruit and mobilise people.
  2. You wish to do campaigning for an organisation (vs. as an individual). The essentials of e-campaigning for an individual would be different since it is likely to be a short term campaign with no continuity planned beyond the outcome of the campaign. An organisation would normally want continuity and which each campaign action may be short term, the overall campaign may go on for years or decades.
  3. You or someone else in the organisation (not a volunteer) has responsibility for at least overseeing the e-campaigning and ensuring sufficient time and/or budgets are allocated to implement these essentials.

The Top Four

  1. Email Communications
  2. Email is your single most important tool. You need to collect supporter's email addresses and send email communications to them at least every two months and ideally more frequently. Email is the key tool because it:

    1. Enables you to build a direct relationship with supporters and have high control over the communication communicate
    2. Is the most effective tool to mobilise your supporters quickly
    3. Is the widest standard for person-to-person messaging there is on the Internet

    If you have been wooed by media stores of Facebook, MySpace or other social networks, these tools are great way to go beyond the essentials (or to use for campaigning as an individual), but they are minor players when it comes to messaging and they too depend on email to make their sites a success.

    Do you need proof? In 2008 there are 1.6 billion active email users, only 300 million people use social networking sites in total. There are minor issues with email such as spam, but those are manageable.

    The exception to email being your single most important tool is if the supporter profile you are planning to engage does not use email. Since any social networking sites requires an email for registration, those users will still have an email address. Those using only a mobile phone for communication thus would be the most obvious exception - but also brings significant other constraints (if we are still following Assumption A).

  3. Website
  4. Your website is the next important tool for e-campaigning. Not only is it the primary place for new supporters to have a first impression of your organisation and hopefully subscribe to your emails, but the content you publish and the campaigning actions you run will attract new people every day. At minimum, the website should have:

    1. The ability for people to subscribe to your email communications
    2. Information about your campaigns, regular updates of their progress and what your supporters can do

    If you wish to go one step beyond the minimum, then having campaigning actions that people can complete on your website is very important as it not only makes it quick and easy for supporters to contribute to your campaigning, but it also contributes to the growth of your email subscribers. There are free services and tools for this, but free services often prevent you from accessing the data of who took the actions (and thus new people who subscribed)

  5. Expertise
  6. Having the tools in place is actually relatively easy. However if you don't have the expertise to use those tools then it is likely your e-campaigning efforts will have poor results. This sounds obvious, but many organisations simply add e-campaigning as one more role of an existing staff member who may only have one of the many related of expertise needed. The minimum expertise needed is:

    1. Email marketing: what is effective and what isn't
    2. Web usability: how to make priority actions/content as obvious and easy as possible
    3. Campaigning: how to mobilise people and influence targets

    This is a minimum, not an ideal.

    If you can only afford to hire one new person and already have campaigners and a web  producer, then focus on getting someone with direct marketing expertise and some knowledge of the Internet - that is a good base for skills and knowledge needed for e-campaigning.

    To get people with these skills and/or knowledge you can:

    1. Let them learn from scratch on the job (the most expensive approach due to lost opportunities over the 1-2 years their learning could take)
    2. Send them on training (disclosure: FairSay has launched an e-campaigning training series)
    3. Hire an external consultant and have a staff member shadow this person (expensive but lower risk)
    4. Hire someone with the skills and experience (these people are very hard to lure away from current jobs)
    5. Do extensive research online to identify and acquire the theoretical knowledge before starting
  7. Campaigning Actions
  8. Having regular new campaigning actions is not just a good way to re-focus your campaigning on your targets, but it also helps retain existing and recruit new supporters. The more frequently you run new campaigning actions, the faster your supporter base will grow. It may also help to keep your targets aware of your efforts and help achieve the campaign objectives. However, just running new campaigning actions over simplifies what is necessary. They need to be genuine, timely, compelling and specific to work well.

Going Beyond the Essentials

Of course, doing the minimum is a great way to start, but is high risk since ti is operating without the benefit of insight into the effectiveness of the e-campaigning, the investment needed to achieve the best results, the direction to guide effort and investment and the feedback to ensure it is engaging supporters. To take e-campaigning beyond the essentials, there are several important activities that needs to be considered

  1. Tracking and Analysis
  2. Tracking tools are essential for learning what is working and what isn't so you can either refine what isn't working and/or switch to focus more on what is working. You can do e-campaigning without using tracking and analysis tools (as many organisations do), but you will be even more dependent on the expertise you have to know what works and increase the risk that you are wasting time and budget. Tracking an analysis mean three things:

    1. Completion tracking: being able to know what drove each supporter to take a particular action (including basic subscriptions) so you can know what is really working well. Most systems don't have this capability but hopefully over the coming years this will change (Note: FairSay developed the free eCampaigning Tool for Plone that has completion tracking built in)
    2. Email tracking: how are emails performing vs. past emails and what supporters are opening, clicking on links or have invalid email addresses. Most bulk emailing systems have this capability but you may need to configure it and you'll definitely need the expertise to know what it means.
    3. Web tracking: how visitors are behaving on your website. If you don't have completion tracking, web tracking when used with source tracking can be an acceptable substitute. Goggle Analytics is the best free service but it requires basic technical skills to implement and some expertise to configure, tag links and understand the results.

    Tracking and analysis guides you in optimising your activity and when you optimise your activity at multiple point in the campaigning actions you produce q strong multiplier that can lead to dramatic improvements in your effectiveness.

  3. Time
  4. Setting-up, promoting and managing an e-campaigning action takes time and effort. At a minimum this would probably be 5-10 days per e-campaigning action. Why? Here are some of the things it involves:

    • Distilling the policy ask into a headline and a few sentence campaigning ask
    • Getting your campaigning ask approved (or skip this step if you are a follow of the idea that it is easier to apologise than ask for permission)
    • Writing the launch email to your supporters. If you want an image you need to find one you have to find a suitable one you have the rights to use (not easy). If you need a design then triple this time
    • Configuring the online action for people to take and testing it to ensure it works. This involves the design of the page, the fields people are asked to fill in, the content for the page to be short and compelling, supporting content and what you cross-promote on the thank-you page and in thank-you email.
    • Getting organisational sign off the email and online action and revising things until you do (again, skip this step if you are a follow of the idea that it is easier to apologise than ask for permission)
    • Ensuring that there is a feedback channel for supporters and potential supporters
    • Setting up the email so it goes to the right supporters with the right content
    • Launching the email to supporters and monitoring the initial results to ensure there are no technical problems
    • Promoting it in as many places online as you have time for
    • Writing, setting-up and sending update emails to supporters if the action is running for longer than a few weeks
    • Delivering the campaign action results to the target (if there is one) - even if they received it via email. This helps you increase your campaigning impact
    • Reviewing the campaigning action (including analysed the tracked results) and learning how to improve next time

    Pwew! If you know what you are doing, this will take 5-10 days effort. If you are new to it it could take double or triple that time (or what happens in practice is you just skip many steps).

  5. Budget
  6. Have some budget for e-campaigning would definitely help - especially if you wish to send people on training or get access to the tools necessary for good e-campaigning. Budget for promotion (not only advertising) is very important. Without promotion all the effort you put into your campaigning has limited effect. Promotion is even more important if you have spent money to create some content and need to ensure you get a good 'return' on it.

  7. Plan
  8. Having an e-campaigning strategy and plan should be essential. In reality organisation do e-campaigning for years without a strategy or plan. However I'll still put it as an essential since it can provide focus and goals that can help determine if the e-campaigning is generating the results required. Part of planning should also involve research into targets, supporters and the profile of people that needs tob e recruited.

  9. Feedback channels
  10. Listing to supporters via a feedback channel like a contact email address they can use or polls and surveys is also an important activity that many organisations neglect. However having feedback can help improve your e-campaigning and ensure it engages supporters: an essential element of success.

Essential, Important or Ideal?

Event having the essential and important aspects of e-campaigning in place leaves significant room for improvement. However the ideal requirements foe e-campaigning goes even beyond this. Perhaps that is a future topic for a blog post.

Feedback Please

Anything you think I missed? Anything you disagree with? Anything you think should have more emphasis?

This post will be turned into an article in the eCampaigning Resource Pack that is being produced as part of the 2008 eCampaigning Forum initiative so any help improving it before printed publication would be useful!

by Duane Raymond published May 07, 2008,