What higher education can learn from the use of digital technology in politics
This week we are chatting with Adam Compton, Assistant Director of Development for NC State University, on how digital technology affects political campaigns, but also how these practices can be applied in higher education.
– What’s the impact of digital technology on political campaigns?
Digital technology is shaping the way campaigns operate and how they connect with voters. In today’s campaigns, grassroots starts with tech. Our ability to organize, mobilize and fundraise is greatly affected by digital technology. It’s the medium that allows you to communicate your message to your audience. From the early days of Howard Dean to Bernie, Trump and Clinton – digital technology is shaping campaigns.
– Are the recent political campaigns an indication of how digital media will affect future campaigns?
Yes and no, we saw a lot of improvements and changes in campaigns this cycle. Two things happened, the reliance on text messaging and data. Text as a medium to communicate played an important role. I think Bernie Sanders really kicked off the new age of text messaging with many organizers using it as a way to engage with supporters. In addition, both the Clinton and Trump campaigns were using texts as a way to not only communicate, but also raise money and drive actions. In the past, we saw very few asks for money, but this cycle was a big change. I think we will continue to see that in future cycles. In regards to the data, I think we learned a couple of lessons – data and polling, in particular, is not an exact science. Our data is only as good as the data coming into the system and how we analyze it.
– What can we all learn from the digital integration in political campaigns? Which practices could be used in higher education?
I believe that a lot can be learned and translated from campaigns into the higher education toolkit. We both work with very passionate and often times large bases. We tend to engage with a market that is online, constantly changing and caring deeply about our success. When we look at best practices from campaigns we can learn a lot.
Test everything – data is your friend
What does the data tell you and how can you improve? It can be as simple a/b testing email subjects or multifaceted tests of email messaging. Test your donor giving form – does removing a field or 10 increase conversions? Does adding an image help? Also, we need to step up our data collection game. We need to be building profiles on our alumni and donors to better develop appeals that meet their needs and how they want to be communicated with.
In today’s data-driven world, we should be segmenting a lot more. This can be as simple as a custom ask level based on past giving and communicating to donors and their interests differently.
The number one thing you should be measuring is action driven from that email. Stop being so concerned with unsubscribes and focus more on the results. We also can’t look at email as direct mail, we need to be shorter, to the point. With that said, it takes multiple asks to raise money. Then you need to start thinking about the next gift and the upgrade. I am not saying send 4 fundraising emails a day, but how can build a sense of urgency and communicate that?
Donation forms should be simple and quick
We try to collect way too much information in our forms. Develop strategies to get that information on the backend, but your donation form should be the basic information only.These are just a few things that campaigns do really well when it comes to fundraising. And these are practices we should be thinking about implementing.
– From your own experience, how can digital technology increase the engagement with alumni?
I think there are a lot of simple things that can be done to drive engagement with our alumni. I helped run a campaign targeting recent graduates to update their information. We utilized paid social media with a randomly selected person receiving a prize. Over a couple week campaign we got just over 2,000 data updates and roughly 75% had new information. I think a lot of the times it is breaking out of our mold of this is how we do things and giving something a test.