Tag Archives: UK

10 cool things I learned at ECF13

This week I’ve been at the eCampaigning Forum 2013 (#ECF13) which is why I’ve been tweeting a lot. So here is my top ten list of interesting things I learned about running campaigns on the internet!

Obama campaign split testing

Check your ego at the door! the 2012 Obama campaign did a lot of testing of their emails – 4-6 different drafts and 12-18 different subject lines which they tested against a random sample of their email database. When they ran an email derby, the team of experienced staffers were less good than random chance at predicting the winning email. Testing was responsible for 1/5 to 2/5 of the Obama campaign’s online fundraising total.

leanne 22 from Legoland

The largest female image in the Sun is always page 3 (even in the olympics). Lego didn’t know what to make of Leanne 22 from Legoland, but they’ve stopped advertising in the Sun because of the brilliant ad-hoc no more page 3 campaign. Social media activists rule.

Campaignion.org open source campaign software

Open source campaign tools can look just as good as their closed source counterparts (when they’re finished). Can’t wait to download Campaignion – there’s also a list to try out the hosted version if you’re a campaigning organisation.

Greenpeace.hu social media

Something works on facebook? promote it. For 3 thousand euros one image got 47 thousand facebook likes for Greenpeace Hungary.

David v Golaith

David v Goliath campaigning works. When EDF decided to attempt to sue the campaigners who blocked a gas power station, the interest from the public was far greater than that for the original campaign. Using triggers of freedom of expression, corporate bulling, and public outrage at the massive profits of gas companies, No Dash for Gas got a platform to talk about Climate Change, and inspired a spin off EDF*off.

whitehouse blog action day

The Whitehouse always takes part in Blog Action Day. It’s on the 16th of October 2013. You can register your blog here.

Old Street stormtrooper

Old Street has the biggest concentration of hipsters in Europe. Which makes it a good place to launch a spoof VW darkside campaign. Making sure you tweet on an event hashtag before it even starts helps dominate the conversation. And (other than trying to take the video off youtube) Lucasfilm took no action against Greenpeace, and VW backed down.

The Next Big Thing

We still don’t know what the next big thing is. It might be lots of things, it might be mobile (again), GIFs (again), handwriting in dead tree format (again), kickstarter (again), gameification (again). Rolf think’s it’s 3d printing.

bloggers

Bloggers are like fussy cats, and supporters are like loyal dogs. Cats are fickle and need lots of attention, or they’ll go away. Having a long term blogger strategy is a good idea, as is an excuse to show lots of cat pictures.

2022

In 2022 the socialmediatization of politics will be complete. Twitter might allow A/B testing, and we’ll all have moved away from our computer screens. There might be a lot of competition in the campaigns space, and big charities might be using supporter-self-serve campaigning models. There might also be robot ninja drones and interesting new words. I probably won’t have my flying car, but I prefer bicycles anyway.

There are lots more worth mentioning –  it is possible to create a campaigning website in 7 minutes, but harder still to convince someone to change their Twitter profile picture. Right Angle (the right wing competitor to 38 degrees) has an entertaining achievements page.  And top ten lists of things are nice to share on blogs…

For more information check out the Fairsay eCampaigning Forum website where there’s a whole lot more about the conference, and the handy email discussion list that goes with it.

Also have a look at my notes (Evernote).

Tweet your MP

Ever wanted to send a tweet to your MP? not sure if your Member of Parliament has embraced social media? want to put a handy tool to do so on your website?

Tweet Your MP
Tweet your MP

Here’s a little script I wrote to find your MP using a postcode (via the TheyWorkForYou.com API) and send them a tweet. Info, source and background below.

It’s possible to tweak this tool to return email address, postal address, phone number and facebook page (if they have one) – you can also add custom information to each MP as well. My data set includes 436 twitter accounts for MPs – slightly more than Tweetminster’s 409 but I have included auto twitter accounts (so people can see you’re tweeting your MP, even if they don’t respond). I’ve tried to avoid spoof accounts.

Bit of background about this tool

This tool works by converting the postcode into a constituency name on TheyWorkForYou.com, and then matching this constituency name with MP’s details on a local MySQL database table. If you don’t want to use TheyWorkForYou.com’s API it is possible to buy a constituency postcode database from Ordinance Survey for £350.

For a while I’ve been working on an open-source activism tool. It was born out of curiosity, an excuse to learn a bit more about php and as a way of proving email to MP actions courtesy of the very useful theyworkforyou.com API.

Unfortunately it became on of these projects that got more and more complicated – once I’d got round to adding a graphical user front end, SMS texting, and add on modules it started getting a bit too big for me to handle. Plus I started encountering problems with PHP’s send mail function getting blocked by outlook servers, experimented a bit with pop mail senders and then started looking at using online cloud services.

The past 2 organisations I’ve worked for have used off the shelf tools instead, making the aim of the project a little bit redundant.

I still have a copy of all the code (with lots of comments) if anyone would like it – it’s in an alpha sort of works if you’re prepared to spend a bit of time tinkering with it state. Just drop me a line. All I ask is that if you do improve on it, please make it publicly available (it is GPL licensed).

I’ve also been thinking about the effectiveness of email-your-mp actions with identikit emails embedded in them – I think using twitter or even printed out letters might be a better way forward to creatively attract attention, and avoid the boring accusations of ‘slacktivism’.

So in the meantime I’ve taken the bits of the tool that did work, and have reworked them into a much simpler ‘Tweet your MP’ toolkit. The idea of this is to provide a simple widget you can embed on your website – I’ve seen plenty of websites that just link to TheyWorkForYou.com, or refer people to google, so this provides a way of keeping activists on your page.

In the example above I’ve just gone for twitter and website information – but with a few tweaks to the code you can add email your MP (via a mailto link) phone your MP or write a paper letter to your MP functionality.

Requirements & the code

To get this to work you will need access to a MySQL database and PHP. This is currently running on my server which is a cheap-as-chips 123-reg setup. Check your ISP’s documentation for support on how to get these logins. I’ve labelled the code to show what it does.

If there are any corrections please get in touch with me and i’ll add them.

Download the code from GitHub

I’m updating this to fix problems and add enhancements. At the moment the code does contain a bit of stuff left over from the webtivist project. The GitHub version will always be the most up to date.

To make this work you’ll need to upload the MP data spreadsheet to your MySQL server (I used the import function on my 123reg hosting and it worked fine) this has every MP’s contact details – if you’d like access to this please drop me a line as I’d like to keep track of who’s using it!

Then you’ll need to edit the settings.php file to include the login for your MySQL database, the hostname and tablename for your MP database.

You’ll also need to apply for a theyworkforyou.com API key – there’s usually no charge to use this for small volumes. They prefer it if you ask them if you’re intending to use it a lot. Please Please don’t use this to send identical emails to MPs.

For the twitter part you’ll also need a Twitter API key  I changed this to use the more simple @mention option on twitter.

Corrections / suggestions and contributions

Thanks to MPs being arrested for things, standing down or departing, this data may become out of date over time.  If there is incorrect information please let me know and I’ll update it.

This script makes use of the TheyWorkForYou.com API and Ruben Arakelyan’s php script. Check the comments in the code for more information.

Update: this script has now moved to tweetyourMP.com

What the government got wrong with the new epetition system, and how they can fix it

Today the UK government launched an online e-petition system. You can sign up, create an online petition and if you get 100,000 signatures your campaign could get a debate in parliament.

How epetitions work (from government site)
How epetitions work (from government site)

There are a few provisos: the petition has to be approved (by the relevant department) and the petition can’t relate to appointments – presumably to avoid things like the ‘sack Gordon Brown’ petition which gained lots of names during the last government’s attempts at digital democracy. There are also a few rules about joke petitions, and the slightly catch all “the issue is not the responsibility of the government”.

As someone who does a lot of online campaigning, and has an interest in hacking together ideas for running online petitions, this is potentially really exciting.

But, there are a couple of issues:

  1. It’s a closed system.This is a massive issue. Charities and other organisations rely on online activism to recruit new members to their lists and encourage them to take a more active role in their campaigns (and yes, to fundraise from – but fundraising is activism too – see how the Obama campaign publicised it’s large number of donations as committed support).

    Take for instance a hypothetical example: a small campaigning organisation launches a campaign for the UK government to do something about a UK company supporting a dictator. The petition captures the public imagination, hundreds of thousands of people sign the petition. It has it’s day in parliament, but then the campaign moves out of the public eye. The small campaigning organisation can’t contact the petition signers to ask for help in moving the campaign forward.

     

    One of the big criticisms of online campaigning is that it’s low value ‘clicktavism‘, but if you have no way of capturing the details of the people who sign your petition, how can you get in touch with them and encourage them to be more involved, have tea with their MP and do some high-effort campaigning? Online petitions are often seen as the first step in engaging people with issues, and getting them more interested in politics.

    This leads me to think that a lot of campaigning organisations will ignore the system, and instead it will be used by the likes of the Sun to run campaigns like ‘Lets have the Red Arrows at the Olympics’.

    Worse still, it seems that newspapers like the Daily Mail are intent on using the petition system to launch campaigns like bringing back the death penalty. Given the current structure of the e-petition system it actually favours tabloid campaigns, since they have high circulations and don’t have to think about engaging in long term campaign work.

  2. It doesn’t tackle the big issue of how MPs respond to online campaigning.There is a massive variance in how MPs respond to being lobbied online. Some ignore email completely, others respond just to individual emails, and a few more respond to identical emails in the same way they would to letters. Recently a number of MPs have been very vocal in their opposition to online email petitions.

    Personally I believe that as our elected representatives, MPs have a duty to respond to their constituents, but at the same time appreciate that trawling through a lot of emails that are all the same might tax the resources of the average constituency office, and cause the kind of annoyance that can alienate MPs from otherwise worthy campaigns.

A proper online petition system would enable campaigners to do the things they need to do to work effectively, and at the same time give the politicians reasonable ways to gauge opinion and thus hopefully respond.

So how could it be done better?

  • Involve civil society: Involving the people who write the software that campaigning organisations use would be a good start. The e-petition system was written by a civil servant department bizarrely named ‘Skunkworks’ for £82,000.
  • Build out the e-petition system as an API – an ‘API’ allows other pieces of software to access a system – twitter uses this very effectively to allow all the tools like tweetdeck and hootsuite to send tweets. Organisations could feature the petitions on their websites and recruit activists to their own email and supporter databases at the same time.
  • Create a set of guidelines / protocols for lobbying MPs, ministers and departments and for people wanting to lobby them:

    It could be as simple as specifying something in the subject line of an email e.g. PETITION_mycampaigntitle for identical emails, and
    PERSONALQUERY_mycampaigntitle for individually-written emails. Or perhaps sending an MP a daily / weekly email informing them the number of constituents who have signed a particular petition, and inviting them to respond  (essentially taking over the task of managing the petition).

    This is a two way process: for it to work politicians would have to agree to respond if the ‘rules of engagement’ are met, and online campaigners would need to respect the rules.

  • Give campaign targets a platform to reply on – if it would encourage reluctant MPs to engage with online campaigning it would be worth offering the opportunity to put their views across.

In today’s modern world we carry out more and more of our daily activities online, banking, paying bills, buying insurance, shopping etc. It seems that providing the option to engage properly with politicians on the web is long overdue.

Thoughts? disagree with me completely? leave comments below!