Love ‘em or hate ‘em, political robocalls are a fact of life in modern political campaigns.  While campaigns are figuring out how to use social media in politics and starting e-mail newsletters for their campaigns, they are still using tried and true campaign tactics, including direct mail, door-to-door campaigning, and yes: political robocalls.

Everyone knows what a robocall is… you pick up the phone, wait a second, then hear a recorded message from your local congressman or a nationally known politician endorsing a candidate for county dog catcher.  You listen for a few seconds, the *click*… you hang up the phone.

Do Political Robocalls Work?

While their effectiveness has definitely waned as voters have been bombarded by recorded messages over the past few years, robocalls have stuck around because in certain circumstances, they work.  The real place where they shine is as a quick, cheap way to get out breaking news (like an endorsement right before Election Day) or to respond to last minute attacks from your opponent.

Watch out though, some voters get turned off by too many robocalls.  Even if your campaign only does one or two rounds of calls, if your opponents have been bombarding the phone lines with calls, the voters may penalize you when they hear your call.  In that sense, political robocalls are a zero-sum game: the more calls are going out from all of the candidates in a race, the less effective each of the calls will be.

Innovative Use

In addition to the standard and effective usage of getting out breaking news or quickly responding to mudslinging by an opponent, some campaigns have begun experimenting with innovative uses of political robocalls.  Several companies now offer quick and cheap polling through the use of robocallers (combined with answering machine-like phone key questions such as “Press 1 if you plan to vote for Helen Smith; press 2 if you plan to vote for George Clairmont.”)

Other campaigns have used political robocalls for get out the vote efforts, as event reminders, and even for fundraising.   If you’re planning to use robocalling as part of your campaign’s communications mix, be sure to follow these do’s and don’ts:

Political Robocalling Do’s

DO put your message up front – Remember, the average voter will only listen to a robocall for a few seconds before hanging up.  Be sure to put your candidate’s name and the message of the call up front, before the person hangs up.  (E.g. “Hi, this is Nick Hearn, candidate for Alderman, with an exciting endorsement from Bill Clinton…”)

DO make it different – Voters are more likely to listen if your political robocall is “different.”  Have you thought about using music in your call?  What about mimicking the sound of a radio newscast?  How about making the call a conversation between the candidate and a well known person?  Think outside the box.

DO follow the rules – in many places, political robocalls must carry political disclaimers (like those found on TV ads and direct mail letters), and may be subject to restrictions on what times the calls may be placed, or other regulations.  Know the rules, and follow them!  A sampling of state rules and regulations is available from the free Political Telemarketing Guide provided by Politics Magazine.

Political Robocall Don’ts

DON’T annoy the voters – Calling too often is annoying.  Calling with the same recording over and over again is annoying.  Recordings that are poor quality, hard to hear, or overly verbose annoy voters.

DON’T forget that the media is listening – Never say anything in a political robocall that you wouldn’t want printed on the first page of the newspaper.

DON’T waste money – Be sure that your political robocalls only go to registered voters (or, if you’re running in a primary, to registered voters in your own party).  Calls made to people who can’t vote for you are a waste of time and money.