As campaign events go virtual during the pandemic, what may seem like poor substitutes provide a critical opportunity for campaigns that know how to seize them.
Paused conventions, fundraisers, retail politicking, and voter contact are making this one of the most difficult election years in recent memory, it’s important to think about the opportunities arising campaigners may never see again. When the game changes and the playbook gets scrapped, you get to rewrite the rules.
While creating online facsimiles of offline events is a fine initial instinct, your virtual campaign events will be more worthwhile if you start by articulating your goals for the event and understanding your participants’ motivations.
Here are five ways to ensure you’re maximizing your virtual campaign events.
Capturing data from attendees should be your first priority for any event – both online and off. Participating in an event is a key step in the engagement ladder for your campaign. Leverage events (especially during the pandemic when attention is more liquid) to collect contact information to continue growing your relationship with a supporter.
President Trump’s campaign manager, Brad Parscale, earlier this year shared incredible insights from the data they gathered at a rally in Arizona:
Practically, this means favoring events hosted on platforms like Zoom that collect registration information. Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube can help your online event reach more people, but you miss out on the critical data. Use your social media channels to entice viewers to join you on platforms that give you more control.
In pre-pandemic campaigning, event and volunteer recruitment were essential opportunities for a campaign to practice turnout ahead of Election Day. Depending on the type of event, you’d call, text, mail, email, and share event details and encourage supporters to attend. Each of those channels is a key mechanism for turning voters out on Election Day and the practice events afford makes for a major gap now that offline events are on hold.
Just because an event is now online doesn’t mean you can’t be aggressive in driving turnout as a means of practicing for the real thing. In fact, with more states expanding vote-by-mail, event turnout and RSVP chasing are more critical skills than ever before.
You should pay the same amount of attention to the production values and quality of your online events as you would to the advance work of an offline event. Voters will rarely remember what you say, but they’ll always remember how you made them feel. A well-produced online event or appearance projects competence while a glitch-filled event instills a lack of confidence in your voters.
The good news is you don’t need expensive equipment to get this right. Your camera should be at eye level, your background should be free from distraction, and there should be a source of light in front of (not behind) you. You can do all of this cheaply with a cardboard box (for elevating your laptop), a location change or tweaks to your workspace, and a window.
For a slightly more advanced setup, I use these tools:
If you’re going to invest in any equipment, I recommend a microphone because higher quality sound makes more of an improvement than higher quality video.
It’s also essential that you practice with the exact setup you’ll be using before your event, that includes testing your internet connection. You may have to kick some family members off of YouTube, Netflix, or Fortnite to free up bandwidth.
An in-person event provides both hosts and guests with more real-time information than a virtual event. Speakers can see if the audience is engaged and interested or bored and dozing off. Your guests gather context from how other audience members are behaving (it’s why many TV shows feature laugh tracks) and there’s social pressure to pay attention.
Emphasizing interaction in virtual events is key in re-establishing this feedback loop and maintaining active participation. Invite questions from participants, respond to comments in the chat, take polls, and invite reactions from guests. Technology makes it easy for anyone to create virtual live events but most platforms provide tools for you to interact with participants.
Establishing community and fostering relationships are important components of offline events. Virtual events don’t have mingling or networking. Interacting with candidates and staff are also a source of motivation for volunteers. Campaigns should recreate this sense of online community with their supporters virtually.
Create virtual events designed for specific supporter communities. For example, with volunteers who are reliable phone bankers and canvassers, have a virtual voter contact night (using SwipeRed, P2P texting, and call from home apps) that your candidate kicks off on a Zoom call and then provide live updates on success, shout outs to active volunteers, and encouraging messages, similar to an online workout class.
The global pandemic and accompanying stay-at-home orders are presenting new challenges for campaigners, but thanks to technology, virtual events are easy to create and following a few guidelines will ensure you maximize the opportunities from them.