This article first appeared in Campaigns and Elections

By Justin Gargiulo

Let’s start with the obvious: COVID-19 has lightened the tool belt for campaigns. In-person events, canvassing, phone banking from headquarters are all done for now. Going forward, it’s clear that campaign budgets will be shifting from this more traditional voter contact to 100-percent, technology-driven contact like texting and digital. This is great in the sense that tech-driven voter contact is a lot more scalable, but it’s only going to exacerbate what I call the “Clipboard Pizza Box” problem.

Let me explain. In the late nineties, early 2000s, I’d throw on a little Tom Petty and work deep into the night creating walk lists for campaigns. I’d proudly deliver my walk books to the field team and patiently wait for them to be returned to me, prepared to scan the data back into my MS Access database — I know, right?

I think we know how this story ends. The lists rarely made it back to me. I visited a field office once and saw one of my beautiful lists, chock-full of data, sitting on a greasy, empty, pizza box. Other lists were found in car trunks, gym bags, and other foul-smelling places but I will save the gory details.

What bothered me the most, was that the most valuable data a campaign could collect was falling through the cracks. This was hard-earned, actionable data that was being siloed from the campaign.

Data flows easier into campaigns these days. We are also much better at preserving and extracting value from it, but in the coming weeks, doubling-down on tech-driven approaches will unleash a new torrent of data which will require more disciplined work to manage.

Let’s take peer-to-peer (P2P) texting. What makes it effective is the interaction between the campaign and the voter. It’s not passive. Every text should include a question, you want a response. We’ve seen a 10-12 percent response rate as a floor in the work we’ve done. We’ve also seen response rates over 50 percent.

Despite the fact that P2P texts are sent one-by-one, it’s surprisingly scalable. A single volunteer or staffer can send out over 10,000 texts in an hour. 

High response rates, full of insanely valuable data, essentially scalable, sounds amazing. And it kind of is, but you need to have a strategy for how you will manage the influx of data and integrate it into your other efforts.

Here are a couple of suggestions to help as you scale up your program: 

Tag like you mean it.

Most P2P platforms allow you to tag voters based on the interaction. Opting-out voters should be easy as well, with many platforms opting out “Stop” replies automatically and also giving the option to manually opt-out. 

Have your volunteers and staffers use these features. Be sure to standardize tag names as well. We’ve all experienced the frustration in attempting to make sense of an untidy pile of tags (e.g. “Lawn Sign” and “lawn-sign”). Consistency will make your life a lot easier.

Eliminate data silos.

Any P2P platform will put you miles ahead of extracting data from paper walk books, but there’s still work to be done to integrate the data into broader efforts. Many P2P platforms have added more CRM-type features, but most fall short of what’s needed for larger campaigns. P2P vendors have begun building integrations to popular CRM’s, but more progress is needed there as well.

If your P2P platform doesn’t offer an integration to your CRM or data management platform, it’s critical that you store a series of unique identifiers in your P2P platform to allow you to match the data back to your base voter file. Mobile numbers are obviously required in P2P platforms, but you should be storing state voter IDs as well. It’s the cleanest way to match back. 

Always err on the side of starting with more fields in your P2P platform than less. Your only regret will be to not have enough data to marry back to your base file, effectively cutting off your P2P program from the rest of the campaign. 

The same goes if you’re running full-service P2P campaigns. Give your P2P vendor a file with unique identifiers to start, and make it clear you’d like the responses and tags returned with your unique identifiers.

The COVID-19 crisis has accelerated the adoption of texting as a way to communicate with voters. I think most campaigns new to P2P will be pleasantly surprised with its effectiveness. But in order to get the most out of your program, you’ll need a plan to integrate the data into your campaign and ensure it’s not cut off, wasting away in a digital corner like my pretty walk books.

Justin Gargiulo is the founder and CEO of VoterTrove, a data integration platform.