"We've set a goal to raise $15,000 online before August 10th. Can I count on your help to achieve this goal?" The fundraising e-mail sent August 9 may not seem novel, but the fact that it came from a small Maryland State House campaign makes it so. Not many local candidates rely on online fundraising, much less plan to spend as much as 40 percent of their budgets on online campaign efforts - but Shukoor Ahmed does.
"We will be doing much more advertising online [than in other media] because we can measure effectiveness of online advertising dollars," Ahmed (pictured left) told ClickZ News. He is running in the Democratic primary for Maryland's District 23A House of Delegates seat. The primary is September 14.
Ahmed's dedication to using Google and Faceook ads, YouTube video, Twitter, e-mail, and other online platforms may come as little surprise to people who know him as CEO of V-Empower, a web services and IT consulting firm.
Another thing that sets Ahmed's campaign apart from many other local candidates: He's got a social media director. "I would like to do as much as possible online," said Ben Lighter, social media director for the Friends of Ahmed campaign. For Lighter, a 19-year-old college student, social media advocacy is only natural, since he's been using social tools for years.
"It's about keeping people involved in what's going on in the campaign," explained Lighter, who acknowledges that the audience on Facebook and other social networks is not comprised only of young people nowadays. "It's not limited to my generation anymore."
Still, both Lighter and Ahmed expect things like Facebook to engage younger voters. "We want to be able to connect with teenagers...and be able to mobilize them," said Ahmed.
Lighter (pictured left in photo) and Ahmed have integrated social channels such as Facebook even in offline settings. For instance, when Shukoor does door-to-door canvassing, in addition to getting e-mail addresses, he asks citizens if they're on Facebook. If they are, he makes note of that and later tries to find them there and thank them for their time by posting to their walls.
"One of our strategies has been to do 'thank you' notes as a wall post," said Lighter, adding, "When somebody writes on my wall, I take a lot more notice." He added, "I felt that was a way to be more engaging to constituents and to be more personable."
"We're hoping not to abuse that privilege of being friends with people by writing on their wall," said Lighter.
Next on the agenda for Lighter is more video. The campaign has already posted videos of Ahmed to his YouTube channel, including one in which Survivor's "Eye of the Tiger" accompanies his district door-knocking. Lighter was not involved with that video, but plans a series of endorsement clips, in addition to a regular Q&A style video series. According to the Shukoor.com campaign site, the "Ask Shukoor" initiative encourages voters to "send us a question via email at AskShukoor@gmail.com, and we'll post Shukoor's video response!"
Recognizing Ahmed from his 2006 run for office, Lighter contacted him about assisting his current campaign. "We decided that I could help organize social media for him," said Lighter, noting that he has used social media for various causes "for years." For instance, he served as a high school organizer for a youth and sexual rights group, and used social media in that work. Lighter attends Bethany College where he majors in religious studies and would like to go into the Unitarian Ministry.
Ahmed built a list of people during his 2006 campaign, which has around 2,000 names currently. Between campaigns, he kept people engaged by sharing information about local job opportunities, community events, and first-time home buyer's incentives.
He does plan to do direct mail, print newspaper, and television advertising closer to election day, but now Ahmed is focusing his ad dollars online, running Google AdWords and Facebook ads. On Facebook he's targeting people within 10 miles outside of his district. Through his ad planning and targeting, he discovered there are around 37,000 people on Facebook from his district, which has a population of around 90,000.
"We're looking to spend 30 to 40 percent of our budget online," Ahmed said, adding he expects other campaigns to spend no more than 5 percent.
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Kate Kaye was Managing Editor at ClickZ News until October 2012. As a daily reporter and editor for the original news source, she covered beats including digital political campaigns and government regulation of the online ad industry. Kate is the author of Campaign '08: A Turning Point for Digital Media, the only book focused on the paid digital media efforts of the 2008 presidential campaigns. Kate created ClickZ's Politics & Advocacy section, and is the primary contributor to the one-of-a-kind section. She began reporting on the interactive ad industry in 1999 and has spoken at several events and in interviews for television, radio, print, and digital media outlets. You can follow Kate on Twitter at @LowbrowKate.