When it comes to campaign technology, Democrats invent, Republicans perfect.
What I mean is this: although Democrats have historically been the first to embrace and invent new technology in campaigns (Howard Dean’s online fundraising apparatus in ‘04, Barack Obama’s use of Facebook in ’08 and ‘12, Bernie Sander’s use of peer-to-peer texting in ‘16), Republicans have consistently produced better results with these same technologies over the long run. For example, most Republican committees raised more money via email in the last cycle than their Democrat counterparts, Trump’s team outwitted Hillary on Facebook in ‘16, Republicans raise more money on direct mail, etc.
A perfect example of this dynamic is the use of smartphone apps in presidential campaigns. Obama’s 2012 reelection smartphone app was ahead of its time, but by 2016, the smartphone app my company uCampaign built for Trump turned in more results and had a bigger impact than Clinton’s smartphone app, and for far less cost to the campaign.
But past is not necessarily prologue, and Republicans have been particularly slow to adopt what Democrats have been wholeheartedly embracing since 2016: peer-to-peer (P2P) texting. Democrats have sent over 50 million peer-to-peer texts over the past three years.
Why? In a nutshell, because 90% of texts are read within the first three minutes, 98% of text messages are read, and due to a quirk of the law, as long as every peer-to-peer text message is sent one-by-one by a human being, people can legally text any cell phone without the recipient’s prior opt-in.
This increases the average number of voters a campaign can contact via text from around 1%-2% (maybe!) to around 50–70% (depending on the number of mobile phone numbers they acquire).
No wonder the Democrats love P2P texting.
But why have Republicans been slower to adopt a technology with such obvious up-sides?
Sometimes, fate needs a little push.
Here’s how our newest product, RumbleUp, is powering the Republican Texting Revolution, helping over 100 clients send over 3,000,000 P2P text messages this year!
When I founded uCampaign in 2014, I was focused on building smartphone apps, not P2P texting. Building a powerful and flexible smartphone app platform that campaigns could customize to their unique set of needs led to successful contracts with Ted Cruz for President, Brexit, the National Rifle Association, Donald J. Trump for President and a half-dozen other clients in 2016 and allowed us to expand to 12 countries in 2017.
But in the late summer of 2017 I heard that Hustle, the premier P2P texting platform on the left, was dropping its Republican and center-right clients, telling them they were not welcome on the platform anymore.
I was surprised. I knew the political tech landscape was becoming more polarized, but I was taken aback that a technology company would voluntarily drop almost half its potential market. But there it was. The reason, I suspect, is Hustle had plenty of business on the left and decided to make their market fit official.
Meanwhile, I founded uCampaign to give Republicans winning technology, since the center-right has severely lagged its Democrat counterparts in producing good technology for campaigns and elections.
So it was a no-brainer to step into the breach Hustle had created. We road-mapped and developed a P2P texting product at a furious pace. I had never seen Hustle in operation, and I refused to copy their technology, so we built our product RumbleUp as an extension of our uCampaign app ecosystem. The only thing we began with in common was the concept of P2P texting. By Christmas 2017, we were celebrating the birth of our new P2P texting product and began live installations in January 2018.
Atfirst it was a hard sell. Republicans were nervous about P2P texting because the fines for improperly texting someone can be extremely high. There are widespread misconceptions in Republican circles about what P2P texting is and how it differs from robo-texting, opt-in texting, and other forms of (both legal and illegitimate) mass-texting.
Plus, the mere fact that Democrats are crazy about P2P doesn’t automatically convince a skeptical Republican operative who understands the campaign toolbox they’ve been using for years or decades.
But for the clients we did convince to try it out, texting was believing.
Many would start with a few hundred or couple thousand texts, and then based on those results, become convinced they needed to text more. A lot more.
Texting blows email engagement out of the water. Our clients saw better results cold-texting targeted cell phones than emailing their opt-in email lists on a variety of metrics, including event attendance, GOTV and fundraising. Because the text Inbox is the most important inbox everyone cares about — it’s how parents find out what time they need to pick up their child from school, and it’s how millennials check their bank balance and break up — people respond more quickly via text than any other medium besides messenger apps — and those tend to be digital walled gardens.
Because we work with center-right clients, we didn’t have a roadmap for success, because most of our clients had less experience P2P texting than we did. Luckily, our system supports A/B testing and after every round of field testing, we regroup, make adjustments, and if necessary, code new features or tweak the way things are done. This tight feedback loop, along with building a library of best practices, allows us to increase our own experience and write a knowledge base and documentation to orient new clients quickly. While our front-end iOS/Android app has seen incremental improvements over the past six months (we hit the mark pretty well with our first prototype), we completely rebuilt our client admin portal after sending a half million texts (and a couple dozen clients) through it.
Since our clients are accessing individual, secure instances of our SaaS platform, upgrades we create or build for one client immediately roll out to all clients. In a world of Agile “sprints”, our development team is a group of ultrarunners.
Meanwhile, our support team learned dozens of tricks and industry best practices that Democrats have had tens of millions of texts and a few years to teach themselves. It was like cram school, and our team loved the challenge.
At this point, we’ve had several Republican clients who had used Hustle and been dropped tell us that our system is more flexible and powerful. We’ll leave them to make that judgment — we still don’t know how Hustle works. We’re just proud of what we have built.
How did we differentiate ourselves from our democrat competition?
One obvious metric was speed. Time is the most precious campaign commodity. You can have all the money in the world and no time to spend it, or have more time to raise money and spend it. So we made RumbleUp fast. The average agent (our name for volunteers or staff who send the texts one-by-one) can send 2,500 text messages per hour. So if a campaign can recruit 40 people, they can potentially send 100,000 messages an hour. That’s 80X faster than live-calling and 250X faster than door knocking.
Nothing scales like P2P texting.
We went through every step of the onboarding process and identified bottlenecks. It wasn’t long before we had to acknowledge the most obvious bottleneck — ourselves! There were only so many of us available to help train new clients and share best practices on short notice, and we would often have campaigns come to us less than 48 or even 24 hours before the election!
So we built a turnkey onboarding system which requires the bare minimum of human interaction to set up a new campaign, load data, invite agents and provision proxy numbers, etc. That means the only thing our support team has to focus on are discussing high-level campaign strategy, ID’ing bugs and passing along ideas for good new features to our development team, and working with the customer and answering immediate questions they have about the best way to implement their strategy.
We got our first baptism by fire using P2P texting for GOTV with the Texas primaries in March — our first test of sending hundreds of thousands of texts in one day. We successfully helped several congressional candidates advance to the run-off. We got more practice with the special elections in Pennsylvania (lost) and Arizona (won). Along the way we were exploring more and more ways to utilize mms (multimedia text messages) in addition to plain sms text messages. We found attaching an image, gif or HD video increased conversions and click-throughs.
April and May gave us our first chance to use P2P texting for polling. We found that we could reduce the cost to complete a cellphone-based survey by ~50%-70%.
It’s also a fantastic way to poll younger people — in general, people under 40 are more likely to read a text than pick up a phone call from an unknown number. That factor alone is very helpful for reducing costs to poll hard-to-reach segments.
Perhaps our most notable accomplishment in May was helping Patrick Morrissey secure the West Virginian Republican nomination to challenge Joe Manchin’s U.S. Senate seat in November. We also helped Brian Fitzpatrick win his congressional primary in Pennsylvania.
June was our biggest volume texting month to date, as we helped with primaries in California and Virginia (and many other states as well). In California, our clients sent texts in four languages (English, Spanish, Korean and Vietnamese) and we saw the tool used in local, state and federal elections. In Virginia we helped Nick Freitas’ last-minute surge (though he failed to completely close the gap).
Our next big new feature is text-to-donate. We’re in the final stages of completing an integration with Anedot(the largest Republican donation processor) so shared clients can P2P text individuals whose credit card they have on file, and if that individual responds with the correct message, charge the card and send them a receipt without the individual even having to click a donation link or complete a form! It will be the easiest and fastest way to raise money from your list when it is rolled out.
Before that, however, the vacancy on the Supreme Court presented yet another golden opportunity to utilize P2P to disrupt the way organizations have operated in the past.
We created an easy way for clients to text people we have pre-screened (through reliable third-party data vendors) asking if they support President Trump’s nominee. If (and only if) they reply YES, we give them a proxy phone number to call and be connected directly with their U.S. Senator, and the client in-turn comes away with a newly identified supporter (and possible donor) and has successfully generated a new grassroots call to Congress (the client even knows how long the supporter was on the phone with their Senator’s office).
The price to the customer? Less than half a standard live call dial to a cell phone!
The next stages in our development roadmap (and many of the current features we’ve built that no one else to our knowledge has) must remain secret for now because we’re in a technology arms race, a “cold war” between Democrats and Republicans as we explore and continue to expand this P2P texting revolution.
But one thing you can be sure of, the days of Democrat monopoly of the P2P texting space are at an end. We’ve helped over 100 clients send well over 3,000,000 P2P texts since the beginning of this year, and are now working with six state Republican parties and almost a dozen national groups.
Which side utilizes P2P best in 2018 (and 2020) remains to be seen.
So may the fastest fingers win!
To learn more about RumbleUp or to sign up for an account, click here.
PS for a deeper dive into all things peer-to-peer texting, listen to my recent podcast interview with Social Media and Politics, hosted by Michael Bossetta, political scientist at the University of Copenhagen.
Here is the episode summary:
Thomas Peters, CEO of uCampaign and RumbleUp, returns to the podcast to discuss his company’s new peer-to-peer texting platform: RumbleUp. Thomas shares his insights into how P2P texting (SMS and MMS) can be used by political campaigns to increase GOTV initiatives, polling, and fundraising. We talk about the differences between P2P texting and email, as well as some of the recent success RumbleUp has had in promoting Republican candidates. This includes a recent local primary election in Alabama, as well as drumming up support for Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh.