Introducing Livingston: Built for Candidates With Strong Digital Teams

This week, we’re proud to have officially launched our first premium NationBuilder theme in the Theme Marketplace: “Livingston.”

Livingston is designed explicitly for campaigns with a large-market focus and an experienced digital team. But while it’s flexible enough for any content and powerful enough to scale with your campaign, it doesn’t require any coding knowledge to maintain. (Yes, you read that right: with Livinstgon, you can update all of your content without ever touching your pages’ code.)

We designed Livingston with communications & digital directors in mind. In this blog post, we’ll highlight some of our favorite features and how they can help your campaign achieve its goals.

Action alert bar

Livingston allows you to highlight key actions — like an important policy announcement or a call to donate — with a prominent “alert” button above the navbar.

This full-width button shows on every page and hides as the user scrolls, which makes it perfect for a noticeable but unobtrusive ask.

And the best part? Your digital team can control the text and link URL without ever touching a line of code, allowing it to be deployed or updated in seconds. (That’s a theme we’ll mention a lot because it’s crucial.) 

Beautiful header photos

Since a picture is worth a thousand words, we’ve created the theme to be photo-centric — helping the communications team to share the candidate’s story compellingly.

On every page, you have the option to choose a featured “header image” to compliment your content (along with an optional site-wide default). These photographs are automatically scaled and cropped to fit every screen without warping or distorting; all your team needs to do is choose a photo, upload, and save.

Flexible homepage blocks

Livingston’s modular homepage design empowers your team to update content on the fly without fear of “breaking” your site. 

By design, the homepage template includes up to seven “content blocks.” Each block includes a photograph, a headline, and link to another URL on your site (or redirect URL to an external page). What’s more, these blocks are sortable by “dragging and dropping” within the NationBuilder control panel, meaning that your team has full control of what gets shown, where, and how.

To edit content, you need only to choose a photo, type a headline, and save. (Yes, it’s that easy.)

Logged-in supporter menu

Livingston allows your supporters to manage their information and quickly complete forms with automatic post-action login.

Once they’ve signed in — or submitted any forms on the site — they’ll see their name and avatar appear in the site’s top nav, along with a dropdown menu giving them access to their account settings and a link to sign out. And at the footer of every Livingston page is a link to your nation’s unsubscribe link, giving your supporters ready access to opt-out if they choose.

A clean email list is a healthy email list, and healthy email lists yield results for your campaign. By giving your supporters control of their own data, Livingston puts your team in a better position to succeed from Day One.

Summary

Livingston was designed with digital teams in mind because they’re the folks who use NationBuilder on a day-to-day basis — and when they succeed, their candidates succeed. Its features and functionality are powered natively by NationBuilder’s platform and are all available to anyone without any need for coding knowledge. We can’t wait to see what you build with them.

Learn more about Livingston

Why It’s Never Been More Important to Own Your Data & Infrastructure

London, United Kingdom (Photo Credit: Jamie Street / Unsplash)
London, United Kingdom (Photo Credit: Jamie Street / Unsplash)

Earlier this week, the United Kingdom’s Conservative and Unionist Party expelled twenty-one members from their party for voting with the opposition to defeat the Prime Minister (Source).

Now party-less, these former Tories will lose any number of the “perks” that came with their party membership: seniority, roles in government, and — crucially — access to the Conservative Party’s data and digital infrastructure.

Now, they are facing the daunting prospect of having to build their campaign infrastructure from scratch ahead of a likely snap election next month. These members’ plight underscores why it’s never been more critical for leaders to own their data and digital infrastructure.

All Campaigns Are Digital Campaigns

The day-to-day work of leadership and organizing has never been more dependent on data, big and small.

Leaders are expected to host websites, communicate with their supporters on social media, maintain lists of donors and volunteers, and — crucially — comply with the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) rules for securing and keeping records of data processing consent.

As tempting as it can be to outsource this responsibility to a party, association, or another umbrella group, it’s just downright irresponsible to do so.

In the UK example above, these former Tories are now facing the genuine prospect of running for re-election against opponents that have access to all the data and infrastructure they helped build. That’s an unenviable position and avoidable one.

Parties Want Control; Leaders Need Independence

For political parties, individual candidates are interchangeable cogs in a much larger machine. Leaders who are favored by the establishment today will find themselves out of favor tomorrow. It is the way of things.

For that reason, the political establishment sees control of data & infrastructure as an essential part of its mission and purpose. By controlling the “brand,” the tools of organizing, and the direct relationship with grassroots activists the party believes it can exercise control over its individual candidates. And that belief is largely correct.

Owning your data and digital infrastructure (database, website, email platform, and social media accounts) empowers you to stand independent of your party’s establishment. It allows you to maintain a direct relationship with your supporters and gives you the tools you need to survive an inevitable shift in your party’s power structure.

Build Your Independent Digital Infrastructure Now

Whether you’re a veteran leader or a first-time candidate, you should think seriously about how your reliance on party-owned data and infrastructure undermines your footing and erodes your independence. The party giveth, and the party can taketh away.

Non-partisan tools like NationBuilder, which respect data privacy and empower individual leaders, can empower you to take ownership of your future. And while you will have to bear the nominal costs yourself, you can rest assured knowing that you’ve made a sound investment in your movement’s long-term security.

What tools are most important to own? Start with these:

  • Your website
  • Your bulk email tools
  • Your supporter data
  • Your GDPR consents
  • Your fundraising dollars
  • Your social media accounts

If you’re not sure where to start, reach out at hello@hines.digital and we’ll happily give you our best advice — free of charge. If we can help, outstanding; if not, we’ll point you in the direction of someone who can. 


Where Trump's Facebook Spending Goes

I like the way that Axios is digging into Facebook Ad data to provide a more in-depth analysis of the 2020 campaign.

The big picture: Digital ad campaigns, especially on Facebook, are often used this early in the cycle to build lists and to raise small-dollar fundraising. Hyper-targeting a message to reach a specific audience is often the most effective way to solicit engagement.

I spend a lot of time each week digging through Facebook’s ad archive, most just because I’m curious. (You can learn a lot about a campaign by the way it messages and targets its list-building ads.) It might be fun to write up my findings from time to time, as Axios does here.

Note: If you’re keen to dig deeper, check out Bully Pulpit Interactive’s 2020 Campaign Tracker, from which Axios sourced their data.


My Three Rules

When I’m coaching, I always emphasize three foundational “rules” for my players to guide them towards success. These rules are not sport-specific, and anyone can follow them. If you do, you’ll find success — guaranteed.

Rule #1: Make a “Perfect Effort”

I don’t say “do your best,” because that’s something people hear so often it sounds trite. At best, it’s become an empty phrase, and at worst it‘s become a cop-out for failure.

Giving your “perfect effort” means that you poured every bit of energy you had into the task. You could not possibly have done more; you went above and beyond what anyone could have expected of you.

Rule #2: Say, “Yes, coach. I will.”

When your coach gives you instructions, respond that you understand. Then, follow them.

If their directions are unclear, ask them to explain another way. It is your responsibility to be sure you understand their feedback.

You should not assume that you know better than your coach — or your teammates. Trust that the people around you are trying to help, and do your best to respond to their feedback. That is how you will learn.

Rule #3: Maintain a Positive Attitude

Your attitude, positive or negative, is contagious and will spread throughout your team quickly. But while a positive attitude will help others around you to excel, a negative attitude will drag everyone down.

Put another way: You cannot be a good teammate and throw a tantrum at the same time.


As I grow older, I more clearly understand the lesson that sports are designed to prepare us for life. These same lessons that I teach my children can also inform my workplace interactions: with colleagues, clients, and competitors.

If I give my perfect effort, respond to feedback, and maintain a positive attitude, I will excel at whatever I do. But, if I fail to adhere to any of these three rules, I will inevitably fail.


“Running”: A Must-Watch Campaign Announcement Ad… From a Republican

Over the past few years, we’ve Democrats repeatedly leverage the power of storytelling and compelling video to kick-start a campaign in its initial days. For example:

  • Doors” — Texas Democrat MJ Hegar
  • Told Me” — Kentucky Democrat Any McGrath

In both cases, the campaigns feature U.S. military veterans whose campaigns for Congress are the culmination of riveting life stories, and in both cases, those stories are brought to life through an engaging and potentially viral video.

Today, Virginia Republican Rob Jones is leveraging that same proven formula with his launch video — “Running” — and, as with the Democrats before him, the way they’re combining personal storytelling, compelling video, and digital marketing to launch his campaign is something that ought to be out of a textbook. 


The New Blue State D̶i̶g̶i̶t̶a̶l̶

This week, the legendary Democratic digital consultancy Blue State Digital rebranded — and dropped “digital” from their name entirely.

Blue State got its start on the campaign trail, pioneering the use of digital technology to open up the democratic process. Since then we’ve extended our partnership to leading causes, campaigns, and companies — expanding our work across strategy, creative, and data and technology.

Our roots in digital have shaped who we are today. But our work is about more than a channel — it’s about people and progress. So we are removing the word “digital” from our name, and we’re updating our brand to better reflect the totality of the work we’re putting out in the world and where we’re trying to go with our clients. We want to make an even stronger statement about what we believe in.

When I was first learning digital strategy in the mid-2000s, no agency had a more significant impact on my work than Blue State. They were then and still are pioneers in the field. Anyone in digital who says their work didn't influence them is either ignorant or lying. 

I’m keen to see how the new “Blue State” continues to evolve in their increasingly competitive marketplace.


Slate.com discovers “thirsty” email engagement tactics

Slate.com:

The editor assumed that someone had replied to one of his emails because the “from” line read, “Rachel, me (2).” When he opened the email, however, he discovered that “Rachel, me (2)” was actually just a phony name that the Democratic fundraising group Act Blue and Sen. Jeanne Shaheen’s campaign were using to make it seem like part of an ongoing thread. The New Hampshire senator’s campaign did not reply to Slate’s request for comment.

This is a pretty commonplace tactic among political organizations — though it’s typically leveraged by committees more so than candidates. I cannot say empirically, but I suspect that many people have exactly the reaction that the author had: the feeling that they were lied to.

For digital strategists, email marketers, and online fundraisers, it can be tempting to let our “thirst” for online fundraising revenue drive us to less-than-tasteful tactics. This article is a healthy reminder that there is a cost to increasingly aggressive approaches, and that cost is the loss of trust among our candidates’ supporters.


Peter Thiel says FBI, CIA should probe Google

Over the weekend, billionaire investor Peter Thiel urged the federal government to investigate Google for treasonous cooperation with the Chinese military and the possibility that its senior leadership had been “infiltrated” by foreign intelligence operatives.

Obviously, these are alarming accusations from a high-profile and respected source, and one with the ear of the president. 

As Axios notes in a follow-up story today, these concerns aren't accompanied by evidence (in a very McCarthy-esque fashion), and by raising them as questions Thiel and others aren’t required to prove their validity. But they’ve definitely gotten the President’s attention

The implications here are massive. I’m writing this post in Google Chrome, use Gmail and Google Calendar for my day-to-day productivity, and Google Search almost exclusively — as do most people, and most political operatives in particular. 

My gut reaction is that it’s absolutely in the national interest to be confident that Google (and possibly other major tech players) are “on our side,” not unlike defense or aerospace contractors. 


Bernie Sanders says he would ‘absolutely’ try to break up Facebook, Google, Amazon

POLITICO: 

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) today said that if elected president he would “absolutely” look to break up online giants Facebook, Google and Amazon, offering his strongest pledge to date to pursue antitrust enforcement against the tech industry.

Asked at a Washington Post event if his administration would try to split apart those three tech titans, Sanders said, “Absolutely.” He singled out Facebook in particular as having “incredible power over the economy, over the political life of this country in a very dangerous sense.”

Digital directors and strategists depend on Facebook and Google’s infrastructure for the day-to-day of their work. Any anti-trust measures would have a seismic and unpredictable effect on the digital political ecosystem.


Backlash Ensues as RNC's WinRed Fundraising Hammer Falls

RealClearPolitics is out with an in-depth, well-sourced summary of the GOP’s ongoing intraparty debate over fundraising platform strategy.

Republican national party leaders decided to publicly strong-arm state and local GOP officials, as well as some members of Congress, in a battle over the best way to raise small-dollar donations from the conservative grassroots.

Now those forces are pushing back against what they regard as both a money and a data grab antithetical to bedrock GOP free market principles, according to RealClearPolitics interviews with more than a dozen state party officials, veteran national campaign operatives and fundraising experts.

If you’re a digital strategist — in either party — you’ll want to be conversant in the dynamics of this conflict (whether or not you have a particular horse in the race), as it’s possibly the most important storyline in the GOP political world today.