Notes from the eCampaigning forum 2008

Ben Brandzel at eCampaigning Forum 2008 I’m at the e-cam­paign­ing forum in Oxford, where prac­ti­tion­ers of online activism meet to share their light­hous­es and ship­wrecks, talk about ways to use email, web, Twit­ter, Face­book and Myspace for our social and envi­ron­men­tal agen­das, gaze at the hori­zon to try and guess the next big trends and, most impor­tant­ly, bond over our com­mon tri­als and tri­umphs. And drink beer.

What fol­lows are fair­ly raw notes. If you fear typos and incom­plete sen­tences, here be drag­ons!

First speak­er was Ben Brandzel, most recent­ly of the John Edwards cam­paign but pre­vi­ous­ly from MoveOn and GetUp. Ben is a great rapid-fire speak­er. He began his speech by say­ing the first rule of e-cam­paign­ing is you nev­er need to wear a suit to present at an e-cam­paign­er forum.

Much of what he had to say about effec­tive email cam­paigns con­firmed what Riken Patel of Avaaz told us last year at this venue, but he had some addi­tion­al killer points:

He not­ed that splash sign-up pages are mas­sive­ly used in polit­i­cal cam­paigns, and he doesn’t under­stand why they’re not more used in advo­ca­cy work: they are huge list builders for US polit­i­cal cam­paigns, they con­vey the impor­tance of estab­lish­ing a rela­tion­ship with the organ­i­sa­tion. This struck a chord with me, as I remem­ber Mar­t­in Lloyd show­ing us the Oba­ma site, which opens full screen with a sign-up form, and imag­in­ing what our web­site would look like if it was designed like a US elec­tion cam­paign site. Ben did note that peo­ple come to can­di­dates sites with a strong “join moti­va­tion.” He won­dered if you dri­ve splash pages toward action asks rather than join asks, whether they would do bet­ter. Some­thing to test.

My biggest “Been there, seen that” respon­se was to some­thing Ben said about stum­bling blocks for big groups doing online advo­ca­cy. He called it the con­flict between the inside pow­er strat­e­gy vs the out­side pow­er strat­e­gy. This pits the pol­i­cy wonks in any organ­i­sa­tion, who are experts in their fields and try­ing to keep doors open with politi­cians and polit­i­cal process­es, again­st the online advo­ca­cy folks who are look­ing to build a wide pub­lic advo­ca­cy force. In order to sus­tain a large enough grass roots group to keep peo­ple on board, you need to say things that are offen­sive to folks who are try­ing to keep doors open in the insid­er pow­er strat­e­gy. You need to be blunt­ly crit­i­cal of indi­vid­u­als and process­es that insid­ers are try­ing to work with. At MoveOn, they made a choice for a long term strat­e­gy of build­ing enough of a con­stituen­cy that they could break down the door if it closed in their face. That meant some­times say­ing things that would offend the insid­ers. In Ben’s view, the mis­sion align­ment has to be more with the out­sider strat­e­gy than the insid­er strat­e­gy.

Ben had a lot of clev­er things to say, I liked the­se two nuggets in par­tic­u­lar:

Don’t put online engage­ment in your IT depart­ment. That would be as stu­pid as news­pa­per press desks 20 years ago being put under the type­writer depart­ment.

Don’t let the fear of the nut­case shape your strat­e­gy. Dif­fuse that fear — is there real evi­dence to sug­gest what­ev­er we fear is real­ly going to hap­pen, and even if it does, will it derail us? The fear of the nut­case is a major dis­cour­age­ment to good ideas and exper­i­men­ta­tion.

Kari­na Bris­by, Inter­ac­tive Cam­paign Man­ager Oxfam GB, was next and spoke about the work she and Oxfam did around the Bali con­fer­ence, and she pro­vid­ed some great exam­ples of what she sees as good online cam­paign­ing — see a full set of links at her blog, Kari­na Talk­ing.

(And we’re but­ton-pop­ping proud to have our Face­book page fea­tured there — kudos to Giona Bar­bera for all his work to make our nice, shiny page which you can fan here.)

Inter­est­ing­ly, Oxfam gave sup­port­ers a choice to go to myspace or face­book — two thirds went to Face­book. So they went that way.

One lesson she took away from how the issue of monks being beat­en in Bur­ma was treat­ed on face­book — users swarmed to a place where they could find out more, where many of them who nev­er would have heard of Avaaz or Oxfam oth­er­wise get exposed to those organ­i­sa­tions and some moved into rela­tion­ships with those groups. Most peo­ple will nev­er go back to the Face­book group, but by link­ing organ­i­sa­tions into those “swarm spots” you can recruit new sup­port.

Here’s four of Karina’s ecam­paign­ing lessons:

1. Focus on your audi­ence. If they don’t want to use pod­casts, stop. If they want video, give them video.

2. Test and tri­al. Test and tri­al. You won’t find out what works unless you ask, and make them feel part of the deci­sion mak­ing process.

3. Resources: Make sure you have the time to keep your head up, watch what oth­ers are doing. Spend 20% of your time watch­ing what oth­ers are doing.

4. Just because some­thing is get­ting talked about in media or your man­age­ment has heard about a new toy, don’t get pushed into new spaces with­out the resources to con­tin­ue.

(JYS­tew­art caught some addi­tion­al points worth check­ing out here. )

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