Politics No Longer Poker-Bluffing Don't Woik - Customer Relationship Management

Government administration is not the only place that the “new constituencies” have been active nor is it the sole domain that needs to respond in new ways. The same goes for elected officials and the executive branch of the government. The Obama campaign is a good starting point.

The Obama campaign was brilliant. It appreciated that people were communicating in new ways and that those same people were involved in his campaign because they were fulfilling self-interested agendas— not following him in a cult-like way (though there was some of that too). In fact, the only real slip-up of the campaign (which luckily had little ultimate impact) was when the Obama camp changed the rewards system (the “loyalty program”) from volunteers acquiring individual points to volunteers achieving a certain rank. That removed the individual accomplishment each volunteer had. For example, if you were the number 1 volunteer and had 5, 000 points, that was better than the number 7 volunteer with 4, 194 points, don’t you think? But if you had 5, 000 points and got a 10 ranking score and 4, 194 points also earned you a 10, what’s the benefit to you? The points didn’t get the volunteers “stuff, ” but it did get them reputation, influence, and validation—three things high on the customer experience value chart. The idea of being high in the standings as numero uno volunteer among all volunteers is far more self-satisfying than just being one of a gazillion hard-working 10s (unless you’re Bo Derek). As the number 1 volunteer said when the point system was eliminated, “They can’t do that. It’s my points!” Which is precisely the, ahem, point. The participation of the individuals in a political campaign is a result of their personal interest in doing so and because it satisfies an aspect of their personal agenda.

But through the use of social media and the idea that community organizing principles could be applied to the cyberworld in conjunction with technology, they carried out the most effective campaign in the history of at least American, if not global, politics. The results were staggering. Let me overwhelm you with numbers. There were more than 2 million profiles created on MyBarackObama.com. There were 35, 000 volunteer groups created. There were 200, 000 real-world events planned and carried out. Over 400, 000 blog entries were posted. $30 million of the campaign’s funds were raised by 70, 000 microbundlers— individuals who had their own fundraising pages.

I don’t want to dwell on the campaign, since many have written well about it. There are a number of great articles and several books on how President Obama’s crew pulled this off. Many of them cover its applicability to business. For how the Obama campaign worked their magic, I recommend two articles. First, check out this Wired magazine blog October 2008 posting by Sarah Lai Stirland, called “Obama’s Secret Weapons: Internet, Databases and Psychology”). Then check out “Barack Obama: How Content Management and Web 2.0 Won the White House” on the AIIM website www.aiim.org/Infonomics/ Obama-How-Web2.0-Helped-Win-Whitehouse.aspx). For a more substantial look and the applicability of the campaign to business, go buy Brent Leary and David Bullock’s book, Barack 2.0: Barack Obama’s Social Media Lessons for Business www.lulu.com/content/5508095). All are well worth reading for more on the campaign.

But campaigns end. The winners of those campaigns have to govern, they have to involve their constituents. That means that not only do they have to respond quickly, but they have to know something about those constituents to provide an effective response. Elected officials can respond the way many of them do, with a cynical outlook that I can only call “constituent avoidance, ”or they can respond by using CRM-related methods and techniques. This isn’t a partisan thing either. There are Democrats and Republicans out there who are engaging their constituents via Twitter and . . . know what? I’m going to let this conversation continue with Julie Germany while I go take care of a different chapter for a few minutes. Julie is going to give you some real insight into how elected officials are using new means to communicate with their voters and what happens when they don’t.

Mini-Conversation with Julie Germany
Julie Germany is one of the up-and-coming movers and shakers in the new Washington, D.C., landscape. She is the director of the George Washington University think-tank the Institute for Politics Democracy and the Internet (IPDI), an organization devoted to contemporary communications policy, especially around constituent engagement. She drives the annual Politics Online conference, which is the place to be if you want to deal with all issues of digital politics pre-campaign, during the campaign, and during the term of office. She’s a sharp one.

Constituent Relationship Management by the Numbers
Elected officials at all levels (federal, state, and local) lose the opportunity to engage constituents positively when they handle constituent communications poorly—such as not answering constituent e-mails, handling constituent requests in a disorganized way, sending form letter responses by e-mail or snail mail, or delaying a response by weeks or even months. If you are interested in engaging constituents as an elected official or political staffer, here are a few things to keep in mind.

First, look at the numbers:

  • Americans are turning to the Internet as a first source for political information and communications. A June 2008 report by Pew Internet and American Life found that almost half (46 percent) of Americans use the Internet to receive political news and information.1 And more Americans than ever are engaging in politics and political debate through online tools like e-mail, web video, blogs, social networking applications, and instant messaging. As more Americans use the Internet to communicate about politics, they begin to expect that same kind of experience when they communicate online with elected officials.

  • Americans who communicate with their elected officials, particularly through electronic means, tend to have a multiplier effect in their communities. According to two studies released by the Institute for Politics, Democracy, and the Internet, “Poli-fluentials: The New Political Kingmakers” (2007) and “Political Influentials Online in the 2004 Campaign” (2004), people who take political actions online, such as sending e-mail to their elected officials, tend to be what people in the marketing world call “word-of-mouth opinion leaders.” According to the research presented in “Poli-fluentials: The New Political Kingmakers, ” 63 percent of the people surveyed in this influential population sent a prewritten e-mail to an elected official.2 When they have a good (or bad) experience they share it with their friends.

  • Americans are becoming dissatisfied with the kinds of responses they receive when they contact their elected officials. According to a 2008 report by the Congressional Management Foundation called “Communicating with Congress: How the Internet Has Changed Citizen Engagement, ”almost half (46 percent) of those of who contact Congress are dissatisfied with the response. More than half (64 percent) said the response did not address their concerns and that the response was too politically biased.3 When you combine this level of dissatisfaction with the multiplier effect that many of these people exert in their communities, then that dissatisfaction can spread.

Second, evaluate your philosophy towards constituent communications.

  • Make responsiveness to constituent requests and e-mails a core value in your office or organization.
  • Build an environment that encourages constituent interaction, rather than inhibiting it.
  • Learn about your constituents—figure out the why behind their inquiries, not just the what.

Third, find the right tools, tactics, and practices to help you act on your constituent communications philosophy in an effective, efficient way. This includes:

  • A data plan How will you collect and store constituent communications and data? A data plan can help your office determine what CRM tools and applications will fit best into your strategic plan.

  • An actionable database Find a database or CRM solution that will function as the CRM backbone of your office. The ideal database will receive and store all communications (both electronic and offline), help you create and send outgoing communications, store constituent data, and manage casework.

  • Proactive online communications tools Many elected officials, such as Congressman Tim Ryan and Congressman John Culberson, go beyond just sending e-mail communications to reach their constituents. They incorporate social media tools, such as micro-blogging on sites like Twitter, and multimedia tools, such as web video, to communicate in real time with their constituents about the issues they are working on and the bills they support.

Concepts, processes, activities, plans, and strategies need support. Technology is perhaps the most significant part of that support—as much in the public sector as the private sector. There are thousands of companies large and small providing a complicated soup of services and products to the federal, state, and local governments out there— even just in the world of CRM. Some stand out. Not all of them are highlighted here. Others I could have included are Oracle, SAP, Right-Now, IBM, and Aplicor when it comes to CRM-related services. But there are three in particular I want to talk about because of their innovative approaches and because of the diverse uses of their offerings. One in particular, Blue State Digital, is the choice for Superstah! in this chapter. You’ll see why.

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