Email Lists and Targeting

Many say that email lists are the lifeblood of a political campaign.  I can understand why.  Email is the primary communication between a campaign and supporters (either advocates or those marginally interested).  But, when email is not used effectively, does it come back to hurt a campaign?  I think it does.

Author Mary Lou Roberts makes the right point that often campaigns will hold events and even ask for input from audiences in order to build email lists.  She wrote about a recent email she received from the AARP suggesting that the organization would submit every question their audience wanted to ask the presidential campaigns.  It’s a clear ploy to get people active, share with their friends and result in a deeper email list for the AARP.

Julie Germany, Director of the Institute for Politics, Democracy and the Internet at George Washington University told me something similar last year.  At the time I was shocked to see an email from the Clinton campaign asking me to submit the most pressing issue for me.  Not that I was expecting to receive a personal email from Hillary but I at least expected an automatic reply message from the campaign thanking me for the submission.  But, clearly, they weren’t interested in that.  They were more interested in capturing behavioral information about me and hoped that I would share that email with friends not on Hillary’s email list.  The problem is that they never used this behavioral info.

But the big question is, if campaigns can capture these email lists, is it effective to blast emails out all the time without regard for the audience?  I think not.  Campaigns can do themselves a favor by asking the audience questions and actually using the responses they get to segment their email lists based on behavior!  The private sector does this, campaigns ought to smarten up as well.

Earlier this summer, I attended a campaign event for Debbie Halvorsen, a congressional candidate in Illinois’ 11th district.  I registered and paid my contribution through Act Blue.  This online transaction called for my email .  It’s surprises me that today I received, not one, but two letters from the Halvorson campaign soliciting me for funds.  As a “supporter” I’d like to be listened to and clearly their direct mail piece doesn’t indicate they are listening.  If I used Act Blue to register for an event and make a donation, doesn’t that mean I’m more likely to respond to online communications rather than direct mail?

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