Rolling Stone reported last month that unlikely presidential candidate Andrew Yang has hired veteran digital & field organizer Zach Fang. That’s big news, and worth watching.
One of those people was Zach Fang. In 2016, Fang had helped run field organizing for Sanders in Iowa, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Maryland; he left a job on Congressman Tim Ryan’s presidential run to work for Yang.
As field director, Fang tells me his job is to channel Yang’s online following into the kinds of actions that will increase Yang’s name ID with potential voters, grow the number of campaign volunteers, and start to build real support for Yang at the ground level. There’s no shortage of volunteers: At a recent all-staff meeting, the senior staff announced that the campaign’s Slack channel for active volunteers had surpassed its 10,000th member. There’s a saying inside the campaign, Fang says: “We need to move from URL to IRL.”
There’s a ton to unpack there.
First off, you’ll notice that Fang’s job (essentially) is to do all of the things that NationBuilder is designed to facilitate: help build name ID, grow the campaign’s volunteer base, and identify & earn offline supporters. And that line — “We need to move from URL to IRL.” — is one I’m definitely going to use in the future.
Secondly, I’d love to learn more about how the Yang campaign is using a Slack channel to organize volunteers. I remember reading a similar anecdote about volunteer organizing in the 2016 Sanders campaign (where Fang also worked), so now I’d called it an established pattern/best practice worth learning.
Third, it’s not mentioned here but Yang’s campaign is a NationBuilder customer since the early stages of his campaign. I wonder how (or whether) leveraging the platform factors into their plans going forward.
Based on inside accounts, Beto’s campaign was mired in chaos and false-starts from the beginning. Hiring veterans like Jen O’Malley Dillon helped, but ultimately you can’t elect a candidate with a directionless campaign.
When life hands you lemons, you make it rain lemonade.
“These are the things that only the Trump campaign can do because of who our candidate is,” said a senior campaign official.
“What would be the death knell for any other candidate is often a $1 million idea for us,” declared another, adding that they have “a candidate who loves rallies, loves campaigning and loves using Twitter, so there are plenty of opportunities for us to take what might be politically incorrect and capitalize on it.”
When Kamala Harris launched her campaign, I’d have bet good money that she’d be one of the frontrunners heading into South Carolina’s primaries. But now, I’ll be surprised if she’s still running by the Iowa Caucus.
Sen. Kamala Harris’ campaign has almost completely shuttered its New Hampshire campaign, with no visible activity at any of her offices in the state.
The campaign confirmed it is largely abandoning New Hampshire, keeping only a skeleton crew and canceling an upcoming visit. Harris also will not file in person to be on the ballot, a tradition that garners local media attention.
“The campaign has made a strategic decision to realign resources to go all-in on Iowa, resulting in office closures and staff realignments and reductions in New Hampshire,” said spokesman Nate Evans. “The campaign will continue to have a staff presence in New Hampshire but the focus is and will continue to be on Iowa.”
Strategic resource allocation is one thing, but this is an all-out concession that she cannot win in New Hampshire. But Iowa and New Hampshire are linked, and the perception that she’s hemorrhaging resources and staff will undercut her ability to compete nationally.
As General Patton said (in the biographical film), “Americans love a winner, and will not tolerate a loser.” In presidential politics, if you’re not winning, you’re losing. Kamala Harris appears to be losing, and it’ll likely get worse from here.
Yesterday, former Texas Congressman Beto O’Rourke ended his campaign for the U.S. Democratic Party’s 2020 presidential nomination. Now, it’s time for digital campaigners to reflect on his back-to-back losses and ask some hard questions.
Here are three key takeaways for digital campaigners in a post-Beto world:
Lesson #1: Voters Care About “Why” You’re Running
To understand why people in Texas rallied around Beto’s campaign—and why people in Iowa and New Hampshire did not—digital campaigners should look first to his narrative.
In his Texas Senate race, Beto offered a simple, strong, and compelling reason to run: Texas deserves better. You can see it on his homepage as far back as April 2017. It was a clear and concise message, and moreover, he delivered it with conviction. In every video, every speech, every everything, you could feel that Beto O’Rourke believed he was running for Senate because someone had to do it.
In contrast, his presidential campaign felt forced. As soon as his Senate campaign ended, the “Draft Beto movement” began, with headlines in the newspaper like “Celebs react to midterms with cheers, tears and calls for Beto O'Rourke to run for president” (USA Today) and “Seems Like Everyone Wants Beto O’Rourke to Run for President” (New York Magazine). But while Beto himself wouldn’t rule out a presidential campaign, he didn't immediately embrace the idea, either. If it wasn’t entirely clear that he believed he should run for president, why should anyone else believe it?
Where in Texas he had a clear and compelling narrative, in the presidential race he always seemed to struggle to answer the most basic question: “Why do you want to be president?” The issue was further complicated by his repeated refusal to run again in Texas’ 2020 U.S. Senate race. After two years spent building a movement to turn Texas “blue,” he now seemed to think the job was beneath him.
The 2018 campaign felt like Beto for Texas. The 2020 campaign felt like Democrats for Beto. That difference matters.
Lesson #2: List Size Does Not Guarantee Success
Put simply, Beto O’Rourke’s digital team built a massive, national email list of Democratic activists and donors. People from every state donated to his senate campaign in record numbers, and consultants and pundits alike half-hoped half-expected for that level of activity to carry over seamlessly to his presidential campaign. But it didn’t.
An email list is not a singular object that can be retained, transferred, and leveraged at will. It’s a collection of individuals, each of whom has, at one or more particular moments, chosen to engage with your campaign or cause. And those individuals' support level and interest in your campaign change over time.
When people gave to Beto for Texas (2018), they were likely doing so because they were motivated by his campaign’s narrative, and by the energy and excitement of a unique moment in political history. But by 2020, Beto for Texas donors were also Bernie Sanders donors, Elizabeth Warren donors, Pete Buttigieg donors, etc. The moment had passed, the narrative had changed, and the fundraising potential of Beto’s email list proved to be massively diminished.
In 2018, Beto for Texas claimed more than 800,000 individual donors. By August 2019, Beto for America had earned just 188,000.Source: NBC News & The New York Times
Beto’s email list may ultimately prove invaluable in support of the eventual Democratic nominee against President Trump, where the cause will be unifying and the stakes high. But in a crowded Democratic presidential primary, Beto’s digital team faced the hard truth: the 2018 Beto for Texas list wasn’t a list of Beto O’Rourke supporters, it was a list of Democrats.
Lesson #3: Technology Is Not a Strategy
Digital campaigners get excited about tools. We’re technology people, and we can’t always resist the lure of cleverness and innovation. But it’s important to not to forget that the technology we choose is a matter of tactics, not strategy and that using “cool” tools doesn’t necessarily yield success. In fact, overengineering can hinder success.
From an outsider perspective, without access to internal campaign data, Beto’s team seems to have fallen into this trap with their event management platform.
During the 2018 campaign for U.S. Senate, Beto’s technology team built a beautiful, custom solution for managing the thousands of in-person grassroots events that became a hallmark of his campaign. During the 2020 campaign, they repurposed that technology as shown below.
In the meantime, the larger Democratic Party ecosystem had learned that Mobilize.us—a shared events management platform—had become the most efficient and effective way to organize offline campaign events.
Mobilize’s platform is being used on the ground by essentially all of the Democrats’ leading candidates, meaning that they’re all benefitting from the network effects that come from a shared platform: a familiar user experience for supporters, accidental event discovery through shared event calendars, and the offloading of platform maintenance and support.
While cool, on-brand and undoubtedly cleverly built, Beto’s custom events platform likely hindered their ability to organize on the ground in key states like Iowa and New Hampshire.
Beto O’Rourke ran an earnest campaign led by an experienced and talented staff, and this breakdown is not meant to criticize any of their intentions or hard work. Rather, my hope is that other digital campaigners, now and in the future, can benefit from their experience and learn these three key lessons.
Have any questions or comments about this article? I’d love to hear them. Email me at email@example.com and I’ll follow up straight away.
Before you can get the most out of something, you need to be clear about what you’re using it for. You can’t optimize ambiguity for efficiency.
That’s why your first step ought to be to ask yourself: what job did I “hire” NationBuilder’s platform to do?
Did you “hire” NationBuilder to win your election? That could mean a lot of things. Are you organizing volunteers, persuading undecided voters, raising money, or turning out supporters on election day? All of the above?
Perhaps you “hired” NationBuilder to grow your nonprofit? To succeed, you might need to raise awareness of your issues, identify new supporters on social media, and drive participation at offline events.
Or maybe you “hired” NationBuilder to organize your community/network? You’ll likely want to keep people updated about what’s most relevant to them, facilitate community-building events, and foster a sense of group identity.
The point is that before you can leap into clicking the buttons and using the features, you need to be clear about what “most” you’re trying to get out of NationBuilder.
Do you know?
Here’s a piece of NationBuilder trivia that I didn’t know until today: Jim Gilliam, NationBuilder’s founder, wrote the first lines that would become NationBuilder on Halloween 2009.
That was about a year after Barack Obama’s use of technology in the 2008 U.S. presidential election put the power of “digital organizing” on the world’s radar, and about three years before I joined the company in November 2012. Now, it seems like a lifetime ago.
"We've made the decision to stop all political advertising on Twitter globally. We believe political message reach should be earned, not bought."
Whew — that’s a big deal. My first thought is that it’ll be interesting to see what Twitter chooses to define as political.
Does the change only apply to the candidate? To PACs? What about issue advocacy ads by nonprofits and charities? What if a group wants to run an ad thanking a politician for a vote? Etc. The devil will prove to be in the details.
My second thought is that this is probably a reaction to (or at least influenced by) Mark Zuckerberg’s recent statements about Facebook refusing to police the truthiness of political speech. I wonder whether Facebook will follow suit and walk away from political ads entirely.
Today, we’re excited to officially unveil Gadsden: a mobile-optimized NationBuilder landing page that is perfect for email acquisition and supporter engagement campaigns.
Gadsden began as an internal project designed to help us better serve our agency clients. Time and again, we found ourselves needing to run high-performing email acquisition and engagement campaigns, so we built the NationBuilder-powered landing pages we needed to do that work — and then spent more than two years iterating on the design.
When we stepped back from digital agency work to refocus on NationBuilder theme design earlier this year, we decided to repurpose Gadsden as a certified NationBuilder Theme Marketplace offering so that we could make it available to all customers.
So, for the past few months, we’ve been hard at work polishing and refining Gadsden to get it ready for you, and along the way, we’ve developed some features that we’re excited to share. Let’s take a look at how Gadsden makes your prospective supporters click.
Meaningful internationalization support
Gadsden includes built-in support for 27 language localizations, including regional varieties English, German, French, Italian, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish. By the start of 2020, our goal is to support every official language of the European Union as well as the most frequently spoken languages of Africa, South America, and Asia.
By adding a tag to any page, Gadsden allows you to translate all of its hard-coded text to your chosen localization. That way, you can communicate with your supporters in their native language.
Conversion-Optimized Forms & Layouts
On Gadsden, action forms are built to convert, and they do — at up to a 90% pace for known supporters. By showing only the most necessary form fields (and in some cases showing none at all, as shown below), Gadsden dramatically reduces the number of steps your supporters need to take to get from an initial click to a form submission.
Studies repeatedly show that focused forms with engaging background photography are among the best converting layouts on the web, which is why they’re a central part of Gadsden’s design.
Any page on your Gadsden-powered website can support beautiful, full-screen, and mobile-optimized background photos so that you can showcase your candidate or campaign’s imagery — no coding required. Just upload your photo and click Save.
As a bonus, Gadsden includes the ability to use literally any color combination on any page (or a different combo per page) — all without editing a line of code. The result is a powerful, conversion-oriented website template that allows your organization’s digital team to launch on-brand action pages in moments.
Full Google Tag Manager Support
For digital campaigners and online marketers, the ability to easily add and update advertising and marketing scripts is a must. That’s why Gadsden empowers you to install and edit your Google Tag Manager container without ever touching your site’s code.
Using Google Tag Manager, alongside Gadsden’s built-in conversion optimization features, gives you access to all the tools you’ll need to run your best email acquisition and supporter engagement campaigns.
The Bottom Line
If you’re building or engaging an email list on NationBuilder, you should be using Gadsden. It’s the perfect companion to your main website (whether that site is hosted on NationBuilder or otherwise), and ideally suited to an
action.website.com subdomain. And with a price point at just $250 per site (a one time fee), it won’t break the bank.
In the wake of the European Union’s disruptive General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR), campaigns and causes across Europe are continuing to work towards modernizing their data collection, storage, and retention processes. For many organizations, like the Gloucestershire Conservatives, that means a move to NationBuilder.
From the very beginning, NationBuilder took GDPR compliance very, very seriously — doubling down on its “you own your data” philosophy and developing ever-more-useful tools to help organizations and individuals manage their data in a compliant way. Now, campaigns and causes across Europe are seeing the benefits of investing in the platform to kill two proverbial birds with one stone: working towards GDPR compliance while also modernizing their digital and field organizing toolkit.
As the Gloucestershire Conservatives set out to make a move to NationBuilder earlier this year, they partnered with us to build out their website with usability and GDPR compliance in mind. That website launched this week (gloucestershireconservatives.com), and now we’re excited to share it with the world.
“Hines Digital made the complex process of building a site from scratch really easy and straightforward.”—Gloucestershire Conservatives
Using Consent Forms to Empower Supporters & Comply With GDPR
Across the web design industry, GDPR brought fears that asking for more explicit consent from supporters would hurt “conversion rates” and ruin engagement. At Hines Digital, we’ve seen the opposite — and we’re honestly very excited about it.
By empowering supporters to manage their opt-in preferences and then honoring those requests, our clients have found their email engagement rates increase, the fundraising results improve, and their effective costs per email acquisition fall. Consent-based marketing works.
That’s why, rather than design around GDPR compliance, we designed the Gloucestershire Conservatives’ website with consent forms as a prominent user experience. Throughout the site, every signup form includes explicit consent requests so that supporters are always in control of their data.
Making Everything Editable; No Coding Required
For the Gloucestershire Conservatives, their internal team needed to be empowered to update and maintain their website without the day-to-day assistance of a “coder.”
To meet those needs, we approached the project with a “theme-first” strategy: prioritizing the wholistic development of a NationBuilder theme and then using that theme — via the NationBuilder control panel — to build the website itself without additional coding.
“The process of fine-tuning the features we wanted once the foundations were in place was really smooth and Hines Digital created a site that we are delighted with.”—Gloucestershire Conservatives
Across the site, the Gloucestershire Conservatives can edit all of their content without ever needing to lean on the assistance of a “coder,” including adding background photos & videos, editing page headlines, updating forms, adding & removing links, and reorganizing the content of their homepage.
This foundational design decision means that the party, and its staffers, are in direct control of their website — allowing them to update it to keep up with ever-increasing the speed of British politics.
Going forward, Gloucestershire Conservatives’ supporters will be in total control over their data preferences — a requirement for any modern British campaign — and their staff and volunteers will be in total control of their website’s content.
By embracing NationBuilder’s platform, and by investing in a powerfully functional NationBuilder website theme, they have taken a significant step towards building a brighter future for themselves and their supporters.
“We would have no hesitation in recommending Hines Digital to other NationBuilder customers.”—Gloucestershire Conservatives