Companies, trade associations and other organizations relied heavily on the use of digital tactics to engage their audiences in the 2018 election, from email to social media. But in an oversaturated digital world, will that continue?
Data in Benchmarking the Ballot Box, a report by SevenTwenty Strategies and the Public Affairs Council based on a survey of advocacy professionals, suggests the use of digital tactics could “soften” in coming elections in favor of more relationship-based, in-person advocacy.
The idea, though contrary to common wisdom, has merit. Studies show that Americans receive thousands of messages from companies, brands, political groups and other organizations every day. As most advocacy pros can attest, it’s noisy out there. Many channels are getting crowded, and it gets tougher each year to create messaging that resonates and gets people engaged.
The idea that more personal advocacy could do exactly that is appealing to many advocacy professionals. And the data shows plans may already be underway to give it a try.
In the Benchmarking the Ballot Box study, about one-third of respondents said they used digital tactics in this year’s election, including voter registration websites, social media and email. Similarly, about one-third of respondents said they were using relationship-based tactics in 2018, including voter registration events, election-related speakers and candidate visits.
But moving forward, the experts said they expect those ratios to change. When asked what they will favor in the future, reliance on each of the three digital tactics declined below one-third, while relationship-based techniques held steady at 33 percent or higher.
That means many advocacy professionals plan to stick with in-person tactics but were less sure about digital strategies, meaning they may plan to do less with tools like social media and email.
Stronger ‘In-Person’ Channels
Of course, every organization has different needs, and there is no one-size-fits-all strategy for advocacy. But a move to strengthen in-person channels makes some sense in a noisy digital world, where returns on investments of time and money are not always assured.
When you hold a voter registration event and invite candidates or other election-related speakers, you are not engaging in mass communication. Rather, you are speaking directly to a smaller group. Even at a larger event, thought is put into who will be in the audience and why. Just as the audience is carefully chosen, so are the venue, the speaker(s) and the message conveyed.
When it’s done well, the chance messages will penetrate and engage attendees is solid, even if that message is simply “register to vote” or “get to the polls.” People who come to an event are paying attention. They are there for a reason.
It’s no surprise voter registration events saw the largest growth in 2018 of all engagement techniques covered in the study, growing 12 percentage points to 38 percent. Of course, few companies will abandon email and social media programs, political action committees and other workhorse tools. But some will clearly be focused on expanding in-person advocacy as a powerful tactic that, when conducted well, can often move the needle.
If you’d like to view the entire Benchmarking the Ballot Box report, email us.