Team Brown does Violence to Online Organizing

(For identification purposes only, I’m the Executive Director at Netroots Nation)

Last week yet another poorly crafted Jerry Brown email went out to his email universe. That’s not news, I’ve been cringing at their emails since they first started sending them. Most cringe worthy so far? Jerry Brown’s ring tone.

The subject line was decent, “You wouldn’t believe…” works for me. But the rest of the email violated about every best practice that’s been written for emails. Here’s some simple ones from Blue State Digital for starters.

There’s this weird screen capture of a YouTube video that actually goes to YouTube instead of their donate page (you just lost anyone that intended to donate with that link). Instead of highlighting specific text 2-3 times in the email they opted to use these weird huge contribute images. The email is rambling and without focus. The type is small, nothing is bolded to catch your attention. There’s all sorts of other links to distract you like facebook, etc.

And at the time it was originally sent the lowest contribution you could make without entering something in the “other” box was $100 even though they asked for $10, $25, whatever you can give in the email. And the highest donation was $51,800–now where’s my credit card that’s got that much spare room on it?

You can see a partial shot of it here.

Epic FAIL, the conversion rates have to be terrible.

More on the flip about how Jerry Brown’s email “best practices” are infecting the California Democratic Party and Alberto Torrico’s campaign for Attorney General…

But now this is spreading like a virus in some bad end of the world thriller movie. And it’s doing serious violence to online organizing knowledge.

The California Democratic Party decided to forward Brown’s email this past Thursday night to everyone on their list. They didn’t change a thing, they just forwarded this crappy email verbatim with a little header on top from Burton. You can see a partial screen shot of that here.

And then on the same day Torrico sends something very similar, but actually worse due to lack of focus, to his email list. See that partial screen shot here. I mean hey I’m a Kamala supporter so maybe that’s ok 🙂

Brown has obviously been in politics a long time, and the combination of his team running with these techniques and the CDP supporting them is providing some kind of weird signal to others to adopt them. If Brown’s doing it this must be what it feels like at the top of the game.

So in the hope Brown’s people, CDP people, and folks with other campaigns that read Calitics see this, please stop looking to these emails as examples.

* If you want to follow some good models look at what groups like Courage Campaign, MoveOn and OFA are sending out just to name a few. You’ll notice that fundraising emails are short, carefully constructed and focused, make specific asks, and if there is a video it’s on the donation page. Messaging, unfortunately, is a much longer conversation. But technique is important.

* There’s all kinds of help out there ranging from national consultancies like Blue State Digital (you know, the folks that worked for Obama) to folks like Trilogy Interactive to close to free help like New Organizing Institute provides to scores of articles and blog posts written on the subject. I love Wired for Change tools as much as the next guy but just having their toolset doesn’t cut it, you need to know how to use it.

* If you’re running against an insanely well funded candidate like Meg Whitman, as Brown is, then you need to take online organizing seriously and do it right. It’s an incredibly low cost multiplier to every other aspect of your campaign: fundraising, field, messaging, media, volunteers. All you need to do is look at the story of how a 1 term Senator named Barack Hussein Obama beat one of the most well established and financed candidates in recent political history. It wasn’t by sending emails like this.


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6 thoughts on “Team Brown does Violence to Online Organizing”

  1. For those who care about online organizing best practices, the Brown, CDP and Torrico emails are really disappointing examples of what NOT to do.

    Online organizing is not easy, but there are some simple rules that any good organizer should use, no matter what tools they have at their disposal.

    Let’s break out 10 Tips for Better Emails — the link to BSD that you provided — for a closer look:

    …I wanted to preview the 10 simple, concrete ways I suggest campaigns and organizations can write better emails.

      1. Keep it short. People don’t want to read a long essay — they’re skimming what you write. If you’re in a Word doc and your email reaches a full page, wrap it up.

      2. Think about your subject line — it’s the most important part of your email. Be concise, grab attention, and be creative.

      3. Keep it conversational – you don’t send formal letters to your friends or coworkers by email, do you? Use voices and personalities in your email to start a dialogue with supporters.

      4. Never send an email without an action — the only thing people can do is unsubscribe. That being said, try not to have more than one action per email or you’ll confuse and overwhelm people.

      5. Treat new supporters differently; make a good first impression. Send a welcome message and explain what to expect from your campaign. Don’t throw them into the regular email list immediately.

      6. Use images sparingly. Don’t use images just for the sake of using images. Simple, compelling buttons are good, but don’t hold up an email for one.

      7. Don’t be afraid to try something new — gimmicks can be your friend. Don’t know what we mean? Look to the presidential campaigns as a guide.

      8. Ask people what they want. Surveys are good for both you and your supporters. They solicit ideas, tell you what people care about, and make people feel engaged.

      9. Timing is everything. Sometimes it’s better to be the first than to be the best. If you’re waiting 3 days for policy experts to fact-check your brilliant email, you’re too late.

     10. Test and segment your list. Figure out what works best for your own organization.

  2. In short, what Brown needs to do is build an email list twice the size of Courage Courage in a few months. To get to where Courage is, every single person in California with any online game has been part of the process, with multiple online organizers for years, not to mention all the part-time and consultant and volunteer help (disclosure, I’m proud of the work I’ve done for Courage).

    And that is just email, which is the easiest thing to get right when it comes to online campaigning. It stands out because it is pretty much the entire public face of the campaign right now and it sucks. Hopefully Brown’s campaign realizes that. But they are only getting criticized for email because that’s all they are doing. They should be just as concerned with all they aren’t doing, which is a big list right now.

    I wonder if anyone in Brownland has even heard of Netroots Nation, much less attended.

  3.  I haven’t gotten these “emails” because well I’m not on the mailing list but if its junk I’m glad I’m not getting it.

    There is still time to get their act together and yes in this date and age, you need your house in order. Obama’s campaign is HOW a campaign should be run and will be learned from for years to come.

    With that said, I am disappointed the person charged with writing the emails isn’t talented at all.

    I could do better, maybe I should?

  4. Make sure you follow sites like this one, and consider strongly introducing yourself and having folks in the campaign act as ambassadors to sites like Calitics and Daily Kos.

    Don’t repeat Anglelides’ mistakes.  Just because your consultants may not take this stuff seriously doesn’t mean you can’t lose for not doing it.

    You’re not going to have the amount of money Dutchess Meg is going to have.  So get your butts out here to get folks here to help you.

    Also: some of the people around here are damn talented.  Why the hell don’t you hire a few of them?

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