I told a friend last night - via Facebook private message - that email is still the best way to get a hold of me.* I gave him my work email address, which is the one account out of seven I currently monitor to which I will usually give an immediate response. It's also one of two accounts pushing to my smart phone, so I can receive/respond on the go.
The ways in which we send, receive, and store information have been constantly revolutionizing politics for nearly 600 years, since Gutenberg first invented the printing press. Customer relations management (CRM) systems have become increasingly important (indeed useful and necessary) in the political sphere, as candidate and issue campaigns build vast, scalable email lists for purposes of campaign communication. Somewhat curiously, I have all issue and candidate campaign email delivered to my American University address - which also pushes to my smart phone, but which I rarely actually read.
But let's assume just for a second that I consolidate my email accounts into just one, and I take time to read more than I do now - and a political campaign was able to reach me (in theory) 24 hours a day. Why is it, in this world of nearly instantaneous, targeted, scalable communications, that we still rely on direct mail fundraising? When does the 140-character tweet, the Facebook status update, or even the 30-second YouTube video replace a clunky, 5-page typed fundraising ask - double-spaced in 12 pt. Courier New font - and on pink stationary, no less? Does it ever? What about when we move all of our CRM solutions to the cloud, and we're realizing huge cost savings in our campaign budgets because of it (this is speculative, I'll admit)?
I remember from my Leadership Institute training days back in college that conservatives tend to make quite a bit of money on direct mail fundraising campaigns - my own experience tells me that you're doing well to just break even, particularly if you're using consulting services. Maybe my metrics are a little bit off, and I'm not considering how a mail piece to an identified voter/supporter may energize them, arm them with talking points, and ask them to tell 5 of their neighbors about my candidate or issue. Maybe I need better mail pieces.
Not only in my experience are dollar-for-dollar returns on direct mail doing well to break even, but isn't this social tree 1.0? Isn't this what social media was supposed to solve, in terms of reach, velocity, and scale? I posited in my undergraduate thesis - flying in the face of practical, conventional wisdom - that there's some kind of interpersonal transaction that takes place when one voter connects with another that technology can't replace, and I don't mean to waffle on that conclusion - but I do wonder, as our technology evolves and more milennials and digital natives reach voting age, whether or not direct mail is a worthwhile long-term investment. For the meantime, it's probably okay to assume that the average voter views the on-paper direct mail piece as more authentic or genuine an instrument than something that flies across their computer screen or smart phone, and for that reason, direct mail is still useful.
Candidates and causes also have a swath of social media and social networking tools at their disposal, tools that reach millions of end users (if leveraged properly) and which are also dirt cheap to a campaign, if not altogether free. Rob Willington of RebuildTheParty.com demonstrated as much in Scott Brown's bid for Sen. Edward Kennedy's U.S. Senate seat in a special election following Teddy's death (wait a minute, that wasn't Teddy's seat - it's the people's seat). Rob's use of text-messaging, geolocation applications, YouTube, Ning, and Facebook makes a really interesting case study in the use of these tools on the Right in the MyBO era.
Another important long-term consideration for campaigns on the Right is cost. I asked Willington during a Personal Democracy Forum conference call back in March, and I'm paraphrasing here, "Given the availability of free online tools, why should campaigns invest in proprietary enterprise architectures (e.g. www.CandidateName.com)? Will they be useful in the long-term for anything other than an online depository for campaigns?" His answer - and it's a good one, and again, I'm paraphrasing - was that a proprietary enterprise architecture anchors the spectrum of social media tools the campaign uses (each having its own brand recognition) with the candidate's brand, and acts as a vote getter. You can download and listen to the podcast here.
But given this, it shouldn't be long, in theory, before we totally scuttle on-paper direct mail pieces for fundraising purposes (messaging and relationship-building purposes notwithstanding). Additionally, in order to be really successful in the long-run, these tools need to build relationships: voter-to-voter and voter-to-candidate/voter-to-campaign. Melissa Clouthier has an interesting political spin on Mashable's "21 Rules for Social Media Engagement." Clouthier's conclusions assume a high-level of social media adoption across campaign space, and while candidates on the Right are dominating some social media channels, they don't own the Internet anymore:
In the long-run, the best "technology candidates" on the Right - as is the case with all other technological paradigm shifts - will be the early adopters, like Scott Brown. The candidates who do a great job of building relationships through social media on the campaign trail will have the highest chance of success in using tools while in office, both to foster transparency and to protect incumbency. In the meantime, the Right needs to continue developing an accurate, meaningful set of metrics to measure the success of social media strategies against traditional strategic results to make sure that candidates and causes get the highest ROI and the largest reach per dollar spent.
* The double irony of this isn't lost on me. Not only is Facebook not very well known for its privacy at the moment, but I sent a Facebook message to relay an enterprise email address.