A Trifecta of Tools for Victory, Part II: NationBuilder

The pricing for campaign tech is in free-fall.   If we applied a sort of  pricing version of Moore’s Law to online campaign software, you’d have the picture.  Capabilites expand arithmetically, while the price drop is almost logarithmic.

That’s only a tiny exaggeration (mathematically) but better illustrated with a direct comparison: the same technology that gleaned Obama’s campaign web site 400,000 online volunteers and $750 million in contributions is now available to the tiniest county party or town council member campaign for as low as $19/month.

The short story is that with a new platform called NationBuilder, you can recruit activists online and build your volunteer base just like Obama did with his million-dollar web site in 2008 – but it will cost you much, much less.  You may have access to a great GOTV voter database such as rVotes or PROCINCT, but you need trusted volunteers to use those systems.

NationBuilder helps you build a ‘nation’ of trusted volunteers and gives you metrics on how much you can trust those volunteers!  The puzzle of where to get committed activists to can trust to allow into your valuable database is solved!

Just a couple of days ago, presidential candidate Herman Cain launched his newest volunteer recruiting web site on the NationBuilder platform: http://www.arealleader.com

Hi tech, low price: that’s right, I said as low as $19/month.   There is not a single county party or backwater mayoral campaign in the US that cannot afford that price tag.  But price is not the reason to give NationBuilder a serious look; the reason to consider NationBuilder is the functions it delivers.

I confess first, that probably due to my own awkwardness with words, I’ve have perhaps sown some confusion about the topic of the first article in this series regarding rVotes, and NationBuilder.  Let me see if I can dispel that confusion now.

Every campaign or party effort needs a web site; such an effort is crippled without a wholesale web presence that includes at web site, Facebook page and twitter feed.  rVotes does not provide web sites for campaigns or party efforts.  rVotes is a tool for managing, sharing, and using voter data/intelligence for call centers and precinct walk lists, micro-targeting robocalls and mailers, etc.  If you send your campaign web site visitors to rVotes for information on your party or candidacy, all your web site visitors will see is a login prompt for trusted volunteers, and not your candidate’s swanky picture or your positions on the issues.

To explain and promote your party or campaign message, you need a web site, and a well-equipped web site will be supplemented with a Facebook page and a Twitter feed, both of which are free.  That’s where NationBuilder comes in.   Since I tested NationBuilder by building the party web site for my own GOP district in LA County, I’ll be reviewing NationBuilder in the first person; explaining my requirements and how NationBuilder fulfills those requirements.

rVotes is for GOTV voter contact.  NationBuilder is for building your online presence and your volunteer base.

First Requirement: Be Socially Engaging
As a former new media director for a congressional campaign, I know the value of social networking, and I wish NationBuilder had been available during the last congressional campaign.  What is an ‘engaging’ web site?  It’s one that draws visitors in and gives them an immediate chance to participate in the conversation and use tools provided on the web site to let them speak and publicly offer their support for the cause or campaign.  Redstate.com is a perfect example – anybody can speak up and share their ideas at Redstate.com and the good ideas are crowdsourced for promotion to the Recommended Reading list.  This draws in even more readers and writers to participate in the community.

Let me pause here to say that while you personally may not find ‘social engagement’ online persuasive or compelling, the record of successful campaigns proves that millions of  activists – the people who get things done for campaigns – do find it compelling.   If you are planning a campaign that intends to be successful, you cannot overlook engaging online activists, and the opportunities to engage them.  Ignore or understaff/underfund social networking at your peril; the social engagement model was a major factor in Obama’s 2008 victory.

The simple 4 page campaign web site with a splash page, and issues page, a bio page, a contact page and a donate button is the first sign of a benighted campaign that will have a lot of negative inertia to overcome before victory is even remotely possible.

That’s step 1 of the social engagement model – but for a political web site, the opportunities for social engagement are much, much broader.

A good political web site will actively build and promote an audience, then engage that audience and move them rapidly toward becoming donors and volunteers in the cause.  How?  By starting with the basics: offer your web site visitor a chance to register to vote – right there on your web site.  That’s the first true ‘community service’ value-add you can offer, and it’s free to paste in to any page on your campaign web site.

Then offer your web site visitor an opportunity to join your site as a supporter.  Offer them a chance to volunteer, and have the web site automatically assign them a trusted senior volunteer ‘point person’ to personally guide the newcomer into effective participation as a volunteer.  Needless to say, in the background, a database is keeping track of all this activity.

Engage that new volunteer immediately into your cause with the most compelling online tool of all – the one used successfully (practically to the point of abuse) by Tea Party/912 organizations to identify and recruit activists (and potential donor list information!): the petition.   Engage further with polls and surveys, endorsements, action (non-financial) pledges, moneybombs that display pledge progress, discussion forums, suggestion boxesevent calendars with RSVPs (that allows the RSVPer to also volunteer at the event; NationBuilder’s event RSVP system will even count and display RSVPs from your campaign’s Facebook and Meetup pages).  Then maybe they are ready for the ‘Donate’ button!

There is a certain class of online activist, and they are plentiful, who will work hard to earn online ‘activism points’ for their activities and appear on published leaderboards.  At Heritage Action, they are called ‘personal impact’ points and they’re a reward for engaging in activities that advance the web site’s cause.  NationBuilder calls their point system ‘Political Capital’ and you can set up leaderboards to recognize activists successful in the activities you wish to reward, such as volunteer recruiting and fundraising.

Second Requirement: Equipped to Go Viral
All of the above activities count for a lot in any campaign or effort, but they mean a lot more to the success of your campaign if people are telling their friends and followers on Facebook and Twitter just what they are doing on your web site.  To give an oversimplified example, this means that the default, pre-prepared Facebook post or tweet should be different on your volunteer page and your donate page.  Instead of all your pre-prepared texts saying something like ‘Check out (link)’, your default tweet/facebook post on your volunteer page should say ‘I just volunteered at [campaign] why don’t you? [link]’ while the default tweet/facebook post on your donate page should say something like ‘I just donated to [campaign] – you should, too! [link] — NationBuilder provides for this in a very well thought-out fashion.

The whole point of ‘social networking’ on political web sites is to induce your supporters and visitors to tweet and FB links to your site to their friends and follower, thus promoting your effort to new eyes and minds on the internet.  I still see far too many GOP web sites who think they have their social networking wired up nicely by offering the familiar FB and twitter buttons on their web sites that lead to… their own FB and Twitter pages!   These campaigns are tossing away the power of social networking (they ar not acquiringg links to their web sites) and proving they are ‘caught in the echo chamber’ by linking to their own content instead of helping others link to their web site’s effort, sharing it with their friends and followers, where ‘viral’ actually happens.

To say that NationBuilder’s social networking controls are lavish would be an understatement.  NationBuilder has even come up with a nice little dual-purpose control that allows your visitors to post to both Facebook and Twitter at once with a single click — this control appears strategically and automatically at critical times for the web site visitor who has just volunteered or just donated – the time when you most want them to be tweeting or FB’ing what they just did!

Finally, there is the ubiquitous yet essential social networking control, the ”Tell My Friends’ or ‘Spread the Word’ links and control that allow you to email a link to your friends.  And receive ‘Political Capital’ points for each friend who accepts the invitation and visits your site.

Third Requirement:  CRM for Voters
I want my web site system to be like a CRM system for voters.  I want a database in the back-end of my web site that knows who my voters are, recognizes them when they join my political web site, and helps me manage my relationship with them month in and month out.

Then when election time rolls around, I can export my value-added bits of my voter database from NationBuilder and import the value-added data I’ve built over time into rVotes or PDI.   NationBuilder provides the voter database.  Free.   Built right into your web site control panel/back office.   I have that complete voter CRM functionality built-in to my GOP district’s web site at http://49.nationbuilder.com

Fourth Requirement: Professional, Slick, Reliable
For the most part, everything you see on a NationBuilder web site, including those attractive visual sliders,  is set up by pointing, clicking and some typing.  There is no programming involved.  But if you want to be a programmer, NationBuilder doesn’t stop you as full access is granted to raw templates, etc.

But my requirement is the site has to look slick and professional, maintainable by non-consultants, and open to add in advanced controls that do require a programmer.  NationBuilder delivers superbly on all those areas.

I talk to campaign managers nearly every day who are not impressed with the idea of providing an ‘amusement park’ on their web sites, full of gew-gaws for their web site visitors to click on to do this or that.  Ironically, these are usually the same campaign managers who tell me that their biggest problem in the activism sphere is recruiting volunteers, then identifying the committed volunteers from among their many activists.   Even when one explains to them that all that clicking in that online ‘amusement park’ is activists self-identifying (and recording on the web site database) that they possess and will act on a high commitment level, they still don’t seem to get it.

Obama used his phenomenal OFA web site to win election in 2008, then to help pass Obamacare the following year.

If  technology derived from the same model is available now to the smallest campaign, shouldn’t we all be using it?

If we don’t and our opponents do, how much more money will the GOP have to raise to move closer to victory in the blue states?