How embracing possibility and enrolment leads to better campaigns

Recently I’ve been listening to Seth Godin’s excellent Akimbo podcast on enrolment and possibility. And these two concepts are so valuable when you’re thinking about new campaigns, products and content.

The crux is, to change culture, to find your core believers who will support a campaign or use a new product, you need two things. Possibility, how you sell the potential to have impact and change the culture, and enrolment: the system to facilitate buy in and to take people on that journey.

Why are these important?

Going beyond the same-old, same-old

They’re important because all too often we forget about what we are really trying to achieve through our campaign or with our product and so we fall into habitual behaviour: we focus on employing the same old tactics that we have used before and are expected to do now.

As a result our campaigns and our products are not as effective as they should be.

For example, let’s pretend we are launching a new online campaign.

(And a quick note: I’m going to use “campaigns” from hereon in, but a lot of this is applicable to thinking about new products too.)

If we’ve done online campaigning before we might think it’s a good idea to daisy-chain calls to action together (“sign this pledge”, then “thanks for signing the pledge, now can you share the campaign on Twitter?”, then “thanks again, now how about signing up for our mailing list?” and so on).

By why are we doing this? And if we are going to offer different levels of participation – because that’s what we are doing – what’s the best way of doing it?

Moreover, how can we treat people who participate respectfully, and not repeat the same old tactics that are done to supporters by so many other campaigns?

Now is a good time to think about possibility and enrolment. By doing so we can refresh our attitudes and be more effective in our ways of connecting with people and mobilising change.

Possibility

Possibility is the potential you have, your campaign has, to bring about real change.

Of the two concepts, possibility is the simplest to consider.

And of the two concepts, possibility is more important than enrolment because no matter how easy it is to take part in your campaign it won’t matter if it seems like the end change is an impossible one to achieve.

So ask yourself:

  • How might your campaign and the messaging around it sell the idea of possibility?
  • How might it evidence what is possible?
  • And how might the campaign make the possibility seem attainable?
    Because (and this is a glib example), a campaign that aims to “end world poverty” feels like it is overreaching. But a campaign that aims to, say, put a new kind of safety net in place “to help prevent vulnerable people from falling into inescapable poverty”? Well, that sounds like it might be possible. It’s a future that we can visualise and a campaign that we can back.
  • how might your campaign convey the increasing possibility of success as the campaign unfolds and people take part?
    In other words, how might it ratchet up its own chance of success?

If you can think about these questions when formulating your campaign, and if you can consider them when you’re crafting the language around it, then you can make sure you’re building possibility into your campaign for your audiences.

Enrolment

If possibility is the most important, enrolment is the most difficult to get working effectively. But done right it can be your engine to deliver the possible.

In short… how can people get started? How might the system you create facilitate their participation? How might the system you build help people deliver the possible in an engaged and active way?

This is why the idea of enrolment is so important. To be enrolled means to be an active, contributing part of the system. Enrolment is a way better analogy than sign up. Sign up is passive. Sign up is ‘take my email and maybe I will do something with your newsletters and updates’.

Showing up and doing the work

Enrolment recognises people’s role in the change they want to bring. It rewards commitment and effort and encourages being part of an active community.

And if you think the word ‘enrolment’ evokes college learning and working together: that’s the point.

At its heart, enrolment is about connecting people.

Let’s take an example.

LendWithCare is a fantastic campaign that gets people micro lending to small, local entrepreneurs in the global south. You can lend people £5 to help them start a new brick oven, to buy a new market stand, to purchase a motorbike to increase their distribution, etc.

You can browse who to support, see their photos and read their life and business stories. You get updates on the progression of their repayments. And when they have repaid you you get your money back, ready to reinvest with another person.

It’s fantastic in connecting you to those you are supporting.

And it connects you to others like you. You can create groups of lenders and come together to back people you believe in. You can gift LWC vouchers to get friends and family lending (which is the start of some great person-to-person conversations about the campaign and its possibility) and the LWC team are always present and on hand to chat.

As a result, the people who support LendWithCare are a fantastically enrolled and passionate bunch. The team at LWC could run a ‘what shall we do next’ event next week and they would have a room packed full of supporters, many of whom would have gladly travelled far to contribute their advice.

Give supporters the value they expect from their involvement

Which brings me to my final point about why people support campaigns.

We must recognise that when people contribute to a campaign, even if it’s a charitable one, they rarely contribute freely.

People usually give because on some level they expect to get value back. Deep down it’s worth more to them to give than not to give. This is true whether they are making a pledge, giving time or donating £100.

The value they receive from giving is emotional, spiritual or social.

Value comes through storytelling

And the value returned comes via the story they tell themselves about their own contribution. About their impact on the world and their personal role in delivering the possibility.

If you’re struggling to see what I mean, think about the LendWithCare supporters and the stories they must proudly tell themselves (and those around them) about how they’ve helped people in developing countries grow their own businesses and build their own livelihoods. This is worth so much more than their £5 loan.

So, as campaigners, we have an obligation to recognise that supporters who give us their time or money hope for something in return, and that this is perfectly fine, normal human behaviour.

Going beyond the daisy-chain

Which brings us back to the idea of daisy-chaining calls-to-action.

It’s not enough to just escalate calls to action. It’s not enough to just say thank you in the web browser, and gradually feed supporters towards subscribing to your email list. What story can they tell themselves and others about that?

So be kind. Give them the value they seek. Whatever type of campaign you are running, ask yourself:

  • How might the system we are building give supporters the emotional, spiritual, or social value they seek?
  • How might it help them to tell the best possible story about their own involvement?
  • And most of all, how might the campaign help supporters to be enrolled, to reward their contributions, to actively connect with others and deliver a change that’s possible?
 

How AI will change the game for digital campaigners

Are you a digital campaigner? Are you keeping an eye on how evolving tech will impact on advocacy and campaigning?

Well you should, and especially if you use email campaigns. Because advances in tech mean that organisations that run supporter-driven mass email campaigns – especially those that send email to MPs, candidates and other political ‘targets’ – could soon find their efforts going to waste.

The case for change:

Evidence A:

At a recent digital campaigning forum, a member of one political party mentioned that major political parties are increasingly using filters to detect and automate replies to emails that come in via mass supporter-mobilisation campaigns.
Basically, they are employing tools that detect recurring email subject lines or body content and then using this to automatically send appropriate replies.

Evidence B:

This agenda for a recent hackathon:

This summer, The Fourth Group will host a Politician AI Hackathon to see how we can automate tasks politicians are expected to do. These tasks include: Understanding voters’ preferences; writing speeches; making strategic decisions in regards to policy proposals, and; addressing problems faced by constituents.

AI and its impact on email campaigns

Together these demonstrate that we’re only a small step away from AI and natural language processing being used to detect the subject matter of emails and issue appropriate responses on a MP / candidate’s behalf. The system could be choosing from a bank of preformed response templates, or even writing sections of replies directly.

This automation means MPs and their offices will be personally engaging with these emails (and by extension their constituents’ concerns) less.

And therefore taking action less.

Of course, in this scenario MPs’ offices may also soon be using data dashboards that show the public’s key areas of concern based on the numbers of emails received and grouped by topic.

But the empathy and emotional response that comes from directly reading a message from a concerned constituent, or the unease which comes from being on the receiving end of a deluge of angry emails, will cease to exist.

And perhaps even worse, it is the more ‘fringe’ and less emailed-about issues – which won’t have response-flows set up for them – that are likely to escape the system into the real world, be read by a human, and start a chain of cause-and-effect that will in some form result in some level of emotional engagement and action.

This is a big deal. Not just for anyone who wants to communicate with their MP, but especially for organisations that rely on mobilising its supporters to take part email campaigns.

So what should digital campaigners do?

Digital campaigner? Change your attitude

When it comes to setting up email campaigns, we could get involved in a war of attrition, increasingly varying subject lines and body content to get past increasingly sophisticated automated detection and replies.

Don’t.

The weakness of mass email campaigns isn’t their uniformity of content. It’s their uniformity of value to the recipient. The 51st templated email received by an MP is the same as the 50th, which is the same as the 49th, the 48th and so on. It offers nothing new.

To get beyond this, stop thinking of MPs and candidates as ‘campaign targets’ to be assaulted with repetitive communication. Treat them as another audience. Even better, think of them as some of your most potentially influential supporters.

Give them something of value. Give them something they can use.

Don’t just hassle them to pledge; give them a press release that they can send to content publishers.

Don’t just bombard them with templated supporter emails; ensure every email has a unique piece of data they can employ.

Ditch the mass emails altogether, and instead ask your supporters to come together to pool data or opinions. Use this to create a unique, valuable package and then give this to MPs and candidates.

Give them a suite of assets.

Give them content for a tweet.

Give them quotes.

Give them imagery.

Give them something that they can stand up and present with. That they can ask a parliamentary question with. That they can use as they try to make their first impressions in a new parliament.

The outcome could be an MP getting on board with your campaign’s goals. It could see them referencing your stats in a TV interview, employing a visual with your organisational branding, or even just generally better-respecting your organisation and its mission.

And, of course, it maintains a human relationship with those in political power, which in these times is an increasingly valuable commodity.


Image: Creative Commons

artificial-intelligence-503593_1920 by Many Wonderful Artists