How not to do a digital campaign
I’ve been impressed with the way 38 Degrees has given grass-roots campaigning a bit of a nudge lately. But their latest campaign is a case study in how not to do it. It’s patronising, doomed to failure and guaranteed to get people off side.
Why? First of all, it’s a petulant knee-jerk reaction. Never a good thing. Second, they did what they accuse politicians of doing… they forgot to listen.
Their response to Simon Burns is a mass letter that is rude, patronising and pointless. Burns is clearly no fan of 38 Degrees and frankly I totally disagree with his arrogance. But this is not the way to respond.
First of all, Burns has a point and 38 Degrees would be well minded to listen to him. Well, a little bit anyway. MPs don’t value bulk cookie-cutter emails. Ten or hundred or a hundred thousand counts as one view. One voice. All they do is irritate the hell out of people who have limited time and even more limited administrative support. It doesn’t make a point, it causes a problem. And it annoys people. It was the same when Greenpeace sent them thousands of postcards, it’s worse now because of email.
Never mind how good intentioned you are, this strategy doesn’t work.
The effect is multiplied in the House of Lords as they have virtually none, if any, support. Baroness Deech made this point forcefully at an event I chaired during Parliament Week.
And it certainly doesn’t work to then launch a campaign to send this rude and frankly insulting letter to a minister. It’s hardly designed to get him or any of his wavering colleagues on side is it? In fact it has the potential to put civic-based campaigning back because it will put so many MPs off.
What could they have done? Well, if their case was strong and could be well argued and their support was demonstrably solid (which I believe was all true), they would have been better to respond to the criticism by meeting with Burns. In this meeting they would be able to explain why they were campaigning, how their model worked and what they hoped to achieve.
They could have chosen to play the ball, not the batsman. It might have gone nowhere but I honestly believe most MPs are willing to listen. To a point.
I don’t actually believe that the weight of the argument in favour of 38 Degrees’ value and support could not be explained even if there is disagreement over the method. I can’t say it would change the view of this particular MP, but what I can say is all they have done now is entrench a negative view of digital campaigning. This works for no one, not for MPs, the public or for 38 Degrees.