Dear Sir or Madam,

I'm writing to you to ask for your support in helping work out how our elected officials can deal with online campaigners. If we don't act soon then the opportunity to create huge grassroots movements will be marked as SPAM.

I’ve been thinking more about the hoo-ha when new Tory MP Dominic Raab was being vilified for his attempts to make sense of his Parliamentary inbox. He claims automated online lobby groups are creating too much correspondence to deal with in a meaningful way—and while attempting to hide his email address wasn’t the right way, he’s got a point.

His big moan was directed at fairly new group 38 Degrees, who were very active during the election, who he claimed at some points were sending 200 “cloned” emails a day. He said:

“Look at why 38 Degrees took on that title – it is the angle at which an avalanche falls. Their aim is to create an avalanche in MPs in-boxes. Others apply the same tactics, so spam filters won’t solve it – that is why I want the right to opt out of them using my email for those purposes”

Subject: Act now to get the best communication from your Elected Representatives

Dear Sir or Madam,

I'm writing to you to ask for your support in helping work out how our elected officials can deal with online campaigners. Causes that have most to gain from demonstrating mass support need to makes sure that power isn't diluted.

Tom Watson MP has experience of this, being deluged by emails even when he was on the same side as the lobby group—and that’s part of the problem, the mass campaign tools have quickly worked out how to match you to your MPs email but opinions on policy aren’t easy to automate. Even if they did, that’s not how people work—the nudging actions on the social web mean that people will want to press send to “do their bit” and join in. Clicking on that button is too easy to require much thought.

The emails are a problem because the accepted wisdom is that direct communication requires a response. The problem is no longer establishing the communication, but managing it. These emails are very like a petition, but one with the proposal very so slightly personalised by the signatory so requiring a separate response.

Subject: Act now to get the best communication from your Elected Representatives

Dear Sir or Madam,

I'm writing to you to ask for your support in helping work out how our elected officials can deal with online campaigners. We must look for ways to harness that nudge power to produce real actions as well as acts of me-too-ism, or else we're just building complicated petitions.

Maybe we need to mature a little and be realistic—if communication takes minimal effort then it must deserve appropriate effort in response. We can’t expect the same response to an automated email as we would to a bespoke email or conversation—but does that mean we’re back to petitions?

Petitions give a central point of contact and collate strength of feeling, but are binary — you have to agree with everything the petition says, there’s no conversation or discussion. I might think that more research is needed into triage-by-phone services, but petitioning I can either “save” or “shut”.  They can easily be dismissed if the petitionee is of a mind—you can pick holes in the most tightly worded statement, and what then? Do it all again?

We’ve fallen out of love with petitions, local authorities were obliged to build online petition sites just over a year ago and in Birmingham at least nothing much has happened. The site cost £7,500 to set up followed by an expected annual running cost of £1,332 but it’s not exactly been inundated by petitions or signatures. In a year, in an authority area of over a million people there have been only 29 petitions submitted, of which a tiny 19 made it to the website (from this FOI request)— only two seem to have got responses (both of which say ‘thanks but no thanks’ pretty much). At the time of writing there are just four live petitions, none of which have any hope of affecting policy.

Subject: Act now to get the best communication from your Elected Representatives

Dear Sir or Madam,

I'm writing to you to ask for your support in helping work out how our elected officials can deal with online campaigners. Because they've got to learn that it isn't working too.

I’ve lost count of the number of emails I’ve received during the Labour leadership campaign, I’ve checked it wasn’t a real email from an Ed, or a Miliband or one of the others (unlikely, but possible— the giveaway is that only auto databases ever use my full name), skimmed and deleted. In some cases I’ve thought “I’ll read that later”, but I don’t think I have—because email isn’t a persuasive medium, particularity at scale. When the size of your email mailing list is important it’s because you have a list of supporters, some of whom will respond to requests or calls to action. Hitting the unconverted just blends into the SEO emails and the random, bizarrely rich, Nigerians.

Subject: Act now to get the best communication from your Elected Representatives

Dear Sir or Madam,

I'm writing to you to ask for your support in helping work out how our elected officials can deal with online campaigners. Your heart pretty much always sinks on the receiving of another email doesn't it?

Think before you hit send, are you contributing or SPAMming?

One thought on “Subject: Act now to get the best communication from your Elected Representatives

  1. Is it really beyond the technological grasp of Mps and/or thier staff,o r other elected officials, to set up a blog?

    If someone is receiving a whole load of emails about a particular issue – whether its national policy that an MP has to consider, or whether its street cleaning in a particular local authority area that a local councillor has to consider, or anything else – then surely it wouldn;t take too long to read through the emails that they receive, work out what the rang of questions are and then put together the equivalent of a FAQ on the topic and post it up to a blog.

    Send everyone who has corresponded with an email link directing them to the blog and encourage them to disucss the issues in that dedicated space. A response like that means that everyone has their questions answered, gets a response, and as an added bonus gets the chance to discuss the issue with others who are interested.
    The elected official also gets a chance to read through all the varying opinions about the topic, which might even help them form an opinion on the topic. Oh, and they get a whole load of email addresses to use come the next election (rather than just deleting them).

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