What digital lessons can we learn from the campaign season?

05/09/2016 02:49 pm ET Updated May 09, 2017

There are several specific bipartisan awards given out to political campaigns every year for their best-in-the-country digital efforts. What campaigns are doing today is often what non-profits will be copying tomorrow. Here's some of the best insights from cutting-edge political campaigns around America.

The Reed Awards recognize "excellence in political campaigning, campaign management, political consulting and political design." The winners for 2015 campaigns were announced a few months ago in Charleston, and you can see the complete list here. Full disclosure, PowerThru won "Best County/Local/Judicial Candidate Website". The 2015 winners for the Pollie Awards (the political communications and public affairs industries) were announced last month in Puerto Rico, full list here and the first round of the Goldies Awards were announced around the same time, winners here.

Here's some tips about emerging digital best practices for political campaigns that could apply to your work too.

Email

In terms of email, you need to push the envelope to stand out from the crowd these days. With more and more crossover between email lists, most campaign (and non-profit) email starts to blur together and fails to make an impression.

Check out this Best Fundraising Email Reed winner, from Revolution for the Bernie campaign. It's cute, visually oriented, and out of the ordinary - not the same old, same old, few paragraphs/beg for money/apocalyptic subject line/big donate button. In general, and rightfully so, Revolution cleaned up in the Reeds and Pollie awards for the Bernie campaign - a grassroots-oriented effort that is willing to try new things.

Websites

In terms of websites, one-page scrolling sites (often with parallax) are the new big thing for 2016. (What is parallax? The parallax effect is where the background of the website moves at a different speed than the foreground as you scroll up and down on the page. It can be a very cool visual effect.)

Check out Best Statewide Candidate Reed from Go BIG Media and the Florida GOP site from Hines Digital as well asBest Website of 2015 (Reeds), also from Hines Digital. The Republicans are building some beautiful websites! The video in the background on the Carlos for Florida site is especially eye-catching - we'll see if that is a major trend in 2016 or if it goes the way of video pop-ups on websites.

Also look at No Translink Tax, a nice NationBuilder Gold Pollie-winning site.

In terms of tech, NationBuilder won big, with 4 of 6 website Reed award-winners and several Pollie-winners built on their platform. This makes sense because these are bipartisan awards, and NationBuilder is the best/only? toolset available on the GOP side. It also can be a good platform for non-profits since it is a website & email platform, but there are many options to pick from for non-profits too.

Video

In terms of video, funny is still the gold standard. (Realistically, nobody wants to see your campaign commercial - so the least you can do is entertain them or make them laugh).

Social Media

Check out the "Best Use of Twitter" Pollie for Missouri Health Matters. The audience may be small (perhaps they could use some tips for building a social media audience), but they are delivering quality regular content to their audience. They won a Gold overall for Best Use of Social Media.

FrackFeed won a Silver Pollie for Best Facebook Page. Check out their fun content, tied to what's trending on social media. Some of their content has really caught fire too. Even though I completely disagree with their point of view, hats off to them for doing a great social media job.

What did we learn?

So there you have it. To cut through the noise for your non-profit you need fun, funny, topical content and it needs to be presented well to your audience. Same old same old just doesn't work as well anymore in a sea of organizational websites, email, video and social media.

Overall, no amazing new tech has been rolled out recently - text message donating to campaigns is still not in widespread use except for the largest of organizations. We'll see how 2016 shapes up, and if more cutting-edge tech works its way out of the campaign world over to non-profits.

Originally posted on the PowerThru blog.