You (still) need to own your own digital + field infrastructure

Last month, the NRSC came out in favor of campaigns spending at least 30% of their budgets on digital (Source). Independent firms like Targeted Victory are making programmatic digital advertising more accessible with self-serve tools like Targeted Engagement. And today, the RNC announced its new and improved Data Center for 2016, giving candidates and committees across the country unprecedented access to data that’ll help them win in November. And that doesn’t include all the exciting work being done by NationBuilder, i360, WidgetMakr, and other countless other third-party apps and services.

After nearly a decade behind the digital + field “curve,” our party is finally showing signs of leadership in the space. This is an incredibly exciting time to be a Republican.

But with digital playing an increasingly important — some may even say central — role in campaigns, and with so many apps, services, and data sources emerging in the market, it can feel overwhelming trying to figure out what you need and what you don’t. That said, there are three things every organization ought to do to get the most out of their digital infrastructure.

Start by finding a good partner

If you’re a campaign, committee, or advocacy organization and you’re looking to start making a serious commitment to digital + field, the first thing you ought to do is find a strong partner to help you through the process. It doesn’t matter whether this is an outside consultant or an internal hire, but it ought to be someone who has their sea legs under them and has been through this before.

Digital ≠ social media; you’re going to want someone who’s comfortable wading through data, who understands the software systems and how they integrate, who’s a competent designer & web developer, and who (preferably) has some field experience. Sound like a lot? That’s because this “someone” is likely going to be a team of people for you, especially if you’re working at the congressional level or higher.

Build your foundational digital infrastructure

Once you’ve identified an expert partner to help lead your digital effort, it’s time to lay the foundation. On what platform will you host your website? How will you process donations? Send email blasts? Track engagement data from your website, emails, donation pages, etc.? Filter and segment your voter/volunteer/donor/email/social data? Etc.

Put more simply: before you do any fancy stuff, you need to build out the systems and workflows to allow you to handle the basic, everyday stuff. For each component of this basic infrastructure (email, database, website, donations) there are a number of great options, but there are few that effectively integrate them all into an integrated system. One of the best is NationBuilder, a nonpartisan software platform which has quickly become the go-to default for forward-thinking campaigns and organizations around the world.

State Republican Parties in key states purple states like Florida and Massachusetts are taking the lead and using NationBuilder to build the state-of-the-art digital + field infrastructure that’ll allow them to run some of the most advanced campaigns the party has ever seen. They’re joined by other leading Republican campaigns, like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s successful 2014 re-election campaign, North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory’s re-election campaign, and Bill Bryant’s campaign for Governor of Washington State.

But whether you use NationBuilder or some other platform, your foundational digital infrastructure ought to serve as the center — or “hub” — of your entire digital operation. At any given moment, the data in this core system ought to be the canonical “truth” about your campaign, its supporters, etc., and by owning this system internally you always know that it’s tailored to service you, and not someone else.

Connect to and integrate with third party data sources and tools

Now that you’ve built out your campaign’s internal digital infrastructure, you’re ready to start connecting with outside data sources and tools. These tools should “sync” with your internal systems using tight integrations, allowing you to use third-party tools while remaining confident that your internal data is always accurate and up to date.

What sorts of systems might you be integrating with? Several:

Data Sources

  • Facebook Page data
  • Twitter interactional data

Canvassing / Phone Banking Apps

Fundraising

(Note: If you’re keeping these systems in sync by importing and exporting spreadsheets between them, you ought to reconsider what you’re doing. That sort of process is likely to — at best — cause delays and — at worst — data corruption.)

The Bottom Line

Our party has never been in a strong position digitally than we are in today. We have a wealth of tools, resources, and talent that — if we use it properly — will lead us to victory in November.

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