Digital’s role in a down-ballot race

To say that a digital strategy can, single-handedly, win an election is probably a stretch. Even in the world of the “Twitter” wars we saw in 2016 races, there is more to a political campaign than a simple digital strategy.

In down-ballot races, however, the decision between having or not having a digital strategy could very well cost you lost donations, votes, and even an election.

So what role does digital play in down-ballot initiatives? Like all races, the digital team should interact closely with the finance teams and the communications teams. But in the case of say, a small state legislative race in Nebraska, those “teams” might simply be different emails with the same person: A part-time campaign manager or — more likely — the candidate and his/her spouse.

Many candidates come to our team seeking “help with social media.” Everytime our team says “digital” potential customers immediately think Facebook, Twitter, or that “Snap thing.” When we begin talking about building social audiences, email fundraising goals, or social listening reports, candidates sometimes look a) confused or b) nervous at the idea of doing something beyond the norm of posting endless streams of pictures of the candidate at the county fair or local town halls.

Digital plays a crucial role in your campaign’s communications strategy, fundraising strategy, and grassroots strategy. When a candidate realizes this crucial role, we’re halfway through the hard part. Not until the campaign realizes the FULL digital strategy’s role can a digital team set actual objectives and goals.

In the next several posts, we’ll highlight the important roles of communicating, fundraising, and building grassroots coalitions online. Before we dive in, though, it’s important to recognize the value of building a strategy before executing.

Strategy, Then Execution

One of the things we learned early on at BCom Solutions, the hard way, was to think before acting. A lot of startups (specifically tech startups) eat, sleep, and breathe on the “Lean” model: Build a beta of your product, test it before you deploy it to millions, iterate, test it with customers again, repeat, repeat, repeat. The problem we faced at BCom: We never got out of beta. We constantly were iterating and lost track of the end of the project. In a down-ballot campaign, time is short, money is short, and (sometimes most importantly) patience from the campaign is short.

Sure, it’s easy to skip the strategy and build an editorial calendar of posts to drown the candidate’s social media feeds for the next 3 months, but what is gained in the end? A like from the candidate’s mother? Or maybe their next door neighbor?

Even if the “strategy” component of the digital solution is a 30-minute conversation at the beginning without tools, posts, and tweets, those 30-minutes will be so valuable in the next hours, days, and weeks of your relationship with the candidate.

One lesson learned from not doing a strategy: Many of our down-ballot candidates have email lists of some odd 100 contacts. Sure that’s not a lot for a national or statewide race, but for our candidates, this might be the biggest list of contacts they have. So, our team moved forward with using a nice, free email solution: MailChimp. It worked well until the opposition came out of nowhere and we had to mass deploy messages not only to our 100 contacts in the list but to 3,500 contacts we had been given access to that supported our candidate. What now? First, we tried to upload to MailChimp. That failed miserably. Then we scrambled to find a more stable solution that worked within the budget of the candidate (i.e. a non-NationBuilder friendly budget).

In the end, we spent a weekend finding a more suitable email solution. What we SHOULD have done (and now do) was spend some time with the candidate and their team discussing the key areas we work in: social, email, and web. What is the current state? What is the future state? How big? How many emails? Is our core strategy to focus online channels on fundraising? Or communicating? Both? All of the above?

Coming up next, we’ll discuss all three elements (communicating, fundraising, grassroots coalition building).

BCom Solutions is an action-oriented digital marketing agency based in Nebraska. Our company provides digital marketing services for campaigns, causes, and companies globally. Visit for more.