Now that campaign staff silly season is in full swing for the 2020 Democrats, we’re going to see lots of stories like this one from Politico highlighting Beto O’Rourke’s new “digital guru” hire. And if you read between the lines, you’ll realize that stories like this one about the lack of SEO strategy for Joe Biden’s website are also about staffing (or lack thereof).
More important than the digital hires you make for your team is how they integrate with the rest of the campaign or organization. When it first came on the scene in the form of websites and “e-blasts” right through to the emergence of social media, “digital” was viewed as a communications responsibility.
But over the intervening decade or so, savvy campaigns have realized they need a “digital” person with a seat at the proverbial table because you have to have someone who thinks about the internet and technology and marketing first thing in the morning and last thing at night.
In the political context, “digital” has become a poorly defined catchall term for a lot of different responsibilities on a campaign or within an organization. For some, “digital” is social media, for others it’s online fundraising or websites or advertising. And this lack of differentiation leads to a lot of confusion.
I describe the role I play in a campaign as making sure everything the campaign does that touches the internet is done as effectively as possible. This focus on optimization of campaign technology allows me to cross silos.
More importantly, it reflects the reality that we’re at the stage now where every role on the campaign is “digital” in the sense that it requires the understanding and use of technology to be done effectively.
On a campaign…
… finance is digital because most of your donations are coming online – even if they’re major donors, you communicate with your donors via email to invite them to fundraisers and answer their questions, and donors are getting their news about the campaign from social media.
… communications are digital because most of the reporters you work with primarily interact with the campaign online, their narratives are driven by social media, and influencers have an outsized role in today’s campaigns.
… political is digital because you’re primarily interacting with your supporters and volunteers online, volunteers’ perceptions of your campaign are shaped by social media, and they’ll shape as many opinions on Facebook as they will at the doors.
And so we need to transition to the point where we not only have digital natives at every senior role in a campaign, but they’re also embracing the new way of campaigning the internet has ushered in.
It’s a completely new style of play adapted to a whole new set of rules.