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:
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.
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.
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.