Social Advocacy & Politics: Staffing Your Digital Campaign Team

Social Advocacy & Politics: Staffing Your Digital Campaign Team

We are 10 years past the time when a good digital campaign can be run by your webmaster. When I started pitching digital strategy services to public affairs organizations in the late nineties, and even into the early oughts, I was usually transferred to the webmaster. I should have been connected to their CEO, CMO, communications director or the political/campaign director, not the webmaster. The right person to lead digital campaigns is a senior strategy staffer. Sure digital campaigns (web, social, online ads, apps, etc.) have a technical component, but they should never be led by technical considerations. They should always be led by organizational mission, goals and strategy. So you need a senior campaign professional to lead your digital campaign team.

Webmasters, who keep websites running, are essential. But they should not be the digital campaign strategist. In fact, these days, websites are not run by a single webmaster, but they are run by systems administrators, database managers, web designers and content editors. The days of having one webmaster to run an organization’s website are simply over. And if you can find the rare professional who can handle all the roles of a modern webmaster, the odds that they are ALSO a good campaign strategist is extremely slim.

Hiring a blogger to run your digital campaign strategy is also problematic. You might think that since blogs are a cutting edge online channel that has transformed the media industry and launched great careers that blogs are the breeding grounds for digital strategists. They are not. They are breeding grounds for the great journalists and writers of the future. But, like with webmasters, it is rare to find someone who is both a great blogger and a great digital campaign strategist.

I know a few great web-tech people and a few great bloggers who are also great digital campaign strategists. But they are, indeed, rare. Why? Because digital campaign strategy is far more complicated than people generally think; it is complicated because it has so many moving parts. And, if you consider the scope of the profession, it is easy to see why webmasters, bloggers and digital campaign strategists are each pursuing different careers.

I contend that even the job of digital campaign strategy would be better implemented by a team than a single person. Just look at what the job includes:

Channel Management – Organizations have many digital channels to add to its offline, TV and radio channels. These include your social media channels (Twitter, Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, tumblr, Pinterest and more to come), your website channels (homepage, blog, campaign landing pages, microsites and other pages across your website), mobile (SMS, voice and apps), other organizations’ websites (op-eds on news sites, guest blog posts, comment on news articles, blogs, etc.), other people and organizations’ social media pages and, of course, email.Digital strategists identify which of these channels are important to the campaign and manage the distribution of your message to those channels and the engagement that follows from it.

Message Formation – An organization may have developed its campaign message and produced content addressing it, but the digital strategist has to adapt this content for each channel. A policy report does not work as a blog post, because the tone should be different. A blog post is probably best if it is under 1000 word (some say 500). Each social media channel has character limits. You have about 500 characters for Facebook but only 160 for SMS and 140 for Twitter. You also want to adapt the message to images (photos, photo memes and info-graphics) for sharing. If you are incorporating video, you will need a minute or two on YouTube, 15 seconds on Instagram and 6 seconds on Vine. And don’t forget that you have to write the caption for the images and video, as well as tag them to ensure they are found by the right audience. Digital strategists need to know how to optimize each message and piece of content for sharing via all these channels in order to maximize ROI.

Content Curation – If you are using social media, you have to feed content to it even if you aren’t running a campaign. Chances are your organization is not producing enough content to keep your social media channels interesting (and to ensure they are NOT REDUNDANT WITH EACH OTHER). So your digital strategist has to find, frame and share content from other sources (news articles and content from other organizations that support your mission, opposing viewpoints that you need to refute, as well as messages from social influencers and concerned citizens). Just finding this content is time consuming. Sifting through it to select what to share takes time, too. And before you share this found content, you have to package it with a framing message.

Online Ads – You will need to support your campaigns with online ads. For big campaigns, you might hire an agency, but you will need to incorporate sponsored wall posts and tweets, and occasional targeted Facebook ads to give your social outreach a boost. Facebook, Twitter and Google have self-serve ad platforms. A good digital strategist should know their way around these and be able to run spot ads and promoted posts, as needed.

Blogger/Press Outreach –While pitching the media is generally the domain of the communications team, your digital strategist will inevitably develop relationships with many bloggers and some mainstream media press through the course of their work. Effectively and respectfully leveraging these relationships can enhance the performance of your earned media efforts.

Audience Building – Sure, a tree falling in the woods makes noise if no one hears it. But if no one hears it, no one knows it fell. You need an audience. Not just any audience; a good audience! You need an audience rich with influencers and concerned citizens. You need a mix of supporters and opponents in your audience to ensure a lively debate that showcases how right you are and how wrong they are. This is frontline interaction with your audience… far more than through any other venue. Who you connect with, what conversations you have and how your message comes across to the broader networked audience affects your ability to bring people into your audience.

Community Management – Once you have an audience, you have to turn them into a community. And once you have a community, you have to manage it. The only way you can hope to build a movement is to start here. The better your community, the more likely they will help promote your campaigns, giving it the endorsement you need to break into new audiences. This can be time consuming, but the value it offers your organization is significant.

Analytics – At each stage of the tasks outlined above, data are available to assess the performance of your channels, messages and campaigns. Knowing how to make sense of these data, not just what they measure, but what they mean, is essential if you want to understand what is working, what is not and how to fix it. A good digital strategist knows what data is worth using and how to use it.

I hope I have impressed on you that the 21st century organization needs a digital campaign/marketing team. And that team needs a senior leader and complete buy-in from the executive leadership of your organization. People who can do it all are rare and, as a result, their time is scarce. Most of them end up as consultants. But even if someone knows how to do everything I describe above, it is unlikely he/she will have enough hours in the day to do it all for. They’ll need a team to execute a good program and campaign. Give them one.

Alan Rosenblatt