Too often, organizations make the mistake of creating an artificial distinction between online and offline supporters. They ask supporters to make a call or send an email, and once the campaign is over those actions are forgotten. But the continuity of online content empowers you to keep your supporters engaged over a longer period of time, growing them from passive supporters into core activists.
During Brian Moran’s primary campaign in Virginia this year, WSG field tested a beta version of our new Netroots Organizing Platform. One of the key features that we tested was a points-based program to drive supporter engagement. Here are some of the lessons we learned:
Cultivate activists like you cultivate donors
When you look back over the past year, will you know who your most engaged supporters were? What about two years? Just as small, recurring contributions add up and provide important financial support, small acts by our activists snowball to have a big impact over time. And just as we cultivate donors, so too should we cultivate activists. By awarding supporters points for each action that they took, we recognized their cumulative contribution to our campaign. By keeping ongoing records, we also learned more about them and how we could get them more involved.
Engage the whole supporter
Shayna Englin’s excellent post, Integrating Offline and Online Strategies is Key, makes an important observation:
Leveraging the strengths of online campaigning - efficient, affordable, trackable, flexible - with those of offline campaigning - targeted, long-lasting, high-impact - can make all the difference...
Online tools are a great way to lower the barrier to entry for people who might be natural supporters, but are not able to take action offline. But online tools are not a replacement for offline action. Neither should online supporters be treated differently from offline supporters. The truth is, people aren’t generally online or offline supporters – most of the time they’re both. So why try to keep them separated?
By using a single database to track supporter engagement, we were able to reward people online for their offline actions. Whenever a supporter made a phone call using our online phonebank tool, they received points for their actions. Likewise, when supporters made calls from the campaign’s phone bank, or knocked on doors during a canvass, we gave them points for those actions, too. As a result, a supporter’s points reflected a holistic view of their online and offline engagement.
Tie offline incentives to online engagement
Now that you’re rewarding offline engagement online, don’t forget to reward everyone offline as well! This can easily be done by tying traditional incentives like t-shirts, books, and bags to online point levels. For example, once someone reaches 1000 points, you could send them a letter and bumper sticker thanking them for their support. If someone signs up 100 friends for an event, you could offer them free or discounted tickets. The important thing is to use online tools to give your supporters more opportunities to take action, and more opportunities to be recognized for all their hard work.
Encourage competition among supporters
Rewarding and recognizing your supporters online does more than just incentivize them to take action. Properly executed, it recognizes people for their contributions while incentivizing them to stay active.
During Brian Moran’s campaign, we posted a dynamic leaderboard that showed active competition among our core activists. Supporters were vying with each other for those top slots, and taking more actions to earn them!
Three important leaderboard lessons that we learned over the course of the campaign:
1. Weight your points with an eye to expanding engagement, not just dollars. Some people will be able to raise money, some people will be able to make phone calls, and some people will be able to send emails. As important as fundraising is, you want to grow your engaged supporter base, and that means making sure people are recognized for contributing however they are able.
2. Recognize leaders in different categories. You’re only going to have one overall point leader. But she may not be the person who has made the most phone calls, or knocked on the most doors. Make sure you recognize everyone’s hard work.
3. Make the point system easy to understand. In order to maximize point competition, your supporters will have to understand what they get points for and how they advance to the next level. Make the rules are transparent and easy to understand and you’ll see people doing more for you.
Listen to your supporters, and don’t be afraid to change
Finally, a points-based program can be a great tool for not only driving supporter engagement, but for learning more about your supporters. Over the course of the campaign, we made changes to the points system both large and small. Most of these changes came as the result of supporter feedback. We regularly asked active people what they thought about the site, and what they thought could make it better. We also regularly watched how people were using the site and made adjustments accordingly. As a result, we had a hugely successful program and learned many important lessons for how to move forward.
Seth Oldmixon is Senior Account Manager at WSG, a strategic communications and technology agency that develops and executes new media campaigns for progressive candidates and nonprofits.