LibDem Expand was set up to campaign for a ‘650 Seat Strategy’ for the Liberal Democrats; taking on the idea of ‘no go areas’, and ensuring that a message could be delivered to every voter. In many ways, this is admittedly easier said than done. Leaflets need to be produced and then delivered. Canvassing takes time. Appearing in front of all the right media can be an uphill struggle. But there is one avenue that has considerably lower barriers to entry, and which is increasingly important: Digital.
Digital is broad: social media like Facebook and Twitter, but also maintaining an up to date website, and making the most of your email addresses for mail campaigns. Each tool has its strengths. It’s important to remember, also, that digital can’t (and shouldn’t) replace everything else you should already be doing. Digital should complement conventional tactics, not replace them.
While digital is a disruptor to some extent, it serves similar purposes to offline campaigning. Digital tools are ways to reach new people and begin a dialogue. With the right content (or budget) you can reach hundreds or thousands of people within hours. But how?
One of the key things is not to leave your social channels or web pages dormant. It’s very hard to build an audience and engage with your community when you aren’t saying anything! With the help of tools like Buffer or Crowdfire, there’s no excuse for having a dormant news feed. You can take one day a week to schedule a series of posts. Timing matters too, and you can use tools like Tweriod or the posts tab in Facebook Insights to find out when to post to reach your audience and get them engaged. As you may expect from a LibDem Expand post, this sort of thing should be done all year round, not just in the few weeks leading up to a general election. If you built a digital campaign team in anticipation of June’s election and they’ve drifted away since, now is the time to get them back involved! This is prime time for building your audience, gathering emails, and establishing yourself. You should also be spending this time to figure out what resonates with your audience and what doesn’t. Where are people clicking through on your website? What Tweets get the most retweets, and what hashtags should you be using? What content on Facebook is getting the most reach? Google Analytics, Twitter Analytics, and the Overview tab on the Insights tool of your Facebook page provide succinct, easy information on all of this.
Organic and scheduled content are just one part of a digital campaign. Ads are increasingly powerful and effective in a world of cluttered news feeds. Facebook ads are quick and easy to set up, and have a great return on investment (both work and money). People allegedly check Facebook at least fourteen times per day, on average, making it a great place to start for your digital campaign. You can create ads for lots of different purposes: to get more ‘likes’ on your page; to get a selection of posts in front more people, or particular groups; to get more likes or reactions on a post; or to send people through to your website. The first (getting more likes) might work well for introducing a candidate; while the last (sending to a website) may work best for showcasing your manifesto, or getting people to sign a petition or sign up to your newsletter. These different aims are also achievable through TwitterAds.
Where Facebook and Twitter ads really differ is in their targeting capacities. Facebook has vastly more users and demographic data – allowing you to target by lifestyle, interests, and much more. And while Twitter can target by these too, it has greater potential for targeting Ads towards the audience of specific accounts. If there are key local influencers in your constituency that you want your message to get in front of, pop their username into TwitterAds. Your ads will start to appear in the timelines of their followers. Meanwhile, Facebook can allow you to target both by language and by country of origin. Want to talk about the disastrous impact of Brexit? Direct ads to ex-pats of EU member states, or to speakers of a particular language.
Less directly political targeting has a role too. You don’t necessarily want to be preaching to the converted, or to your active opponents. You can use proxies to reach your target audience. If you were in London and wanted to reach ‘young professionals’, you might target an audience similar to fans of TimeOut, for instance. You can also upload your email database to build a ‘lookalike’ audience – although you’ll need to build your list up first!
GoogleAds is another powerful tool, often neglected, considering Google commands 83.49% of the search engine market. The Tories used it particularly well in the General Election, directing searches about the ‘Dementia Tax’ towards an FAQ page entitled “The so called ‘dementia tax’ – get the real facts”. If you can predict relevant search terms, you can get ahead of your opponents. This is one of the areas where digital and your ground campaign need to complement each other: what are people on the doorstep talking about?
Finally, a lot of the above can be achieved with a relatively small budget. A brief but effective ad can run on a budget of £10 on Facebook (reaching somewhere in the proximity of a thousand people). With ample monitoring and review, you can direct your spending towards the most effective ads, and gather potentially useful data in the meantime. This is what we did in the Tower Hamlets Liberal Democrats in the days and weeks leading up to the election. Every couple of days we reviewed the best performers, and switched off and redirected funds from the weakest performers.
Digital is an increasingly important part of campaigning. It can’t be left for the few weeks leading up to a vote. Digital should be part of your local party’s on-going campaign. With its relatively low barriers to entry it offers a distinct way to get your message out to virtually all voters.