How John Fetterman’s campaign used Slack to crowdsource memes and engage volunteers
The Pennsylvania Senator’s campaign had over 9,000 superfans in its Slack workspace by Election Day
Welcome to Campaigner, a newsletter Q&A series highlighting the tactics behind political campaigns and the players pushing the buttons. Produced in collaboration with Arena & FWIW.
Workplace communication tool Slack has long been used in the nonprofit and campaign space as a way for volunteers or staffers to collaborate across organizations. While useful, these types of Slack communities often feel forced and end up going quiet with little consistent engagement.
However, in last year’s midterm elections, John Fetterman’s campaign for U.S. Senate in Pennsylvania used Slack in a powerful way. The campaign relied on the messaging tool as its central hub for engaging volunteers - where staff would crowdsource memes, recruit volunteer shifts, and build a sense of community among supporters. At its peak, the Fetterman Slack workspace had over 9,000 members and extremely high levels of engagement and conversation.
For this week’s Campaigner, FWIW’s Kyle Tharp spoke with Fetterman Digital Organizing Director Ryan Flanagan about how his team approached the platform, and what other campaigns can learn from their experience:
Q&A with Ryan Flanagan on Fetterman’s Slack Organizing
Kyle Tharp, Campaigner: Why don’t you start by telling me a little bit about your role on the Fetterman campaign and what your day-to-day looked like?
Ryan Flanagan: I was the Digital Organizing Director on the Fetterman campaign, reporting to our Digital Director, Sophie Ota, who is absolutely amazing. I oversaw a team of organizers who did everything from running our phone bank program, text banks, social media organizing, and relational organizing programs. Then I also oversaw basically doing event build for all the rallies that John did.
Kyle Tharp, Campaigner: Can you talk about how you all engaged volunteers in a distributed manner? Basically, in thinking through the pipeline of recruiting supporters to become volunteers and regularly keeping them engaged - what were your tools for doing that?
Ryan Flanagan: Our main bread-and-butter tool for keeping our volunteers engaged was our Slack community. We were pretty intentional from the beginning that we wanted to create a space and community for our volunteers to really interact with and become a part of the campaign. Slack really provided an amazing opportunity for that.
We basically made sure all of our volunteers got into Slack as long as they were technologically able. Every time someone signed up for a (volunteer) shift, they got an email saying like “hey, here are things you can do before your shift starts” and the number one thing was signing up for our Slack community. We created a really easy URL to get there - I think it was literally John Fetterman Dot Com forward slash community - which made joining really easy. Then, we made sure that at the beginning of every single one of our trainings, we did a training on how to join our Slack community. We wanted to be really intentional about getting as many folks in our Slack as possible.
Kyle Tharp, Campaigner: That makes a lot of sense. I personally was interested in signing up to volunteer with the campaign at one point, and I just went through the website's normal signup form. Somehow I received an email that got me to join the Slack channel. I get in there, and there’s like 9,000 other people in there. I was super impressed. How did you all keep up the activity, and enthusiasm among volunteers in Slack?
Ryan Flanagan: Obviously folks were really excited about John, but they were actually excited about the issues too. We just really wanted to cultivate that community and get people to interact with us as much as possible.
Our digital organizer Katia put together this amazing social media organizing program and once we had all those people in our Slack, created a meme channel in there (called #FetterFans). Every day, people were creating their own content, bouncing ideas off each other, and we very much encouraged it and wanted folks to do that.
They brought a lot of creativity and excitement that came with it as well. That was a way we were really able to push out a lot of real organic content on social media.
Kyle Tharp, Campaigner: I loved seeing the creation of a lot of these memes in real time in Slack. I remember on one specific occasion when the campaign put a billboard on the New Jersey - Pennsylvania border welcoming Dr. Oz back home to New Jersey or something. And in Slack, someone from the campaign actually reached out to everyone asking if a volunteer could go take a picture of the billboard they could use. I thought it was a great example of a campaign crowdsourcing content. Were there other examples similar to that you can share?
Ryan Flanagan: That was one of the really awesome tools that Slack gave us - that we were able to crowdsource almost anything that we needed or we were looking to put out there. We would ask for people to take photos of John Fetterman yard signs out in the world. We ask people to take photos of their pets with campaign signage - all kinds of fun stuff. Us being able to crowdsource that kind of content really increased the engagement in the community as well as made it a place where folks wanted to be. It was actually fun to be in there!
Kyle Tharp, Campaigner: Aside from Crowdsourcing memes and social content, what were some of the main other actions that you were encouraging Slack community members to take?
Ryan Flanagan: We really wanted to make Slack *the hub* for all of our different volunteer opportunities. There was a channel for our text bankers. There was a channel for our phone bankers. There was a channel for our relational organizing program. There was a channel for everything - so you were able to find any volunteer opportunity that best fit what you were able to do for the campaign.
Kyle Tharp, Campaigner: A lot of volunteers probably didn’t have any experience using Slack before the campaign - I think your team had different intro guides and documents to help people learn how to use it. Did you find that was really important to help people get started?
Ryan Flanagan: I think we created a lot of different one-pagers and things like that to get folks engaged, but one of the key things for folks to really get it was us walking them through it at the beginning of each one of our action trainings.
We were able to explain it, and if they couldn’t get it at the moment, we would circle back with them and help them get in there. We really tried to meet people where they were as much as we possibly could and make our community as accessible as possible.
Kyle Tharp, Campaigner: John Fetterman was basically a type of celebrity in politics that doesn't come around that often because of his style and his appearance, and the way that he speaks with authenticity. Do you think that your experience on the campaign recruiting and organizing volunteers like this is easily transferable to other campaigns? Should all large campaigns consider using Slack as a type of organizing hub like this?
Ryan Flanagan: I truly believe that all campaigns should be using Slack or a similar platform as an organizing hub and a place to have all their volunteers together. I can't sit here and say that our numbers weren’t high at 9,000 because of John's celebrity or how people were attracted to him and his mission. But I think any campaign could use Slack effectively. What was special about our experience is that we gave people access and a space to really be a part of the campaign. I used Slack before on Governor Phil Murphy's reelection campaign in New Jersey, and I would say we used it effectively - but really just for our texting volunteers. Meanwhile, on Fetterman’s race, we really decided to open it up and have all of our volunteer operations running out of it.
I think your Slack will be more engaged and active with the more effort you put into it. We made sure each one of our channels was overseen by both a volunteer leader and one of our organizers - making sure that we were keeping people engaged and that when people asked questions and they got answers. Putting all that effort into it really pays huge dividends.
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These interviews are meant to highlight different voices from across the campaign ecosystem. The views expressed therein are not necessarily reflective of the views of Arena or FWIW Media