When it comes to writing on the internet, I’m a pretty old guy. I likely published my first “weblog” in late 2003 or early 2004 — immediately on the heels of my introduction to “blogs” via the Howard Dean for President campaign. Back there and back then, the internet was new and exciting. Blogging felt revolutionary, and it was.
But somewhere during the Obama Administration era, the internet grew up. People learned that consistent writing cultivated the attention of others, and that attention could lead to sales (and money). More and more, we stopped “blogging” and started doing “content marketing:” niche writing designed to tee up a sales pitch. And you know what? It worked.
Content Marketing is an effective lead generation strategy because it strategically leverages the fundamentals of human psychology. But it has a dark side, as well: as more and more writers became marketers, the internet lost its authenticity and originality.
More and more, websites started to feel the same. Every article seemed to be a list of tips or an in-depth how-to guide. Search engine optimization overtook personality, and we traded the loyalty we earned by cultivating authentic relationships for the page views we gained by gaming the system.
Now, as I approach my mid-thirties, I find myself wanting to get back to the old internet. I want to be myself online, authentically share my thoughts and opinions, and do great work. And, I suspect, the market will reward that authenticity with opportunities (as it did before). At least I hope it will.
That means that, as I write this blog, I’m going to write whatever comes to mind within the umbrella of campaigning, digital, technology, and work. Frankly, I’m less concerned about whether you’ll find a blog post useful or whether it’ll boost my SEO than I am interested in writing about what’s on my mind. If other people enjoy what I’m writing, I consider that a bonus.
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Fear aside, for the candidates not vying for Yang’s particular niche demographic, or even specifically for the younger vote, it’s a question of efficacy of fundraising. “Campaign fundraising is a volume business,” Weiner says. “Does the hassle exceed the benefit?” The resounding answer is, yes.
I worked on Missouri Republican Austin Petersen’s 2018 campaign for United States Senate, which accepted Bitcoin contributions. For Austin, it was a statement of principle: he believes in cryptocurrency, and it was important to him that he walked the walk by accepting it as equal with United States Dollars.
But, while we did receive Bitcoin donations, my memory was that it was a not significant amount — and that setting up our digital infrastructure to receive them was a hassle. I argued against it at the time, and with the benefit of experience, I would do so again.
There may come a day when cryptocurrency is a common way to donate to campaigns, but today is not that day. My instinct would be to let the payment processors (e.g., ActBlue & Anedot) lead the way on that front: when they offer Bitcoin support, you should start allowing people to donate that way, too.
Don’t re-invent the wheel: Smart campaigns are using more off-the-shelf tools (like ActBlue or Anedot) rather than try to create a custom design for every aspect of their website.
Keep it simple: Down-ballot campaigns should resist the urge to model their websites of their presidential counterparts. Instead, think of your website more like a digital door hanger.
Cover the basics: Every website should have — at a minimum — a Facebook Pixel and Google Analytics installed so that you can track conversions and run basic remarketing ads. Both should be loaded through Google Tag Manager so that you can easily update them without editing your website’s code.
Don’t worry about keeping up with the presidential campaigns’ websites. They’re doing and testing a lot of things that will only make a meaningful difference at scale.
If you’re running for a down-ballot office (congressional and below in the United States), you’ll be well served by sticking with a tried-and-true approach.
Democrat Billionaire Tom Steyer is officially running for president, and his Day One expenditures are absolutely eye-popping.
Here’s the low-down from The New York Post:
Tom Steyer spent about $1 million on political ads in the first four primary and caucus states on Tuesday – the same day he launched his bid for the 2020 Democratic nomination, according to a report.
The California billionaire, who’s been waging a national campaign to impeach President Trump, bought $1.05 million worth of broadcast ads in the biggest cities in Iowa, Nevada, and South Carolina, as well as Boston, which covers New Hampshire, NBC News reported, citing data provided by Advertising Analytics.
It will be interesting to see whether he maintains that pace (or anything close to it) as the campaign progresses.
Today is the first I’ve heard of “Section 230,” a little-known provision in the 1996 Communications Decency Act that underpins the modern internet.
Today, POLITICO breaks it down:
The tech industry is turning to its supporters in Washington to defend its long-standing legal immunity for offensive and defamatory online content, in the face of growing attacks from politicians fed up with hate speech, fake news and alleged ideological bias.
The provision, known as Section 230, has helped Silicon Valley’s giants become some of the wealthiest companies on Earth. But its supporters say it’s also crucial to the online freedoms ordinary Americans enjoy — and that if Congress insists on tinkering with it, the resulting wave of potential lawsuits facing social media platforms, customer review sites, blogs and message boards could bring to a halt the user-driven internet as people have known it for decades.
Hate speech is a serious matter, but the conservative in me is wary of tinkering with regulations that underpin the entire digital economy.
My gut reaction: leave Section 230 as it is.
The devil you know is better than the devil you don’t.
POLITICO is out with a story today that billionaire political activity Tom Steyer, who, in January 2019, declined to run for President of the United States, is reconsidering his decision.
Tom Steyer, the billionaire environmental activist who toyed with a 2020 presidential run before deciding against it, has told people he plans to announce that he’s entering the race for the Democratic nomination, according to three people familiar with his plans. Steyer had said in January that he was passing on a 2020 run.
Steyer held a private conference call last week to announce to people who work for Need to Impeach, NextGen America and Steyer's Sacramento office that he was planning to run, according to one of the people.
Mr. Steyer is one of the savviest political entrepreneurs I have ever seen. The way he architected the independent-but-integrated financial, legal, and technology infrastructure underpinning his network of political & civic organizations is genius. He has independently built a lasting campaign infrastructure to rival any of the world’s major political parties.
In March 2018, The Daily Beast profiled Steyer’s growing “Death Star” digital and political operation:
What Steyer is doing is acquiring the equivalent of prime political real estate. Through his self-funded Need to Impeach campaign, he has now built an email list of more than 5.1 million members, a total that one former presidential campaign manager called “staggering” and a top digital adviser called “one of the biggest Democratic lists out there.”
Note: That 5.1 million person email list figure does not include the email lists of NextGen Climate Action, a Steyer-controlled political action committee focused on addressing the climate crisis that raised more than $16 million in the 2018 Election Cycle.
Steyer spent $120 million between his political organizations during the 2018 midterms, and had close to 1,000 staff members during the peak of the election cycle. During the government shutdown, the group was adding 25,000 new names a day to its pro-impeachment email list.
What Steyer is doing on the digital front is nothing short of game-changing. The magnitude of his investment, the consistency of his messaging & engagement, and the longevity of his commitment are simply unparalleled in the political space. If today’s POLITICO story is accurate (and it feels truthy), I would expect him to immediately vault to the top of the 2020 Democratic field.
As Facebook continues to prioritize [Facebook Groups], this mechanism for outreach and this way of engaging with one another, your political candidate or cause will have never-before-seen access to the people who will organize on your behalf willingly. If you’re not utilizing Facebook Groups RIGHT NOW – before you’ve publicly announced or before your C4 is fully formed – you ought to be.
The folks at Nativ3 make a compelling argument that Facebook Groups — not email — is the best way to maximize engagement with your community online.
Jesse Haff, NationBuilder Co-Founder & VP of Design:
Starting August 5th, the new control panel will be your default experience, and on September 3rd, we will deprecate the Classic control panel.
The new control panel is the future of NationBuilder. It’s the foundation we’ll build upon as we continue to innovate, make usability improvements, and take evolutionary leaps in the product.
September 3rd will mark the end of an era for old school nation builders like me. But that’s okay: things change. I’m a massive fan of the new control panel, and I’m excited about what the advent of NationBuilder Radius means for the future of the product.
Look — server outages happen, even for global heavyweights like Facebook. That’s not particularly interesting or surprising and only presents a minor inconvenience.
What’s more interesting, to me, is what the outage revealed: Facebook has been labeling our images with surprisingly accurate AI-driven descriptions.
It’s reasonable to assume that Facebook does everything for two reasons: a good reason and the real reason. The tagging of these images seems to be no different:
The Good Reason: Accurately descriptive alt tags for images are an essential tool for helping facilitate web accessibility for the blind. Indeed, Facebook's image descriptions are consistent with WCAG 2.0 Guideline 1.1.1: "All non-text content that is presented to the user has a text alternative that serves the equivalent purpose."
The Real Reason: The machine learning and artificial intelligence required to power this kind of accurate, automatic image description generation at scale are significant. Seemingly in the pursuit of this innocuous accessibility goal, Facebook has leveraged our images to train it’s machine learning models.
I wonder how the insights from this undertaking have, for example, affected the AI that underlies Facebook Portal’s “smart camera.”
I’d be curious to learn how long Facebook has been tagging images this way, and how they trained the algorithms that generate the descriptions. I only noticed them today, but I suspect they’ve been in place for some time.
This advice from NextAfter, based on A/B testing and common sense, is consistent with my experience as a digital director for campaigns and causes:
Email marketing at its worst allows us to “blast” hundreds of thousands of people until they either decide to give in and donate or mercifully unsubscribe. But email marketing, at its best, allows us to scale 1:1 relationships more efficiently than ever, using the medium to create valuable connections with our donors.
We’ve been calling this “humanized” email fundraising. In this post, I’ll share 5 principles of “humanized” email fundraising that will help you increase donor conversion, average gift, and lifetime value with your donors. These are not “best practices”, but rather guidelines based on scientific research that have proven to affect response.
I recommend reading the whole thing. Executing these guidelines will significantly improve your email program’s performance.
Today, Give.GOP — a project I’ve been working on for a long time alongside my friend Paul Dietzel and several other GOP strategists — finally launched to the public.
From the official website:
This is not ActBlue. It’s nothing personal, but we felt that copying a 15-year-old idea was a bad approach. We built something entirely new. Give.GOP is leaner, more flexible, and more scalable. Our technology is stronger, our customer service is better, and our donation platform’s down-ballot market share is larger. We believe that a rising tide lifts all boats. We value you more than profit. We value your privacy more than power.
The Directory: Allows grassroots donors to find and fund the Republicans they support through a single, unified user interface.
Near-Zero Fees: On Give.GOP, the donor covers the processing fees so that all but $0.30 of their gift goes straight to the campaigns they support.
Nominee Funds: Donors can choose to donate to the eventual Republican nominee in a contested race, even before the Primary Election ends so that donors can focus their gifts where they can make the most impact.
The Anedot Platform: The entire service leverages Anedot’s widely adopted platform, which is already effectively the “Republican ActBlue.” That means that from Day One, Republican candidates from up and down the ballot can benefit from Anedot’s DonorID network effects and ongoing user experience improvements.
Seamless Integration: Campaigns do not need to do anything to benefit from Give.GOP. They can continue using whichever donation processors they prefer for their in-house fundraising, all while still receiving ongoing contributions from grassroots donors via the Give.GOP Directory.
Anedot already solved the GOP’s fundraising technology problem, which is why more Republican campaigns and causes use it than any other platform. Now, Give.GOP is going a step further by empowering donors to find and fund Republicans on their terms. Donating on Give.GOP is now the most secure and cost-effective way to donate to the Republican candidates you support.
I’m proud to have played a part in helping bring this idea to fruition, and I’m looking forward to seeing how it progresses in the weeks, months, and years to come.
According to the new policy, advertisers that buy ads related to elections or other political "issues" need to verify their identity with Facebook and disclose who paid for the ad. These ads, and the identity of their purchasers, are then preserved in Facebook's Ad Library for seven years, so that anyone can see who paid for a particular ad.
People make a big deal out of these regulations, but in my experience, they’re both easy to comply with and unlikely to affect the effectiveness of the ads themselves.
Big announcement today in the Democrat-aligned software space:
EveryAction, a leading provider of software serving over 15,000 nonprofits, announced today that it has closed its third acquisition in the last six weeks, acquiring the BSD Tools division from Blue State Digital. The acquisition follows EveryAction’s strategy of bringing together the best people and giving them the resources to create the best SaaS products, that provide the most value to nonprofits. EveryAction acquired ActionKit on May 8, and acquired Donor Trends on June 6.
Clients on the EveryAction and BSD Tools products will benefit in many ways, including by expanding the network effect of each company’s one-click contributions, with an active pool of stored credit card tokens closing in on 5 million. They will also benefit from the enhanced network effect of form pre-filling features driven by 120 million ActionProfiles, leading to higher conversion rates and more engagement for nonprofits. Additionally, BSD Tools clients will gain access to the EveryAction Fundraising and Organizing products, and EveryAction’s unique CRM – the only nonprofit-focused unified CRM on the market capable of serving large nonprofits.
The decision to highlight their combined 5 million stored credit card numbers as the primary benefit leads me to wonder if they’re planning on taking on the ActBlue behemoth.
Regardless, with the addition of BSD Tools, EveryAction/NGPVAN is clearly now the dominant software provider to the American Left.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee raised $8.9 million in May, posting another strong fundraising haul in the year before the 2020 election.
It's nearly double the National Republican Congressional Committee's $4.8 million raised in May, according to its filing with the Federal Election Commission on Thursday.
Out of the $8.8 million raised by DCCC in May — which is slightly less than the $9.3 million the committee raised in May of 2017 — $4.5 million came from small dollar contributions with an average donation of $17, according to the DCCC.
Patrick O’Keefe, the executive director of the Maryland Republican Party and a friend of mine, announced yesterday in Maryland Matters that he’s joining the team at Anedot:
[O’Keefe], who has held the job since early 2018, is leaving to become director of Customer Success for political accounts at the national fundraising firm Anedot. He told Maryland Matters he will be managing a team to support the company’s political accounts and help political organizations raise more money.
During his tenure at the Maryland GOP, Patrick helped oversee a statewide NationBuilder Network implementation, professionalized the party’s email and digital ad buying programs, and cemented himself as one of the Republican Party’s leading experts on online campaign strategy.
While the immediate focus within Maryland is on who will replace him as executive director, I think the larger story is on how his newly-created role at Anedot could serve as a rising tide to lift all digital fundraising boats in the 2020 Election Cycle.
I don’t want anyone finding and publishing my client’s in-development website on Twitter. I know my clients don’t want it to happen, either.
That’s why, when I create a new NationBuilder account or a new website on an existing NationBuilder account, the first thing I do is create a private workspace — with triple redundancies to make sure it’s secure.
How do I do it? By changing three standard settings in the Site settings > Basics section of my NationBuilder website.
First, Create a “Hard To Guess” Site Slug
Every NationBuilder website has a “site slug:” a prefix to its URL that makes it unique. NationBuilder prepends it to the URL like this: [site_slug]-[nation_slug].nationbuilder.com.
While your first instinct is to make this “site slug” a short, easily remembered word, I want you to fight that instinct. Instead, think of it as a password. The harder it is to guess, the less likely someone uninvited will find your development site.
My approach is to use random.org’s String Generator to create a long, random slug for my sites (ex: “cmi4mpbmwwm35ej6anyl”), but any hard-to-guess slug will work.
Note: Once you have connected a custom domain to your site, the “site slug” is hidden and no longer relevant. A password-like slug will have no impact on the long-term public URL for your website.
Next, Lock Down The Website
By default, NationBuilder websites are visible to “everyone” (i.e., they’re publicly accessible right out of the box).
I want my development sites to be visible to “control panel users” only — and, if there are an unusually large number of control panel users, possibly to “admins” only. That way, only my client’s senior team can see and interact with the site during its development phase.
Fortunately, this is an easy change to make.
While still within the Site settings > Basics section of your control panel, scroll down until you see the “Who can view this site?” dropdown menu on the lefthand side. Change this setting from “Anyone” to “Control panel users.”
Then, Disallow Search Engines
While the above two steps will lock our site down from curious visitors, this last step will prevent search engines like Google or Yahoo from adding your development website to search results.
Just below the “Who can view this site?” dropdown is a checkbox labeled “Allow search engines.” Uncheck it.
Now, when Bing, Google, Yahoo, and other search engines find your site, they’ll recognize that you want privacy and respect it by not including you in search results.
Finally, Save Your Settings
Once you’ve made these changes, scroll down to the bottom of the page and hit the blue “Save site” button.
Then, try opening your new development website URL in an incognito browser window. You won’t be able to reach it (instead, you should see a login screen). That means it worked!
Now, you’re ready to begin the work of building your new website in private. Your opponents won’t be able to find your site, and even if they do, they won’t be able to see it.
Federal Election Commission Chair Ellen Weintraub is proposing rules that would require some online political ads to attach a disclaimer describing who is paying for them.
The proposed rules — similar to measures introduced by the FEC last year — would subject paid online ads to similar disclaimer rules as print, television and radio ads. Increasingly popular social media ads, including those engaging in electioneering communications that mention a candidate shortly before an election, are currently exempt from including disclaimers under federal law.
Disclaimers on digital ads are complicated. The size and format of promoted digital content can vary dramatically, and advertising platforms are regularly developing new ad formats. For example, how do you disclaim a promoted tweet or a sponsored Facebook post w/ an image carousel? Anything useful would cannibalize the entire available content area.
I’m skeptical that the FEC can create uniform guidelines for disclaimers that are both practical and useful to the public, particularly when the software platforms are already responding to political and market pressure with their ad archives and disclaimer rules.
Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel:
@realDonaldTrump has raised a record breaking $24.8M in less than 24 hours for his re-election. The enthusiasm across the country for this President is unmatched and unlike anything we’ve ever seen! #trump2020 #KeepAmericaGreat
Put that a different way: the president averaged more than $1 million per hour for 24 straight hours.
That’s a staggering sum of money that showcases the professionalization and scale of the Trump 2020 digital operation. It also underscores that years of expensive list building and engagement efforts can pay off in a single big moment.
That doesn’t mean it can’t be beautiful. But it has to be useful, first.
When you commission a website, odds are that you’re investing serious money to solve a critical need. If it fails to address that need, it doesn’t matter whether the boss likes it — it’s a failure.
I find it helpful to think of a web design brief like a job description. You’re hiring your new website to do a job. What are its duties? How will its performance be measured?
Do you need to convert more signups to your email list, raise more money, persuade voters of your ideas, or convey viability to major donors? Perhaps you need to some combination of these or something else entirely?
Whatever your goals, your website needs to help you achieve them for its expense to be justified. And whether the candidate or executive director personally likes the design rarely has much impact on its effectiveness.
If you design a website that is more beautiful than helpful, you’ll find yourself developing a new one in short order. But a useful website is genuinely a thing of beauty.
QZ has an interesting story about Google allowing Beto O’Rourke’s ads to slip through its political advertising filters:
Google has been treating Beto’s campaign ads as if they weren’t political content, raising questions over whether Google is capable of keeping its already anemic promise of transparency for political ads.
This is by no means the first time Google has broken its own rules about political ads. Google promised Washington state’s attorney general that it would stop selling political ads there, settling a lawsuit over its alleged failure to comply with long-standing state disclosure rules. But it kept selling them anyways. Google says the way to check up on its work is to use its transparency archive—but when ads are missing from the archive, there’s little way of knowing what’s not there.
QZ frames this as a question about whether Google is up to the task of preventing foreign election interference, but I think the more interesting and relevant question is one of bias.
Pete Buttigieg’s campaign jolted its top donors with big news on a conference call last month: The upstart mayor had raised $7 million in the month of April alone, as much as Buttigieg had in his entire eye-catching first quarter in the presidential race.
And the campaign has urged its donors to step on the gas on their own, outside of the candidate’s fundraisers, to help meet its lofty goals, encouraging contests among bundlers to bring in the most cash and reminding them that hefty fundraising was a key factor that legitimized Barack Obama in the early days of the 2008 presidential campaign.
Why leak April fundraising numbers in mid-June? Because the end of June is also the next “End of Quarter” reporting deadline for the Federal Election Commission.
Buttigieg’s team feels like they’re close to putting up a significant number on their Q2 report, but they’re not confident they’ll get there. This leak is designed to put pressure on major donors and pledged donors to get on the train before it leaves the station.
The real question is: how much of that big haul was from big, coastal elite donors, and how much of it was from the grassroots online?
“I do think there is a realization by the NRCC post-2018 that there needs to be a greater commitment to low-dollar fundraising. These are kind of like elements that add fuel to the fire,” Targeted Victory founder and CEO Zac Moffatt told CNBC in a recent interview at the firm’s offices in Arlington, Virginia. “We have redoubled down and now we are going to be a much larger partner on the marketing side with low-dollar fundraising.”
“What we’re doing is creating as large as possible a first-party data set of people who want to support Republicans from the presidential all the way through the congressional,” he said. “When the time is right, we’ll activate them at scale.”
Targeted Victory has had a long-standing and close relationship with the NRCC, but in past cycles, they haven’t helped lead their online fundraising efforts directly (the committee did that in-house).
Bringing their expertise and large staff on board is a smart move by the committee, whose online fundraising revenues will almost certainly increase as a result.
This announcement does, however, raise significant questions about how committed the NRCC is to using WinRED (i.e., Revv). Historically, Targeted Victory has not shown a willingness to shift its customers away from its donation platform (Victory Passport).
Today is Fathers’ Day in the United States, and I wanted to take a moment to write about fatherhood, work, and priorities.
I became a father ten years ago this September. I was young, brash, and hopeful. At the time, and for years afterward, I defined myself by my job title and career path. But becoming a father changed all of that.
I’ve loved my children from the moment I met them. They’re incredible. But, now that they’re in elementary school, I’ve started to enjoy their company, as well. I don’t just love my children: I like my children. That’s a game changer.
I recently saw an advertisement that read, “You only get eighteen summers with your children. Are you making the most of them?” I think they were trying to sell me a vacation. But, unusually, something in the ad struck a chord: “No,” I thought. “I am not making the most of them. And soon they’ll be gone.”
Now, I’m desperately trying to beat back the constant, urgent demand to Get Things Done so that I can spend time with my kids. That’s why I’m a consultant/freelancer: so that my schedule stays flexible enough that I can be there when they need me. I’m determined to do well by my clients and my children — both.
So many fathers have to work long-distance jobs to care for their children (e.g., migrant workers, oil rig workers, sailors, soldiers). How many birthdays, sports games, and other little moments do they miss while they support their families from afar? And what would they trade to have those moments back?
As I’m stealing a few moments of quiet work early this morning, I’m grateful for my children — certainly. But I’m also thankful for my wife, my family, my clients, and a range of technology companies whose investment in me (big and small) has made it possible for me to spend so much time with my children.
Facebook has agreed to settle a class-action complaint accusing the company of inflating video metrics by up to 900%, lawyers for marketing agencies told a judge Wednesday.
If accepted by U.S. District Court Judge Jeffrey White in Oakland, California, the deal will resolve a legal battle dating to 2016, when marketers alleged that misrepresentations by Facebook resulted in inflated prices for video ads.
I can remember this period: Facebook was aggressively pushing into a phase of competition with YouTube and fighting hard for 2016 campaign advertising dollars.
Just another good cautionary tale to remind digital directors and ad buyers of the adage “buyer beware.” As much as possible, you should measure ROI yourself.
Rare is the day when I agree with The New York Times’ Editorial Board, but it happened today:
American lawmakers are late to the party. Europe has already set what amounts to a global privacy standard with its General Data Protection Regulation, which went into effect in 2018. G.D.P.R. establishes several privacy rights that do not exist in the United States — including a requirement for companies to inform users about their data practices and receive explicit permission before collecting any personal information.
Although Americans cannot legally avail themselves of specific rights under G.D.P.R., the fact that the biggest global tech companies are complying everywhere with the new European rules means that the technocrats in Brussels are doing more for Americans’ digital privacy rights than their own Congress.
I’ve spent considerable time learning about GDPR’s requirements in support of projects for European clients, and it’s clearly the (likely) future of data privacy in the United States. Smart digital directors will start preparing their clients/employers, now.