I just returned from Shop.org, a massive conference for corporate ecommerce folks. My wife Shawna brought me; she’s the Director of Ecommerce for West Elm. I wanted to see if the ecommerce world held any awesome new ideas that online organizers should adopt. After all, many of our concerns are similar – new customer acquisition, conversion, loyalty, how to deal with the ascendancy of mobile, etc.

I didn’t encounter anything that blew my mind. But I heard some ideas that online organizers might want to experiment with, or at least think about. In roughly descending order of utility:

I’ve been trying to figure out an organizing application for remarketing technology for a while. In a conversation with a sales guy from AdRoll, it finally hit me – we should try remarketing to members who have signed a petition, to get them to SHARE the petition. Since our best acquisitions are from viral spread, what can we do to increase virality? Maybe remarketing. Something like “850,000 have signed this petition. Share it on Facebook now to get 1 million signatures!” You can do self-service remarketing at AdRoll for very cheap. If anyone is interested in spending $1000 on some testing like this, let me know.

Capturing frenemies’ email streams – including action rates
A couple years ago, my friend Jon Stahl brainstormed an idea he called “Email Bucket” – a tool that would receive emails from every possible advocacy group, and then parse all the emails into intelligible data. Well, Yesmail has now built that for ecommerce. So if you’re West Elm, you can subscribe to their service and know what all your competitors are emailing out (or tweeting, Facebooking, Instagramming, etc) so that you can avoid duplication or getting undercut, whatever. But here’s the cool part – Yesmail also has a panel of people – they say 1 million people – who are subscribed to all those competitors emails, and who give Yesmail access to their email programs. So Yesmail can track open rates and clickthroughs on those emails. Pretty powerful. Yesmail probably has no incentive to deploy this for advocacy / politics – not a big enough vertical – but maybe worth reverse engineering?

Triggers based on published data
Yesmail has another feature that seems like it could have application for us – email triggers based on published data. Like weather data, voting results, sports scores, etc. Anywhere there’s a data feed, you could use that data to trigger an email. For example, sending a GOTV email that says, “Looks like its going to rain today in New York; bring an umbrella to the polls.” (in that case, using plan-making psychology) I know many instances of emails triggered by INTERNAL data; but this is emails triggered by EXTERNAL data.

Buzzword #1: Omnichannel
Meaning, giving a consistent message to the same customer through many channels at once. This was definitely the big buzzword of the conference. Every vendor is tripping all over themselves to make it easier for retailers to have omnichannel messaging. Which is harder than you think, especially when you introduce customer segmenting.

Buzzword #2: Responsive Design
Meaning, website design that changes fluidly depending on what device is loading it. (wikipedia definition here) As opposed to have multiple designs for multiple devices. About 80% of the conference goers were obsessed with rebuilding their sites as responsive design sites; the other 20% were naysayers. The debate highlights the rapid ascension of tablets and smartphones, and the imperative to stop designing only with desktops in mind.

Buzzword #3: Big data
Not surprisingly, everyone thinks they can model their customers to a sales nirvana. But I didn’t actually hear anything a lot more sophisticated than what a MoveOn or AFL or CREDO can do, and not nearly as sophisticated as what OFA did. Lots of hype, not a lot of actual delivery on the hype, as far as I could see. No learning here, other than that from what I heard, we’re at least on pace with ecommerce, if not ahead of them.

Dynamic pricing
The ecommerce world is moving towards dynamic pricing – items are priced based on many factors, not tied down. Aside from past giving history, are there any data that could feed into a dynamic pricing model for donations? Would that even make sense?

Smart glasses and wearables
A projection: 1 in 5 adults will own some form of wearable computing in 5 years. (Source: APX Labs). The most likely application will be “smart glasses” (like Google Glass). Basically, the same components in a cell phone – GPS, accelerometers, transmitters, wifi, speakers, etc – can be put into many other forms, like glasses, gloves, wristbands, etc. Because the component parts cost the same, wearables will soon cost what a smartphone costs, once they get to any scale. Apparently everything in this video is doable right now, today, with existing and not super-expensive hardware and software.

What’s new about smart glasses? Layering information into your view; hands free operation; simultaneous, synchronous viewpoints. What will that do to activism opportunities? Possibilities:
-> Simultaneous rallies could feel much more powerful
-> Dynamic data feeds of information about a voter when you knock his door
-> Lots of direct service applications; disaster relief, homeless outreach, etc

Some web design best practices & tips
-> On sign up pages, when someone puts in an email, ping that address immediately. If it bounces, give them an “email invalid” message right there on the page. Smart and easy way to reduce errors.
-> Consolidate and hide fields as much as possible. Dynamically pop them if they are necessary. eg, you could hide the “occupation” and “employer” fields in a donation page, and pop them only if the donation amount is more than $200. Drop “state” if you already have zip code; do first+last name as one field; etc.
-> Free tool called webpagetest.org to compare your site load time against competitors. You can open source it and make a private version. Gives you the ability to test on different browsers from different locations.

The Death of Email…
… is greatly exaggerated. Email was on the decline until smartphone usage hit 100m in 2010 in US. Email habit indexes are even higher for young folks. Email still matters… but how its read is rapidly changing. (Source: Forrester)

An invention company that makes wacky cool things for publicity stunts. Lesson: a cool hacky invention can earn a lot of media, if its designed fit-for-purpose and has a compelling story with it. Perhaps a progressive group could convince DeepLocal to work pro bono for them. After all, they are hackers and former punk band guys.

posted in Conference & Inspiring & New Tool & Online Organizing