Email is the “killer app” for online campaigning

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The Massachusetts election has blown open the mainstream media’s infatuation with social networking tools, with headlines like “the iphone app that killed Coakley“. On the techblogs, there is also detailed examination of new tools that aided the winning Mass. Senate candidate Scott Brown. I am hardly immune to the temptation of writing about the exiting new online tools and their applicability for union campaigns.

The fact remains however that email is the “killer app” for online campaigning, and will remain so for a long time.

Campaign Monitor, a well-respected SAS provider that allows companies to create email campaigns, has crunched the numbers in a very interesting article:

Unlike Twitter and Facebook, email’s capacity to drive traffic has a long tail. Whereas the traffic from Twitter and Facebook comes in bursts lasting as long as it takes for the message to fall off the bottom of the feed (2-3 days), email continues to collect clicks and opens for days (if not weeks) to come.

Campaign Monitor points out that email not only provides the bulk of website visits, but that visitors via email are more likely to visit the site days or even months after the original email was sent. This compares to Twitter and Facebook (and anecdotally Digg) which sees a spike in traffic over a day or two, without any “long tail”.

I recommend you read the entire post here.

Thomas Gensemer, managing partner of Blue State Digital, who was intimately involved in Obama’s campaign, is a big proponent of email as a campaign-winning tool. He makes the point that building a large email list was key to the victory in 2008. Of course, building the email list took hard work using “old” methods – campaign rallies, street stalls, and so on.

While social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter allow for two-way communication, most people are familiar with email as a means to have a conversation. This is certainly borne out by an article from ShareThis, a large provider of “link sharing” apps that people can add to their websites. ShareThis tools allow readers to share links with friends using a range of social networking tools, like Twitter, Facebook and by email. ShareThis found that:

Despite reports of its demise, e-mail is still the most popular method of sharing, and despite its meteoric rise of late, Twitter is still not a very popular sharing channel. In our research, we found that 46 percent of shares came via e-mail, 33 percent from Facebook, 14 percent from other channels such as Digg,, LinkedIn, etc., and just 6 percent from Twitter.

I recommend you read the entire ShareThis article, as it also suggests that while most people share content using email, the click-through rate for Twitter is much higher.

Email also allows you to have a simple, direct call to action. You can engage the reader, then ask them to do something. Having that call to action – join, donate, buy, protest – is essential to effective email campaigns. You can see the success of the email in whether the people who open it do what you ask. An email without a strong call to action is wasted.

Using analytics tools made available by services like Campaign Monitor (and Mailchimp, which is what we use for the NTEU and Creative Unions) allows you to better use email. You can track things like open rates and clicks; and when used with Google Analytics, you can get a good idea of how people use your website. For unions wanting people to join online or take some kind of online campaign action, this can be invaluable.

Read my post on “the art of writing better union emails“, which also goes into the value of analytics for email.

2 responses to “Email is the “killer app” for online campaigning”

  1. Guest Avatar

    Is there a breakdown in the data that reveals any correlation between voter turnout and which 'app' they use i.e. twitter usage may be low, but do the majority of them turnout?Lance Armstrong's managed to 'turnout' around 5000 to an impromptu race people although it should be noted that he has almost 2.5 million followers…

  2. Alexander White Avatar

    Both reports from Campaign Monitor and ShareThis suggest that Facebook users are more likely to read more pages and explore the site, while Twitter users are more likely to click through on a link. If the link includes a strong call to action, then it may result in more Twitter users “turning out”.

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