With the infrastructure bill set to adopt an excessively broad legislation against crypto, many in the community have begun to realize the importance of engaging in the legislative process. Sentiment has shifted among key community figures who recognize the need for a larger effort to ensure an optimal regulatory and legislative crypto environment.
Think tanks and advocacy groups such as Coin Center that have done phenomenal work to help educate and engage with policy makers. However, there is only so much these organizations can do in engaging directly with policymakers. Getting their full support ultimately requires the support of voters.
Money is certainly needed in this process. However, it is not just a matter of putting up billboards or buying advertisements. Without a plan or strategy, you’re likely to spend a lot to run in many directions without measurable impact. The crypto industry needs a campaign mindset.
The missing piece of crypto advocacy
When people hear about campaigns, they typically think of elections. The science of election campaigning has been refined over decades to achieve a desired outcome in a highly adversarial environment. We can use this same approach whenever public support is required for a particular issue – be it for political or commercial reasons – and this is what the most effective advocacy organizations do.
A comprehensive campaign strategy is multifaceted and requires considerable research. There are, however, a few general principles to demonstrate what an effective campaign is, and what people often get wrong. We’ll start with the latter.
Mistaking action for impact. Putting up a billboard is an action. A viral tweet is an action. Getting an article published or an interview on a podcast may be promising actions, but they are meaningless if they have no impact.
Your message has an intended audience, whether it is a customer, policymaker or voter. Did the message resonate with them? Did they even see it? Or is your PR strategy more accurately described as “spray and pray?" Every action should be driven by an intended impact that can be assessed. If you cannot measure the behavioral change your action triggers, you should consider whether it’s worth the effort.
Trusting vanity metrics. You got 10,000 shares on your blog, multiple Clubhouse appearances, and your article had one million views. Your engagement is through the roof. But there seems to be little impact you actually want it. The general public doesn’t seem to care any more about crypto, and representatives in Congress certainly don’t. What gives?
Vanity metrics are the metrics that look good but carry little value in themselves. Shares, tweets, likes and impressions show how people are engaging with your content, but they do not show impact or behavioral change. There are multiple examples of politicians dominating in social media metrics, but failing at the polls. As the saying goes, Twitter is not real life.
The wrong message, or simply too many of them. This is the area that I believe the crypto community most consistently gets wrong. The wrong way to persuade people is to try to convince them that what matters to you should matter to them. What you believe to be the most important aspects of crypto is not necessarily going to be what is considered valuable by others.
If the average person cared about hard money, they would hold gold. If they cared about decentralization, they would have been using Tor and BitTorrent for years. Yet these are regularly touted as the benefits of these products to "no-coiners" to increase adoption. That is not to say that these things are not important, but something being important and your target audience believing it to be sufficiently important for them to take action are different things.
A related mistake is having too many messages. It is far better to have one strong message and repeat it ad infinitum than to have many messages to please everyone. How often have we heard someone say about a politician “I don’t know what they stand for”?
Influence, the right way
If we’re using the wrong message, how do we identify the right one? If we shouldn’t use vanity metrics, how do we measure impact?
As with any science, the answer is research. Every campaign requires a comprehensive strategy, and at each stage of that strategy, we require comprehensive research to ensure we focus on our desired outcome. While the strategies can vary, there are three general stages that work together in all effective campaigns.
Identify the decision makers for the outcome you want. For an election, the decision makers are usually the swing voters in marginal electorates. This is why you rarely see Democratic or Republican presidential candidates campaigning in California or Idaho: the former will always vote Democrat, the latter always Republican. For any issue, there is a desired outcome – getting a bill passed, entering a market, getting a product sold – and for any particular outcome, there are those who will always be supportive, those who will always be against, and the swing. Your research at this stage should be identifying these different groups and the impact they will have on your desired outcome.
The particular research you conduct will depend on your goal. For political campaigns, voter registrations and historical voting records by demographic can be helpful. If you have target groups in mind, surveys and scientifically robust polls can give you the information you need. Ultimately, the more accurately you can categorize your audiences into supporters, opponents and the undecided, the more effectively you can target them.
Define the message based on the decision maker’s values. When you know your target audience, you can start to elicit their values through further, detailed research. What is important to them? What do they value most? How does crypto help them in their pursuit of those values? The goal is to understand not just what people are saying but what their values truly are, and then crafting a concise message to which they will pay attention.
Understanding these values and defining a strong message typically requires an iterative process made up of activities such as polling and focus groups. Done well, a message can stand out and speak directly to your target audience’s values, turning individuals from disinterested parties into active supporters.
Communicate to the decision makers and measure your impact. This is where the memes, the press releases, the tweets come in. Effectiveness here is defined by how well you reach who you want to reach. Are you using the right platforms? Are you presenting the message in a way your target audience digests information? And most importantly, how do you know it is having an impact with the decision makers?
Identifying the optimal communication channels will depend on the target audience and the topic. Some of this you can determine in advance: Facebook, for example, is a necessity for any online campaign due to its dominant market position. In other cases, direct emails and text messages can be the best way to motivate.
Remember that impact is not measured by vanity metrics, but by behavioral change: Throughout this process, you need to measure your success in achieving that, and adjusting as necessary. Success may be determined by the rate of click-throughs from your advertisements that result in a petition signing, or the number of people signed up to an advocacy network. As the campaign develops, monitoring what channels are most successful and maximizing them will be critical.
Time to mature
If the crypto industry wants to truly effect change, it needs to nurture its infrastructure for doing so. Activist change does not come about solely from tweeting, meme-ing, or trying to educate about the technology, although these can play a part. Activist change comes from a campaign strategy based on comprehensive research that identifies the right decision makers for each issue, elicits their values and speaks to them in messages they understand.
We have the motivation and ability to build support, so it is worth doing it properly. After all, effective campaigns can change the world.
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