TV isn’t dead

“For political campaigns, reaching younger, more diverse, swing voters through live TV advertising alone is problematic.”

It’s a multi-layered challenge for political campaigns: TV is still the best way to reach the biggest audience, but media markets don’t necessarily map on to Congressional districts. In a cash-conscious campaign (and aren’t they all?), spending money to advertise to people who can’t even vote on your issue or candidate is bitter pill. Add to that the declining TV audience (or, better put, the increase in non-TV audiences) and the growth of “micro-targeting” on social media, and it raises the question about how best to allocate advertising dollars to reach the most relevant audience.

WaPo goes into more depth in this March 15 article, citing a bipartisan research effort from earlier in the year:

Live TV isn’t going away; it’s just not as dominant as it once was. Seventy percent of those surveyed said they had watched live television in the previous week. But fully 30 percent said that, other than live sporting events, they had watched no live television in the previous week. For younger voters, it’s closer to 40 percent.

Video on demand, streaming, smartphones and tablets have changed viewing habits. In the past three years, according to the survey, the percentage of people watching streaming content — think “House of Cards” on Netflix — has roughly doubled, to 27 percent of the population. Viewing content on smartphones has about doubled to roughly the same percentage of users. Tablet viewing has jumped from 14 percent to 26 percent in less than two years.

These changes in viewing habits coincide with the dramatic growth in the prevalence of smartphones and tablets. Today, two-thirds of the population has a smartphone; more than half said they have a tablet.

The bottom line is the same, political campaign or consumer marketing campaign — reach the people most interested in or persuadable by your message, with the least waste. Or as put by Obama media advisor Jim Margolis, ““The objective is reaching voters where they are. Content is content and whether you see an ad or video on your iPad, your TV or on your smartphone, our job is to get in front of your eyeballs and get your attention. That means looking for gaps in TV penetration, and finding targets someplace else…to do it right requires more work and sophistication than when people were watching four local stations and we were bombing them . . . with ads. The advertising world has changed in powerful ways and reaching voters is more challenging than ever before”


Making sure you’re in the know

Things are constantly changing on the social media landscape. If you made it a priority to track of Facebook’s latest algorithm change and the latest social media buzzword you wouldn’t even have time to get your work done. Luckily for you, that’s our job.

On that note, we thought we would update you on a couple of recent changes that could have a significant effect on our outreach efforts. There’s tons more happening, of course (are you following us on Twitter and Facebook for regular updates?), but these are two pretty big ones that we want to make sure you know about:

1. Facebook pages

Facebook is changing the way it shows page posts in people’s feeds — basically they are downgrading the value of all page posts, so while it will still help to have the sort of good content that generates real engagement, it is even then going to be harder and harder to even show up in people’s feeds without paying for ads.

Some time around the beginning of December, Facebook changed its algorithm in such a way that every user’s news feed was tweaked slightly – more relevant, newsy-type stories and shared articles by friends would be seen, but at the expense of posts by pages. Many businesses, including small-to-medium-sized businesses that can’t really afford huge marketing budgets, saw the potential of social media marketing some years back and have built up healthy followings and a good number of likes on their Facebook pages. However, this recent move by Facebook is an attempt to get companies to pay to reach these audiences.

“We expect organic distribution of an individual page’s posts to gradually decline over time as we continually work to make sure people have a meaningful experience on the site. We’re getting to a place where because more people are sharing more things, the best way to get your stuff seen if you’re a business is to pay for it,” says a document produced by Facebook.

Read more here.

2. Gmail Servers

Gmail is changing the way it hosts images, which — without going into the technical nitty-gritty — means we are going to have a harder time tracking when people actually open/read emails. This means open rates are going to go down across the board, and will not be reflective of actual open rates. The open-rate metric has always been a proxy, but this information can amount of any drop we see.

Google has just announced a move that will shut most of these tactics down: it will cache all images for Gmail users. Embedded images will now be saved by Google, and the e-mail content will be modified to display those images from Google’s cache, instead of from a third-party server. E-mail marketers will no longer be able to get any information from images—they will see a single request from Google, which will then be used to send the image out to all Gmail users. Unless you click on a link, marketers will have no idea the e-mail has been seen.

More details on this change available here.

We’re not sure yet how these changes will be affecting our clients and services, but we are hard at work here figuring out how to make your online outreach efforts work for you, and we have ideas cooking on both fronts to make sure we’re changing tactics to account for these changes.

How to decipher your data

How to decipher your data

Goals without measurable metrics attached to them aren’t really worth much. Likewise, setting goals without intending to check back in to see how you’re doing probably ends up feeling like a waste of time.

From the get-go, you should be conceiving of goal-setting as a giant feedback loop:

Once we have goals that are specific, measurable and time-oriented (click here for more on that), we can think about what kind of data will be relevant to checking in on our progress.

How do we track?

Each aspect of our campaign or project has a data set associated with it.

Virtually every email blast service tracks a standard set of metrics for every email you send. (And if your email blast service doesn’t, it’s not worth using.) The standard metrics are:

  • Open Rate
    This is the most basic measure of the success of an email blast, but don’t give it too much weight. For one thing, it’s a fuzzy number to measure because email blast services can’t really tell you exactly how many people read your email. Instead, they use a proxy in the form of a little invisible pixel embedded in every email. Every time that pixel is downloaded from their server, it counts as one open. So if someone has images blocked (as many – if not most – people do) it would depress the actual open rate; likewise if someone’s email program automatically downloads images when they load their email, irrespective of weather or not they actually read it, it could artificially inflate the rates.It’s also much less relevant to know how any unique email performs compared to some abstract number (what does 35% open rate mean? Is that good or bad?), and much more important to track how your rates change relative to each other. Every email list is a little different, so there may not really be a standard, across-the-board “good” open rate…but if your lists’ average is 13%, and an email gets 6%, it’s worth trying to find out why.A few under-performing emails, as measured by a simple open-rate metric, often don’t tell the whole story — appeal kickers that have lower open rates might be the biggest money earners, for instance.
  • Click-through Rate (CTR)
    CTR is in some ways a much better measure of the success of any email. Unlike with Open Rates, CTR is an accurate count of how many people not only read your email, but were also inspired enough to take the additional step of spending additional seconds clicking through. It may not result in the actions or donation totals you were hoping for, but in a world where time and email inbox space are at a premium, a relatively high CTR counts as a pretty ringing endorsement of your email’s subject line and content.
  • Unsubscribe Rate
    Sending too many emails a month? Not enough? Confusing people with misleading subject lines or appeals they weren’t expecting? Unsubscribe rates are an important way for us to realize that we’re doing something wrong. As with Open Rates, the overall average is worth less attention than a major spike or drop off.
  • Bounce Rate
    This is what tells us how many bad email addresses we have on our lists. It shouldn’t jump or drop unexpectedly, but it’s worth paying attention to. Lists with high bounce rates tend to get flagged by email service providers as likely spam, meaning your email is more likely to end up in someone’s junk folder, where it’s not doing anyone any good.

Web Sites

You can use analytics to see what content is coming in from mobile browsers. (Click to embiggen)

Google Analytics is the gold standard of web site analytics tools, and has the added benefit of being the free-ist. The interface is intuitive and actually kind of fun to play with, but the amount of data presented can be overwhelming. Whatever analytics tool you’re using to measure the effectiveness of your web site, here are the key metrics to take ongoing note of:

  • Overall site views
    Much like “Open Rates”, this is a metric best utilized in relative, not absolute, terms. A big spike or drop in traffic is a flag worth investigating; likewise a long, slow increase or decrease in hits.
  • Unique Visitors
    This stat lets you know how many people are viewing your site for the first time, and how many are coming back time and again. Both are useful, and depend ultimately on what your goals are (new email signups? New visitors can measure success. Long-term education? Return visitors can indicate a sense that your content is valuable and worth returning to).
  • Bounce Rate
    This indicates how many people leave your site after they’ve landed there. Lower is better, and tracking which particular pages inspire further exploring or taking wing to greener internet pastures is probably the best use of this particular stat.

Social Media

Social media can be harder to track, because often the goal is the difficult-to-quantify “interactions” or “relationships.” That said, there are a number of worthwhile tools we can use to measure the relative effectiveness of certain types of interactions.

  • Using Traffic Sources in Google Analytics, we can track how much of our web site traffic comes in from social media sources like Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook. You can also use analytics to see what content is coming in from mobile browsers.
  • Set up Google Alerts to track key words on the issue/campaign you’re working on – Google Alerts grab from Twitter and blogs, easy content to track (or share or otherwise interact with).
  • Facebook insights provide extremely granular data on all different types of interactions with your content over a wide range of dates. It’s hard to manage using the Facebook interface, so your best bet is to download. Even then there’s an overwhelming amount of data, so simply delete almost all of the columns, leaving just a few key metrics behind:
    • Weekly People Talking About This (Page Level – Key Metrics – Column C)
      This is the number of people sharing stories about your page, including: liking your Page, posting to your Page’s Wall, liking, commenting on or sharing one of your Page posts, answering a Question you posted, RSVPing to one of your events, mentioning your Page, phototagging your Page or checking in at your Place. (Unique Users).
    • Weekly Total Reach (Page Level – Key Metrics – Column P)
      The number of people who have seen any content associated with your Page. (Unique Users)
    • Lifetime Post Viral Reach (Post Level – Key Metrics – Column H)
      The number of unique people who have created a story from your Page Post as a percentage of the number of unique people who’ve seen it. This is a good way to test how shareable your content is. This metric is an indicator of how likely your fans are to share your posts.
    • Lifetime Post Engaged Users (Post Level – Key Metrics – Column M)
      The number of people who clicked anywhere in your posts. (Unique Users). Another way to parse engagement, this shows how many people are interacting with specific content – liking, sharing, viewing videos or photos, commenting, etc.
  • Twitter
    With Twitter, you can do weekly check ins to manually count followers—we recommend keeping a spreadsheet to a tally once a week.

    • Keep in mind that the raw number of followers is pretty rough – lots of people follow and then just tune out
    • Much more effective to track if you’re actually getting RTs and mentions
    • Track what works and when in the spreadsheet.
    • Take a look at Klout: It’s free – just plug your Twitter handle in and it’ll tell you your score. It calculates your reach, influence, the important networks you’re a part of, issues on which you have more influence, and which of your followers are high ranking network hubs.
    • Use 3rd party apps to track data and trends. Tools like TweetDeck, HootSuite, and Seesmic are useful for scheduling posts and creating regular searches, but their biggest benefit is in tracking and analyzing Twitter account performance.

The bottom line:

Having goals isn’t enough—you also need to track your successes and failures. You should:

  • MONITOR: Using stat-tracking tools available in Facebook, 3rd party Twitter apps, Google Analytics and alerts.
  • ASK: Talk to people about how they’re coming across your information or finding out about your events – in person or using polls.
  • LOW TECH: Count manually! Sometimes the best stats tracker is you. Also search Twitter and Facebook manually for mentions of your cause and groups or individuals that may be allies.
  • TEST: What gets most comments? Are comments mostly positive/negative? What days/times work best for posting? How often is most effective? What type of content gets the most positive interactions?
  • FOLLOW: keep up with what other organizations are doing (and when) by following/friending, and don’t be afraid to copycat.

Keeping in mind our circular process, don’t forget to take what you’ve learned from your data and actually put the stuff that’s working into practice!

Pedal The Plains: Branding and Online Outreach Case Study

Pedal The Plains: Branding and Online Outreach Case Study

Objective: Use multiple online platforms to create Pedal The Plains brand, push share-worthy content throughout the social web, create buzz about the inaugural ride with the goal of raising awareness and interest, and increase registrations for the 2012 and 2013 rides.

Setting up a Flickr account and encouraging riders to post to the PTP pool is one way we created a shared community around the ride.

Strategy: Publish an ongoing stream of interesting content, interact with existing social hubs, and utilize fan-generated content as much as possible. Promote the ride as a mutually beneficial endeavor for cyclists and local plains communities—guests get a chance to see a part of the state that they may not have visited before, and local communities will see a tourism boost during the week of the event.

The Team: OnSight Public Affairs, Denver Post Foundation, Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade, and Governor Hickenlooper’s staff.

Challenge: OnSight was tasked with branding and developing an online presence and social media plan. Having worked with the USA Pro Challenge previously, OnSight knew the challenges of branding and promoting a cycling ride. As a new event, Pedal the Plains provided another list of obstacles, such as:

  • How do we entice people to cycle in a region that has an agricultural landscape?
  • How do we turn this event into a tourist draw that highlights the culture of rural communities in Colorado’s eastern plains?


  • Built Pedal The Plains website using customized WordPress and branded with logo, colors and language.
  • Developed and managed social media platforms including Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, YouTube and blogs.
  • Created an extensive Social Media Roadmap, which provided guideines, content ideas, timing and posting best-practies, as well as a sketch of target benchmarks for the weeks and months leading up to the event.
  • Prioritized responsiveness on social media to individuals posting questions, items that could be shared or responded to by the existing community (e.g., requests for carpool coordination), and posts to promote sponsors, participating towns, and partners for the event.
  • Created blog series called “The Plain Pedalers,” where participants submitted daily updates and posts, giving the public an insider’s view of the ride.

Outcome: Pedal The Plains became not only a story in the paper for the public to read about, but an interactive experience for riders, as well as spectators and non-participants.

  • Website had 32,927 unique visitors and spent an average of more than four minutes on the site.
  • Email list grew to 2,249 subscribers and had an average open rate of 48.2%.
  • Social media platforms engaged 1,629 followers.

OnSight will be teaming up for 2013 Pedal The Plains with the goal of making it even bigger and better than 2012.

 Testimonial: “OnSight was instrumental in creating our event’s brand and shaping its culture. Their team demonstrated a keen understanding of all social media platforms and helped to make the ride an interactive experience. We look forward to partnering with OnSight for years to come.” –Chandler Smith, Director of Pedal The Plains

Three tricks for goal-setting gold

Three tricks for goal-setting gold

In order be able to tell whether or not an online campaign has been successful, we need to set some goals. It seems obvious, but so often we see organizations launch an online campaign because they know they’re supposed to, without giving thought to what they want to get out of it or what success will look like.

From the get-go, you should be conceiving of goal-setting as a giant feedback loop:


This requires setting aside time and energy early on in a campaign or project to sit down and think through what reasonable goals are, and to set goals with focus, intention, and buy-in of all the staff and managers who will be participating.

There are two ways to think about goal setting, which are certainly not mutually exclusive when setting up an online strategy:

1. Benchmarks: There are a handful of good sources for industry-wide data around open rates, engagement rates, etc., so that you can get a sense of what to expect. Start here or hereto get some broad strokes. These are good as a starting point for setting realistic expectations for your organization.

Benchmark style goal example: We will send approximately 2-3 emails a month between January 2013 and December 2013, accelerating to at least one email a week in the three months preceding the event. Emails will have a 25% open rate and 5% open rate, and each email will generate 50 new event registrations. We will generate fresh content for two Facebook posts a week and one post consisting of shared/curated content, and posts will generate 10-15 likes/comments/shares each.

2. Results: What is the ultimate goal of the campaign, and how will you know if the online strategy has achieved its piece of the puzzle? Spend some time thinking through not simply the tactics (“We’ll post pictures on Facebook! People will love it!”), but what the actual underlying pointis.

Results style goal example: Our objective is to take advantage of multiple platforms to push shareworthy content throughout the social web, creating buzz about the event with the goal of raising awareness and interest and increasing registrations this year and next year. We also plan to use the social web to disseminate information during the event itself for participants and fans. Our primary strategy is to publish an ongoing stream of interesting content, interact with existing hubs, and utilize fan-generated content as much as possible. We will seek to funnel users from wherever they stumble upon our content to the event website.

Setting goals in both styles can help make sense of the analysis that you should be doing ongoing.

Three tricks for goal-setting gold:
There are three key features to creating a worthwhile set of goals. To be most effective, both as a guide to your tactics and as a benchmark for later analysis, goals should be:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Time-oriented.

Specific means we’re staying away from things like “be better at social media” or “make email more interesting.” Keep asking yourself if there’s a way to make the goal more specific, and if being general is a cop out to keeping you from thinking clearly about what a goal actual entails.

Measurable goals give us a way to circle back and track our effectiveness. Not all goals have to measurable – especially if we’re setting Results-based goals like in the second example above – but at least some of them should have specific benchmarks and numbers attached to them so that there’s a way for us to see if we’ve actually achieved them. How do we know if we made our email more interesting if we have no way to measure it?

Time-oriented is just to remind us that goals should cover a set period of time. Again “make email more interesting” is going to be a much less effective directive than “increase click-through rates to 5% on average by December 2013”.

Setting specific, measurable and time-oriented goals focuses the work we do and allows us to track our output and outcomes against a standard set of metrics. Goals should be set – and referenced periodically – for every piece of an online marketing program, including list growth, engagement and donation rates, and social media metrics.

For best success, setting goals should be an integral part of your campaign planning process, not simply stuck on as an add-on after the fact. Without a road map it’s hard to know where we’re going, and nearly impossible to tell if we’ve made an progress at all. Every piece of a campaign — including social media, blogging, fundraising, and list growth —  should have goals attached to it, lest we end up simply spinning our wheels, going through the motions without any shared goal or understanding of what success would look like.

Next post: Measuring Success

Blog Series: What We Learned in 2012

Blog Series: What We Learned in 2012

Some ups and downs in 2012.

Veteran politicos will tell you there is no such thing as an “off year,” but that doesn’t mean there aren’t some natural ebbs and flows.

With that in mind, we are using this relatively quiet time to reflect on some of the ups and downs of 2012.

Here are the post topics we’ll be offering up:

  • Metrics and Goal Setting
  • Data and Analytics
  • Email List Growth
  • Email Subject Lines
  • Email Content and Click-through
  • Social Media
  • Fundraising and Appeals