How Not To Blow It In Digital - Four Practical Pieces of Advice

Contributor: Ned Howey

How to avoid 4 classic mistakes in the fast and furious world of digital.

The world of digital campaigning is a fast and furious one. International impact can be made in what seems like a moment, a campaign or cause can go viral leading to real change, new political parties seem to be built up overnight, and causes are often charged with quick responses to crises, attacks, and rapid opportunities as they unfold. Our favourite tools and what is leading the way in practice to give an edge in our work seems to change from moment to moment. While digital offers great advantages in speed and scale over traditional campaigning methods, it is also a rapidly changing field, with documented best practices and educational material constantly seeming to lag. Certainly, digital campaigners don’t have the established educational opportunities as those working in communications, public relations, or public policy. Digital campaigners are pressed to innovate constantly beyond their comfort zone (maybe that’s part of the fun?). While experimentation and even failure is an important part of winning power through digital campaigning, it can also crash campaigns or at least derail big opportunities, cause embarrassment, and set our movements back. 

We often joke at Tectonica that our best advantage as an agency is that over so many years, and hundreds of projects from all over the world, we’ve made enough mistakes to make us the best. (And we’ll keep making mistakes). One thing that has helped us turn a ‘portfolio of mistakes’ into a source of strength and big wins for our clients has been to adopt a formalised system of review, and documented procedural updates, from each experience. A developed culture of learning at an agency is more valuable than any other asset (including the claims of magical solution tech, super geniuses, political campaign gurus, or any other such claim). 

For many of our clients that are working in one place and focussing on one organisation or party, it's often harder to have so many repeat learning opportunities. Short of us working alongside your organisation, there are a few hard and fast rules we would recommend to keep your practice out of deep water - especially when moving fast and furious. We’ve seen these issues repeatedly, and despite warnings, we probably will continue to see them in campaigns. Here are some of our top ones to keep in mind: 


Run a 100% Clean Test Before Sending an Email

Whatever you do with an email blast, always have a 100% clean run on a test email before sending it out. While you might think, “it’s just removing that extra period and then it's good to go”. - Just. Don’t. Do. It. - Change the period or whatever other small thing that needs to be changed, send yourself another test, make sure it's 100%, then send the blast to your huge list. While it might seem like the tiniest change, and you might be in a huge rush, or so excited to get that email out, most of the big email mistakes we’ve seen have come from making this “last small change” without a final test and unintentionally breaking something before the send. 


Never Launch a Site on a Friday

In the developer world there is a favourite mantra: “Never go into production on a Friday”. This is a recipe for disaster that somehow never made the jump to the campaigning world. Not only are brains likely more fried by Friday, but never ever does a site go up without afterwards realising a set of things that had been forgotten, things that didn’t work quite right, or receiving feedback from the many eyes suddenly on the site. Launching on a Friday is sure to result in emergency calls across a team of people who are exhausted from all the work that went into getting things ready - and unless you plan ahead for weekend work, this is not ideal for anyone. While we are at it, we also recommend planning for a round of QA and additional work to happen after the site is launched. The one exception to this rule would be in the case of a ‘soft launch’ where the plan is to leave things as they are for the weekend and receive feedback for work to be completed on Monday. And of course in all site launches, if you are re-assigning a domain to a different host, remember this can take up to 48 hours to propagate across the internet, so plan accordingly. 


Livestream Only After a Dress Rehearsal

Like anything live, there is always great room for things to go wrong. While this is part of the appeal of livestream (it's guaranteed to feel authentic), it's also part of the danger. The social tools we use have been working hard to make it feel like livestreaming is a breeze. But in reality, it can be anything but. If you are planning a big live stream event, with multiple people and things going on, there is usually the distraction of handling all the logistics, that the technical part often takes a back seat until it fails - usually making everyone involved frustrated or embarrassed. 

While we do recommend starting simple (doing some single person live streams), in any instance we recommend a full dress rehearsal or walk through prior to going live - and not minutes before the stream is planned. Depending on the platform you can often do test runs, and failing that, you can always simply record on a computer. The most important thing to do is to actually record - especially the audio for each person who will speak, which has the greatest chance of creating problems. Ideally, work with livestream specialists who have a good deal of experience specific to livestreaming and have made all the mistakes and learnings already with other campaigns. 


Check Your Ads

It's so easy to throw your ads onto a digital or social media platform and move on quickly to everything else in your campaign. But take it from us, regular checks after pushing the ‘go’ button on ads is key. If you are on a program where the ads need approval (especially now for those advertising in the issue area grey zones on social), it's important to not assume they are up and running the minute you submit them. Even worse, the early performance of your ads can tell you a lot about if things have been set up right or if there was some kind of mistake made.