Digital Communication during Quarantine: COVID-19 is making digital make or break for your campaign

Quick note: At A+G Digital, we focus on digital marketing, and this article aims to shed some light on the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak on the digital communications ecosystem. Most of us in this ecosystem have the privilege to continue to work remotely with only a few minor inconveniences. But for many people, this pandemic means serious disruptions to health, security, and livelihood, and these realities are the most serious and pressing implications of the current public health crisis. If you have the means, consider joining us in supporting Meals on Wheels or Feeding America.

As more communities lockdown to fight the spread of COVID-19, many of us are looking to the upcoming weeks and months with uncertainty. If we’re lucky enough to work from home, we’re navigating the transition and trying to keep from going stir-crazy. All signs point to a significant shift in our daily lives that will last for at least the near future.

From schools to local businesses, Americans are finding creative ways to adapt. At least for the time being, the long-prophesied digital takeover of our daily lives has arrived. Fitness facilities are holding virtual classes. Most schools and universities have sent students home, and are discovering that effective online learning models take time to develop. We’re even celebrating milestones digitally with family and loved ones we cannot see in person. For me that’s meant a family reunion via video call to mark the Persian New Year, known as Norooz — it’s a special time of the year which typically involves breaking bread with family.

An increasing number of widespread ‘stay at home’ orders come at a critical time in the election season.

With a host of primaries looming, governors are faced with the challenging decision to postpone their states’ elections, as some have already done, or proceed as planned despite the health risks and significantly reduced turnout. Candidates have suspended field and canvass operations and in-person campaign events and fundraisers, and have shifted their efforts to remote phone-banking, meeting voters where they are online, through both paid and organic efforts, and online training. Candidates and their teams have resorted to creative workarounds including virtual town halls to discuss their COVID-19 response with supporters, remote fundraisers to keep their campaigns competitive, and even Facebook Lives to give voters an inside look at how their work has been impacted by social distancing and the need to quarantine.

For many candidates and organizations, it’s a crucial time for fundraising, but the current political landscape presents unique challenges. Some have appended caveats to their fundraising emails or asked for donations to charities in lieu of campaign contributions. Others have foregone fundraising appeals altogether, sensitive to the fact that many of their supporters may be facing financial uncertainty themselves.

The crisis represents an opportunity to hone the non-fundraising components of a sound digital communications strategy, which are vital for a campaign to succeed in building and retaining lasting relationships with voters. In the past week, I’ve received emails sharing engaging content and news stories, thank you emails, a text asking me to call my Senator in support of a stimulus bill, a survey about a campaign’s strategic shift during COVID-19, and an invitation to a virtual phone-banking party.

What’s clear is that the widespread quarantine presents a watershed moment for digital communications.

People are cooped up, spending more time on their electronic devices, consuming more news and digital content, and looking for a place to channel their energy and stay connected to their friends, family, and community.

Within the past month, we have already seen that online advertising impressions are up by over 10% with the expectation that this figure will continue to rise. The digital advocacy platform, Phone2Action, just reported their most active day yet in their eight-year history, with 216,000 advocates sending 460,000 messages to lawmakers.

An effective political communications strategy will find inventive ways to connect with people where they are — not just now, but even after this crisis. It will recognize and be sensitive to the things people need in this moment, like clear and reliable information, assistance and resources, comfort, and opportunities to stay socially engaged.

Above all, it will remember that our email lists and digital advertising targets are made up of real people on the other side of the screen and that these people are bringing with them a complex set of emotions and lived realities.

If political campaigns can engage people with empathy and a true interest in how this pandemic is affecting them, we can build strong digital relationships that will last long after we beat COVID-19.

Prachi Jhawar

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