Nothing unites a divided house like robocall laws. In January 2020 Trump passed the TRACED act, that received unprecedented bipartisan support.
The Act is primarily focussed on making the telecom providers take up more responsibility to stop illegal robocalls. However, it has a much more worrisome subtext for robodialers in general.
It reinforces that robocalling (and robodialers in general) are still seen as more of a ‘scrounge’ than a useful means of communication.
What does that mean for your political phonebanking campaigns?
First and foremost, it means that you have to take a closer look at robocall laws before using it to call your voter base.
Secondly, it also means that your voter base may not always appreciate the communication from you – given that they are not big fans of getting an automated call.
This article will help you with both the above and ensure that your robocalling campaigns are successful
In 2018 there were more than 47.8 billion phonecalls. That is almost 1,800 calls per second. Unfortunately, these calls weren’t made to convey something terribly important.
The highest number of usage for robodialers was in scams. Which is why, rather understandably, the laws concerning robocalls are getting stricter.
According to the TCPA U.S law, though robodialers are not illegal, there are strict rules and regulations revolving around how and when they are used.
Robodialer and the first amendment
Automated calling is protected under the first amendment of free speech. Making all automated dialling illegal will mean that the government is infringing on the right to free speech. It would essentially be hindering communication between people.
So while the context and existence of robocalls cannot be controlled, the laws determine when it can be used.
Is it still legal to use robodialer for political campaigns?
Short answer = yes.
To clarify, you can call any and all the landline numbers of voters without having to worry about a penalty.
However, calling a cellphone cannot be done unless the voter has explicitly opted-in to receive campaign updates from you.
Also, there are a few non-negotiable content for every message that goes out via robocalls. Every call has to have a tag at the very beginning, that identifies the candidate (and party) on whose behalf the call is made.
The calls also have to sign off with a contact number and address where the caller can be reached by the audience.
Apart from this, there are the regular rules of reaching out only within business hours (the same rule that is applicable for text messages) apply to robocalling as well. The rules of some states vary from each other. So do check the finer points for robocall laws in your state before you get the campaign set up.
Robodialer use cases
Now that we know it is legal to use robodialers in political campaigns, let us see why it should be used
To put it simply, robodialers are cost-effective and the best way to reach a large number of audience in a very short period of time.
Considering the relatively limited budget for outreach, and the heavy time constraints that characterize every political campaign, these two are major advantages of a robodialer that campaigns cannot ignore.
Here is how robodialers can be used in political campaigns:
1. Get more turnout at events
An excellent way to boost event attendance is to announce the details via robocalls. Not only can you get the message across quickly, but you can also use interactive robodialers (Press1 campaign), to collect RSVPs.
The strategy is quite simple. Reach out to voters (supporters and non supporters alike) and invite them to rallies. It would be an excellent opportunity for your non supporters to get interact with your supporters and get them to join your camp.
The robodialer calls every voter with a request to press 1 to RSVP for the event. You can then collect the responses and set up another campaign for those who have not responded.
Not only will it save you a lot of volunteer time and effort, but you can easily re-target voters based on how they have responded to your initial robocall.
And yes, this strategy does work. Hilary Clinton when running for the Presidential Primaries used robocalls to great effect. Her Iowa rallies were such a tremendous success because of the interactive robocalls she used.
More recently, the Obama campaign also replicated her efforts for the general elections.
2. Faster supporter communication
During political campaigns it is not just your voters you need to reach out to. Usually, you also need to be in touch with your supporters.
This could be to request them to volunteer or donate for your campaign. It could be to check if they would be interested in hosting a yard sign for you. Or it could simply be a call to ensure that the supporter has exercised his right to vote.
For robodialers to work successfully in supporter communication, it should be used only after the voters in the list are identified as supporters.
The reason for this is twofold. First, only a supporter who is rooting for your campaign will respond favorably to an automated ask over phone. A non-supporter for instance would instantly slam the phone down and be quite annoyed at the interruption.
Another reason is that if you are using robocalls for your GOTV efforts, it is wiser to contact only supporters (and not have your nonsupporters turn up at the polls!).
3. React quicker to events (or bombshells)
Let me explain this one with a much more recent example.
On December 2019 with a mere few weeks left for the Iowa caucuses the democratic party had the final debate of the year.
If you were watching this, you would know that it did not go well for all concerned. Pete Buttigieg in particular was quite aggressively attacked by some candidates about his ‘wine cellar fundraisers’.
The result? It showed in the polls. While he was initially the no.1 man in Iowa, his popularity sharply dropped after the debate to a measly 14%.
Now, this is the perfect use case for robodialers. Buttigieg is pressed for time.
With the caucuses a mere month away, he needs to win back the numbers fast! And he needs his campaign to be efficient.
So they could easily use robodialers to win back the popularity. Buttigieg could run a targeted automated calling campaign to his supporters (especially the swing voters) and convince them to choose him during the caucuses.
He could also use robodialers to mobilze volunteers on the ground to canvass key precincts that will win him a higher state delegate equivalent.
At the very least, he could have run a robodialer campaign with a message that defends his fundraising strategy better.
When hurricane sandy hit in 2012, robodialers were once again used extensively to respond to the calamity. It was used to transmit emergency evacuation, mobilize volunteers for support etc.
Indeed, it is well argued that Obama’s win in the re-election was in part due to his campaign’s efficient response to the natural disaster.
When do robocalls with robodialers back-fire?
Despite such excellent examples of robodialers helping political campaigns, there are times when it completely backfires.
The simple underlying fact is that voters simply do not appreciate being contacted by a robot. They find that such calls interrupt their day and quickly get annoyed at receiving not one, but multiple automated messages.
The unfortunate downside is, even if your campaign follows all the rules, you have no control over how other campaigns use it.
Say a voter has been contacted multiple times from your opposition campaign, despite his requests to the contrary. Now, even if your automatic call has a relevant message for this voter, and is making only the first call, the voter is likely to take out his exasperation on you (as in, not support your candidate).
There is no way you can control the juxtaposition of calls.
All you can do is use it sparingly and keep in mind that your opposition is using it too. If you evaluate every campaign through this lens, then you can reduce the risk of your campaign being on the receiving end of unjustified irritation.
Robodialer best practices
To help you further streamline your phonebanking campaigns with robodialers, here are some best practices to follow.
1. Choose the right dialer
You read that right. I did not say, choose the right call center software. I said choose the right dialer.
That is because, regardless of the call center software you choose, it is the dialer that decides how exactly a call is placed. In a call center tool like CallHub, you can choose between predictive dialer, power dialer and automated dialer.
The right dialer will ensure that it strikes the balance between the time spent and voter outreach.
For instance, predictive dialer automatically calls only those numbers that would likely pick up the call.
The robodialer in CallHub is designed to make simultaneous calls, without waiting for phone lines to free up.
Thus, choosing the right dialer (which will benefit your campaign the best), is crucial to your phonebanking efforts.
2. Ensure that you target your voters right
Given the general bad press (and mojo) robocalls get, it is safe to assume that unless the message is relevant to your voters, they will not appreciate the robocall. That is, for each of your robocalling campaigns, you cannot call every voter in your contact list.
You should call only those who
a) Find the message most relevant,
b) Will likely act on it and
c) Will not penalize your candidate for the call.
Take the example of Pete Buttigieg’s campaign we saw above. In that scenario, the robocalls should reach out to only swing voters (and slightly undecided voters) and not the staunch supporters.
Similarly, to invite supporters to come to a rally, calling can be done only to the most engaged supporters. They will receive an automated call well and also be willing to act on it.
Other less engaged supporters could be sent a text, an email or even a volunteer managed phone call.
3. Keep your list ‘clean’ and updated
To be honest, targeting your voter segment will not be possible unless the contact list you have is highly efficient.
Not only should the phone numbers be correct, but the voter name, their preferences and how they feel about particular issues should all be regularly updated.
In some automated systems, the voter’s past voting behavior is also recorded – whether they did in fact cast a vote and if yes, to whom would they have likely supported.
All these various aspects help in understanding the voter’s choice in the upcoming election and can help you target them better.
4. Combine it with texting
No matter how diligently you segment and target your voters, not all of them will answer your call.
The biggest reason for the calls not getting picked up is that it is from an unknown number. If a voter is reluctant to pick up a call from a number he doesn’t know, then even retargeting him in multiple campaigns (and calling him frequently) will not help.
What can help you is:
- Get a local number to call voters in a specific region. This would increase the chances of pick up rates. Some software like CallHub, offer Dynamic Caller Id that automatically pick the number based on voter’s location.
- Send a follow up text after a call. You can automate text messages to reach those voters who do not pick up. This could be a short introductory text stating only the essentials of why you are reaching out. It could also contain a summary of the message. Once your voter reads this text, your number is not ‘unknown’ anymore. They now fully know what to expect from you next time and thus would be more inclined to pick up your call. Please note – not a lot of software enables you to send texts directly from call center campaigns. CallHub is a notable exception that enables this multi-channel outreach.
- Set different messages for voicemails. Some of your calls do get sent to voicemails. In such cases, you can record two sets of messages. The system would be intelligent enough to tell the difference and play the right message based on who picks up.
Robodialer – why they are tough
Thus far this article has dealt with the various aspects of the voice broadcasting campaign you can control to get better outreach and responses from your voters.
However, even if you meticulously execute every single point addressed here, there are some aspects that will fall outside your line of control, but will still affect the efficacy of your campaign.
1. Using disclaimers and tags
It is required by law that the automated message first identifies the caller and also signs off with details that the voter can use to reach the candidate if necessary.
While it is easy to see why the TCPA laws require it (to better regulate spam callers), it is also quite a hindrance for political campaigns.
In an automated message when you have less than a nanosecond to grab your audience’s attention, having such a trite and boring introduction will not do you any favors (except keep you on the right side of the law).
2. Calling only relevant and interested numbers
Another problem that you could potentially face in your phonebanking campaigns is actually executing the targeting you have planned out.
That is, for a lot of the contact list that you have, the information would be quite outdated. Also, it is quite possible that you do not have the cellphone numbers for a lot of your voters. The voter’s registry only gives the landline numbers (on a majority), for the voters.
So, if your target audience are the younger generation, then you will find it tough to reach them through robodialers because they prefer using a cellphone more.
3. What does an opt-in mean?
Which brings us to the most debated part of the ponebanking conversation in a political context. What does consent and opt-in mean?
As we already know for a landline all bets are off – you are legally allowed to call them during particular hours.
However, to call a cellphone you have to have explicit consent from the voter. This could mean the voter agreeing to receiving information from your campaign, voluntarily giving his mobile number in your website form or even ticking a checkbox on your website.
This gets even tricker, if a voter has signed up in the Do Not Call Registry (that summarily stops robocalls), and has also consented to receiving communication from you.
Unfortunately, there is no clear solution for this dilemma – which is why running a successful phonebanking campaign for political candidates is not easy (even with robodialers).
How to pick the right robodialer software
Ok, now it is time to give you the good news. All the intricacies and the challenges that we discussed holds true for any campaign that runs a robocalling campaign.
That is both you and your opposition will be facing the same challenges.
To truly set you campaign apart and give you a winning edge over your competition would mean investing in the right software for your voter outreach.
While picking the robocalling software for your campaign here are some characteristics to consider.
1. Safety of data
The voter data you have is highly confidential. You cannot run the risk of your software provider getting the list from your account and selling it illegally.
Therefore, the safety of the system is critical. Not only should it have high data encryption, but should also assure confidentiality.
2. Ease of use
The objective of a robocalling campaign is to make it easy for you to reach out to your voters. That is quite counter intuitive if your software is quite hard to use. Your volunteers have to spend more time figuring out how to set up and manage a campaign, instead of focusing on other equally important aspects of the campaign.
3. Integration with other channels
Everyone of your campaign – be it using a robodialer for phonebanking or an SMS campaign, is not run in isolation. That is, the same voter information (and how he responded to one campaign) will impact how another campaign is segmented.
This cannot happen unless information from your outreach software flows smoothly from and to your voter database.
For instance, CallHub has an integration with NGPVAN. It is a two-way sync. Which means every time a voter is uploaded in VoteBuilder, it reflects in CallHub automatically. Similarly, how a voter responds to a campaign (what message he replies with, event attendance etc.), is automatically sent back to votebuilder.
Such tight integration ensures that there is lesser dataloss, better segmentation and higher efficiency for your team.
I know you will consider this. But let me give you a fair bit of warning – do not go only by this measure. It is worth spending a little over your budget on a communication system, if you think it will get you better results.
Of course, it will be foolish to spend mighty chunks of your donor money on only a communication system that is readily available. But if a tool catches your eye and checks all the boxes of your unique requirement, do not let the cost hold you back. The returns will be worth it.
Not that you have a larger understanding of how robocall laws work in political phonebanking, there is nothing left to do, but actually try it out!
Run your first campaign to experience first hand your audience’s response and the impact your efforts have on the campaign.
All the best! Let me know how it works for you.