Patrick Ruffini has a good post up on Next Right about the Obama campaign’s online engagement strategy (use of email, social networks, etc. to get volunteers to support the campaign).  In the article, he points to a quote from Chip Saltsman, who is running for the Chairmanship of the Republican National Committee, about the value of different levels of engagement:

I also believe in building online Republican communities – not lists. Instead of focusing on amassing email lists of the marginally interested, we must make a concerted effort to transform our websites into hubs worthy of the fervent political dedication of our online supporters.

This is a nice sound bite, but I think Patrick is right on when he says “you need both communities and lists.”

Patrick’s post got me thinking of the value to a campaign of the people it recruits through its various web programs.  Looking at things on an extremely general level, the Obama online campaign had three main engagement components: MyBarack (its internal social network), its email list and its presence on external social network (Twitter, Facebook, etc.).  If I had to rank the value of the people recruited through these various venues, it would look like this:

(1) MyBarack.  These are people whose email you have and who also have taken the time to create an account on a social action network totally devoted to the candidate.  They use your tool set to self organize on behalf of the campaign.  These are your best online volunteers.

(2) Email List.  It seems fashionable for people to bash email lists, and I frankly don’t get it.  A big list of people who have voluntarily signed up to receive communication from you is an extremely valuable commodity. Email lists are the fuel for website traffic, donations and volunteerism.  We got all those emails last cycle because they work.

(3) External Social Networks.  To me, the value of having a presence on external social networks is that you have the opportunity to reach people who probably aren’t going to be visiting your campaign website regularly.  However, the level of engagement of these folks in your campaign is generally going to be pretty tenuous.  Can you name the groups you are in in Facebook?  Can you name all the pages you are fans of?  I sure can’t.  It is something you do and then forget about.  There is value for sure, but ultimately I would rather have someone’s email address than their support on Facebook.  Email provides campaign with a simple and elegant way to activate folks when they need them.  External social networks?  Not so much.

What do you think?

About the Author
Todd Zeigler
Todd Zeigler serves as the Brick Factory’s chief strategist and oversees the operations of the firm. In his sixteen year career in digital, he has planned and implemented campaigns for clients including the Pickens Plan, International Youth Foundation, Panthera, Edison Electric Institute, and the American Chemistry Council. Todd develops ambitious online advocacy programs, manages crises, implements online marketing strategies, and develops custom applications and software. He is bad at golf though.