2018 is the year peer to peer texting made its mark on Canadian election campaigns. It started with Jagmeet Singh who successfully put it to use in his NDP party leadership race. And most recently, we have the Dianne Watts BC Liberal Party leadership campaign which used peer to peer texting to reach out to more than 25,000 voters.
The stats from the Watts campaign shine the spotlight on the effectiveness of peer to peer texting, with staffers seeing a 20% response rate, 4.8% of whom were previously unidentified supporters.
The Watts campaign used CallHub’s peer to peer texting tool to engage more than 5000 voters in personal conversations – creating awareness about the candidate, helping with voter registration and voting, inviting to events and multiple other aspects of voter contact.
We talked to Eli Zbar, a communications strategist with the Watts campaign, to understand how he put peer to peer texting to use in the campaign. We’ll dive into a campaign that focused on building personal conversations with BC Liberal party members and engaged new voters to sign up to vote in the party leadership race.
Getting involved with the Watts campaign
Eli was involved in some level of volunteer work from the age of twelve up. At the age of 28, he was recruited into the Andrew Scheer campaign for the Conservative Party of Canada. He worked on managing phone banks for the Scheer campaign which eventually went on to win the race. Following the win, Dianne Watts, who was a cabinet minister for former Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper reached out to Eli about managing certain aspects of her run for British Columbia Liberal leadership.
Phone calls had proved effective before and the first course of action was to set up expansive phone banks to reach out to party members and prospective voters. The campaign used more than 100 volunteers to make calls through CallHub to identify supporters and get voters registered. Phone banks were effective, but the campaign needed to scale up faster.
Unlike phone calls where you talk to one voter at a time, peer to peer text messaging allowed a single volunteer to handle numerous conversations with different voters at the same time. Peer to Peer Texting let the Watts campaign reach a larger voter base in a short period of time, without sacrificing the ability to maintain personal and engaging conversations.
Peer-to-peer texting with CallHub
Peer to peer texting was still a relatively new communication platform in Canadian elections. The previous major use case was the NDP leadership race in Ontario where the Jagmeet Singh campaign used it to success. This time around, the Diane Watts campaign started by putting P2P texting to use for Voter ID and then scaling up to employ it for Voter persuasion, Events, and GOTV efforts.
Voter Registration and identification
The campaign set up peer to peer texting campaigns that reached out to voters to understand their level of support for Dianne Watts, support for opposition candidates, and ballot preferences of voters.
(A preferential ballot implies that voters can rank their choices for each of the six candidates on the ballot).
Text message conversations were used to get people to register to vote and guide them through the registration process. Unlike a call which let a volunteer focus on only one voter at a time, peer to peer texting made room for queries from hundreds of people.
“It (peer to peer texting) was really effective during voting, when we were able to do voter registration and troubleshooting via text messaging. I could have 50 people who all had issues, and individually troubleshoot them one at a time. You can’t do that on the phone.” – Eli Zbar
Conversations were friendly, personal, and sometimes long, with back and forths happening over the course of an entire week. Links to campaign videos would be shared, journalist reports, and other media from the website, all as part of regular conversations with supporters. “You can’t send someone a link over the phone.” Eli notes.
How it works
The contact list uploaded into CallHub would be split between campaign volunteers. These volunteers then use the peer to peer texting platform to engage voters in personal conversations and collect data on voter preferences. Data instantly syncs with NationBuilder, the platform used by the campaign to manage voter outreach, contact profiles, and events.
“I would take the train to work 40 minutes every day, and during that time could send out a thousand text messages on my mobile phone just via the Callhub mobile website. Just sit there and click send a whole bunch of times; I’d find 10 or 20 new supporters just on my commute to work.” – Eli Zbar
Event management with NationBuilder and Peer to Peer Texting
Events in NationBuilder were imported into Peer to Peer Texting campaigns. The campaign reached out to supporters about any new event in their area and then engaged them in conversations about issues, event specifics, and other generalities. RSVPs collected over peer to peer texting synced back to the campaign database where follow-up activities were managed.
“CallHub (peer to peer texting) shined brightest when sharing information with voters. Take event invites; no one wants to get a phone call from some volunteer saying
‘Hey, the candidate’s going to be in your town next week.’ And people don’t check their emails because people get a million emails a day.” – Eli Zbar
With texting, the campaign could quickly send out messages like, “Hey, it’s Eli from the Dianne Watts campaign. Dianne will be down the street from you next week. Can you make it?” and wait for responses to come in. This led to actual back and forth conversations between individuals, not automated texts, but real engagement between campaign volunteers and people about transportation facilities, event itineraries, timings, address, and so on. A league apart from broadcast event invites where an attendee had to send in a ‘Yes’ response to RSVP…and the conversation ended there.
The last leg of campaigning involved GOTV efforts where they made sure that supporters got out the vote either by phone or online through the party website. Targeted outreach efforts to different areas in BC made sure that voters received the verification codes they needed to vote and got clarification for any voting-related queries.
Reaching the finish line
A handful of volunteers, in a span of just two months, engaged upwards of 5000 voters in long and meaningful conversations through texts. The campaign nurtured a loyal voter base, got them to actively register family and community members, got people to events, recruited volunteers, identified voter issues, and finally got out the vote all through text messages.
In hindsight, Eli tells us how he wanted to bring in more advanced voter targeting into his campaigns. Peer to peer texting brought in loads of data on voters that he would have liked to have used for finer microtargeting had he had the time for it. Although they ran targeted voter outreach, they are still smaller niches in the voter base that peer to peer texting identified. Eli signs off by ensuring us that his next campaign will find a wider scope for peer to peer texting especially when it comes to using the data collected to make smarter decisions.