Long exposures are almost an unavoidable requirement for low light photography. The added dimension of time represented by the blur of moving objects or light trails adds an extra element of drama to low light photography.
Representing time during daylight photography is often difficult because shutter speeds in well-lit situations can rarely be slow enough to allow movement to be visible.
Neutral density filters block light without changing its color (hopefully). These filters allow the camera to operate at slower-than-normal shutter speeds and/or wider-than-normal apertures. This can make it possible to achieve motion blur or shallow depth of field in well lit situations.
I wanted to take a few urban shots that included the element of time represented by motion within the frame. In order for the motion to be perceived as motion and not just blur, the non-moving elements in the frame would need to be perfectly crisp.
Two tools I used for this test are a sturdy tripod and a variable neutral density (ND) filter.
There are many variable ND filters available. The professional level filters cost $300 and up. Because this is just a test, I wanted to use a less expensive filter. I found one on Amazon for about $12. The price seemed too good to be true. After reading the reviews, I determined that the filter was a good value for the money and it would suit my purpose well.
I decided to use the filter on my 24-70mm lens. I quickly learned that once the filter is on, it is impossible to attach the lens hood. Additionally, once the lens hood is on, it is nearly impossible to attach the filter. I settled to go without the lens hood.
Armed with my tripod I went looking for a suitable scene downtown. I needed something with significant movement but also a good backdrop for the moving component.
A busy corner provided what I was looking for. I tested various camera settings and settled on about f/9 with exposures ranging from half a second to 1.5 seconds.
I quickly learned that adding the element of time was tricky. Capturing movement adds an extra dimension to the balance of settings. The more significant (large and near) and the speed of the movement dictate the target shutter speed. Larger and closer objects look good with longer shutter speeds. Smaller and farther objects require shorter shutter speeds.
For example, when attempting to capture the motion of a person walking across the street, shutter speeds slower than half a second gave results that might only have shown a ghost of a person. However, when capturing a bus passing through an intersection, a shutter speed slower than one second was necessary to capture the motion.
The amount of space the moving object covers during the exposure is a factor of the speed of the object and the distance of the object from the camera. Fast moving objects that are farther away from the camera appear to move slower.
In the example above, the shutter speed was faster than the first photo above, but the bus was also farther away. A slower shutter speed would have shown more of a blurred bus, but it would also have appeared more transparent.
It became obvious that is was important to balance the amount of motion with the ambient, non-moving parts of the scene. Moving objects that dominate the frame by size or short distance from the camera seemed to create the best results.
The last example above shows a greater dominance of the moving object relative to the stationary objects. I think this is closer to the goal.
I plan to try this technique more and post updated results.
The Kalalau Trail
The main activity on this day is a relatively easy day hike along the Kalalau Trail on the north shore. This trail is a very popular activity on Kauai. It offers several options suited to different skill levels and time constraints. Visitors can choose everything between a easy 2-mile (each way) hike to Hanakapi'ai Beach to an 11 mile backpacking trek to Kalalau Beach with a few options in between. Our choice was the 2-mile hike to the beach.
The hike starts at Ke'e Beach which is located at the end of Highway 560 on the north shore. Parking is very tight and fills up quickly. We got one of the last parking spaces when we arrived.
The trail begins with a moderately steep climb to the first overlook. From here you can see Ke'e Beach and much of the Napali coast.
Trail conditions were good. The trail was muddy, but not nearly as muddy as the Pihea Trail from Day One.
The scenery along this part of the trail is what you expect from Hawaii. Deep blue water under a blue sky with tropical greenery everywhere.
After a series of switchbacks we arrived at the overlook for Hanakapi'ai Beach.
To get to the beach below, we had to cross a stream. This was the most difficult part of the hike because the large rocks are very slippery when they are wet.
While the water looks beautiful, it is very dangerous. There is no barrier to prevent people from being carried out to sea by the currents. A sign warns visitors of this fact and ominously marks the number of deaths reported at this location.
After we spent a little time exploring the beach and the nearby cave, it was time to hike back to the car.
We made a quick stop along the side of the road to view the Taro fields.
On our way back to the airport, we stopped at Queen's Bath. This area features natural pools formed by the shapes naturally formed in a lava flow. There are several of these pools within this area. To access the area, we had to drive through a neighborhood and fight for parking in the tiny dirt lot. Many of the homes in this area have signs and cones out to prevent parking on the street.
The shore is a short walk from the parking area. Along the hike we found a few small waterfalls.
The terrain near the shore is very treacherous. Sharp lava rock is everywhere. The waves crash against the rock and splash unexpectedly, making the rock slippery.
After we spent a few minutes exploring the area, we walked back to the car and caught our flight home. It was a quick few days, but we packed it with activities that made the days go much slower.
Note: This is the second in a three part series documenting a quick trip to the island of Kauai in July of 2012. If you haven't already done so, please read Day One.
Day two was scheduled as a relatively relaxing day when compared to day one and day three. The day begin at Kauai Backcountry Adventures where we prepared to go tubing. This company offers a variety of rugged adventures on the island. We selected tubing because it offered a relaxing way to see some of the interior parts of the island.
After a brief orientation, we loaded into what appeared to be soviet-era personnel carriers and headed in to the backcountry. On the way to the tubing launch point we stopped at a scenic overlook that gave a good view of Mount Wai'ale'ale.
This is the wettest spot on earth with over 450 inches of rainfall annually. It is almost always covered in clouds, so it is rare to actually see the mountain.
The guides did a good job pointing out various natural features along the way. They also showed us a few locations where scenes from some movies were filmed.
The canals were constructed to divert water to the sugar cane fields. The plantation is no longer operating and is used for a variety of purposes including experimental farming things like genetically modified corn.
We entered the water at the launch point via a small ramp. The water is very cold, but the freezing sensation quickly subsides.
The canal is mostly very slow moving and relaxing. The canal travels through several tunnels along the way. The tunnels were carved out of the rock when the canals were built.
The tour company provided helmets (complete with light) and gloves to help keep us from injuries caused by collisions with the edges of the canal or the tunnels.
The guides instructed everyone to leave their lights off as we entered the final tunnel. They told us that it was because the lights would attract moths which would attract bats, but later confessed that they just wanted us to experience the tunnel without light.
After we completed the ride, we boarded the vehicles and headed to the lunch area. This area was a picnic area next to a river that feeds a lagoon. The entire area overflowing with green.
The tree in the picture above caught my eye because it was covered in moss and ferns.
After lunch we got back in the vehicles and headed back to the starting point.
We had a little time before we needed to be at our next activity, so we took the short drive to see Wailua Falls. This waterfall currently consists of twin falls which empty into a large pool below. The road is at the upper level, so we were able to view the scene from above.
There is a trail that leads to the pool below, but time didn't permit us to make the journey.
Na Pali Sunset Dinner Cruise
Our next activity was a sunset dinner cruise along the Na Pali coast. We select a tour from Holo Holo Charters.
The boat departed from the southern edge of the island and quickly powered around to the Na Pali coast near the northwest portion. Once the boat reached Kalalau beach, it turned around and slowly made its way back along the coast. The turnaround point is within sight of the area we had hiked the day before.
If you look closely in the photo above, you can see tents on the beach.
During the next portion of the tour, we slowly cruised along the coastline as the captain pointed out features along the way.
For the final part of the tour, we made our way back to the south side of the island in time to watch the sun set and have a champagne toast.
Note: This is the first in a series of posts documenting a recent trip I took to the island of Kauai. It was a very short trip, but my wife and I managed to pack our time there full of activities as we celebrated our wedding anniversary. Hopefully these posts will offer some help to anyone else who is interested in taking a quick trip to Kauai.
We started our day at the Waipouli Beach Resort. We had a few minutes to walk to the beach before we started our first activity of the day.
The beach was small, but stunning. The weather on this side of the island tends to always be windy, so the beaches are not very appealing to tourists. This is good for photographs.
Our first activity of the day was snorkeling. We selected a morning tour provided by Kauai Z Tourz. It launched from the south side of the island near an area that is know for sea turtle activity.
The photo below was taken at our launch point in Kukuiula Boat Harbor.
The tour company used a 24 foot inflatable zodiac boat to take us out to the dive point.
An underground cave at this location provides the ideal habitat for the sea turtles. They live in the cave and frequently surface for air. At any one time there were several turtles on the surface and a few in the process of surfacing or diving. The turtles are not aggressive at all, which allowed us to get very close to them.
After our snorkeling adventure we spent a little time in Waimea eating lunch and shopping. Before we left we stopped by the Waimea State Recreational Pier.
Hiking the Pihea Trail
Our next activity was a hike along the Pihea trail. First, a little background on the layout of Kauai. The roads on the island allow access to nearly the entire shoreline with the exception of the northwestern section. The roads are shaped like a horseshoe with the gap on the northwest side of the island. Several State Parks and Natural Area Reserves exist in this area, including Waimea Canyon. To travel from the western edge of this section to the other side, you have to drive all the way around the island. At the shoreline, this area is the rocky cliffs known as the Na Pali Coast.
The road to the trailhead follows the edge of Waimea Canyon.
(Click to view larger)
There are several hiking trails that begin at the end of the road on either side of the natural area. The trail that starts on the Western edge and heads East is called the Pihea Trail.
The trail starts at the Pu‘u O Kila Lookout at the end of Highway 550. The elevation at the location in the photo above is about 3,750 feet above the ocean below.
The trail starts out fairly easy with just a few moderate areas. The weather changed dramatically several times during the hike, ranging from sunny to cloudy and rainy. It's best to be prepared for all types of weather on this hike.
As we continued, we noticed that the people coming the other direction were very muddy - some were covered in mud. We joked to each other that maybe those people just didn't know how to avoid the puddles.
As we progressed, we realized that it wasn't the skill level of the other hikers that left them covered in mud - it was the difficulty of the trail.
We followed the trail all the way to the Pihea Lookout. Unfortunately, cloud cover at this point made it impossible to capture the entire view.
We decided to back track a bit and take a fork in the trail that we had passed. This fork took us to the Alaka‘i Swamp Trail. This trail leads inland into the valley opposite the shoreline. The terrain changes dramatically from cliffs to tropical swamp. Much of the trail is made of wood planks that are installed above the swamp below.
We followed this path for about an hour until it began a series of switchbacks descending into a valley. At this point we determined that we would run out of daylight if we went any further and we knew that daylight would be required to traverse some of the more treacherous sections of the trail on the way back. We decided to turn around.
We made it back to the start of the trail just as it was beginning to get dark. Our shoes and legs were covered with the markings of an adventure.
Here are a few simple tips for capturing stunning images of fireworks this 4th of July.
- Sturdy tripod
- Camera that will allow manual focus and manual exposure
- Remote shutter release or exposure delay mode
Configure your camera for standard long exposure photos. This includes the following settings:
- Base ISO (100 or 200)
- Auto-ISO off
- Long Exposure Noise Reduction (if available and necessary)
- Flash off (shouldn't have to say this)
Compose your shot to include a reference point to give the fireworks context. Photos of fireworks in a black sky are not as visually striking as photos that include buildings or land features. If you are setting up prior to the show, estimate the way the fireworks will fit in the composition of the scene. To keep things interesting, place the main point of interest off-center.
Set the focus point on the object nearest to where the fireworks will be displayed and then turn off auto-focus. This will prevent your camera from searching for focus each time you press the shutter.
Using spot metering, set your exposure based on the land features. Start with something like f/10 and 20 seconds at ISO 100 (10 seconds at ISO 200) and adjust from there. Once exposure is set, lock it so it won't automatically change based on the brightness of the show. If you are relatively close to the show, you may need adjust your aperture to f/16 or f/22 to make sure the entire scene is in focus. Adjust the shutter speed as needed to get proper exposure.
As the show starts, watch the launch point for flashes of light as the fireworks are launched. Start your exposure when the fireworks are launched so you can capture the light trails given off by the fireworks as they climb through the air. If your timing is right, you should be able to capture the launch and the explosion.
As the show progresses, check your results and make adjustments to exposure, composition, and focus as necessary. Make changes to your focal length and switch your orientation from horizontal to vertical just to keep things interesting.
Post Processing Tips
Depending on your camera, you may need to use some or all of these post processing tips:
- Increased black level (this helps remove smoke and provide contrast)
- Noise reduction - especially in dark areas
- Sharpening - to bring out details in explosions
In preparation for an upcoming trip where I will have an opportunity to go on a snorkeling tour, I purchased a waterproof case for my camera.
There are a range of solutions for waterproof camera housings ranging in cost from just under $100 to well over $1,000. When compared to the high cost solutions, the low cost solutions are rated for shallower use, do not offer as much access to the camera controls, and are less reliable. For my purpose, the low cost solution works well.
After doing a little research, I selected the DiCAPac WP-S10. The product is essentially a thick plastic bag that is shaped like a camera. It has a finger insert for operating the shutter and two for operating a zoom lens.
The bag is plenty big to fit the bulky D700 as well as the smaller D90. It comes with foam inserts that can be used to position the camera in the bag so the lens lines properly. I found that putting two inserts below the camera and another folded in half on the left side worked well for the D700.
My initial plan was to use the case with the D700 and the 24-70 zoom lens. While the lens fits well in the case, the finger inserts are too far forward to properly operate the zoom ring. Additionally, because the lens extends slightly when moving above or below 50mm, and there is no zoom lock switch, I found it difficult to keep the lens set at anything other than 50mm. That being the case, I decided to just use the 50mm f/1.4 prime and not worry about the extra effort of controlling the focal length of the lens. I installed the lens with its hood to keep it from bumping against the front of the case.
Before I put the camera in the water for the first time, I followed the instructions on the case and tested it in the bathtub. Two hand weights played the part of the camera and helped keep most of the bag under water during the testing. After about 20 minutes under water I opened the case and found it to be completely dry.
The bag makes it difficult to control the camera's settings once it is all sealed up. I usually rely on my ability to reach the buttons and both command dials when I shoot, so some adjustments would be necessary.
The finger insert that is used to activate the shutter can also be used to turn the front command dial with some difficulty. The rear dial, however, is unusable once the camera is in the bag. Other buttons and switches are difficult to use as well, so I recommend getting your settings right before you seal it up.
For me, pre-setting some shooting options means that I had to give up on flexibility and take advantage of more of the automatic settings that the camera offers. Lack of access to the rear command dial throws manual exposure out as an option. Lack of easy access to the focus ring on the lens throws manual focus out as well. Other controls I was concerned about included metering modes and AF modes.
I normally use spot metering along with single-point continuous focus tied to the rear AF-ON button. This allows me to select a focus point, meter it, and adjust as needed. Sometimes I grab the metering information from one point in the scene and then move the focus point to another to set focus. None if this is easy with this bag.
For my first few shots, I switched to Matrix Metering and Auto Area AF mode. These settings mean the camera will attempt to set the exposure based on what it thinks is best for the shot and it will choose the focus points automatically as well.
After a few shots, I worked my way back to spot metering and single point AF. I grew more comfortable with using the camera's buttons through the case, so I was able to move the focus point to where I needed it to be.
One thing I didn't think about is how shooting underwater would affect my technique. I have certain breathing patterns that I've adopted over time which don't work well under water. Apparently, I like to take a deep breath just before I push the shutter release.
The case also made adjustments to my holding technique necessary. I felt like I had much less of a firm grip on the camera and that resulted in difficulty in framing shots.
I think, at least in murky water, the big advantage of the waterproof case is the ability to get near-water shots that would otherwise be very risky. When I previously took pictures of my kids using an inflatable water slide, I avoided some shots because I didn't want to get the camera too wet. With this case, that is no longer a concern.
I found it very challenging to get the white balance correct. There is no setting that will work for all photos because the white balance changes based on the clarity of the water and how deep you are.
The image above shows what the camera thought was a good white balance next to the adjusted image. I found a value around 8300K with a tint adjustment toward magenta worked well, but I'm not sure I am settled on the final result. I may risk it and take a gray card underwater once to get a reference shot.
Image Quality Impact
The case affects image quality in a few ways. The biggest problem I had was keeping the edges of the lens housing out of the picture. Many of my shots had a dark area in the upper left where the lens housing had intruded on the photo. Because the housing is built to expand to accommodate lenses up to 6 inches, shorter lenses can cause photos to suffer from this issue.
The other problems I had related to the impact of the extra piece of glass in front of the lens. It seems to me that the photos are a little low on contrast when compared to photos taken without the case. I'm not certain this is directly related to the case itself or if it is a function of the underwater conditions or the lens that I was using. More certain, however, is the impact of the water drops and marks that appeared on the front element. They can be easily washed off, so it isn't a huge problem - just something to watch out for. I also noticed a cloudy film had appeared on the front element after a little while. I'm certain it is related to the chemicals in the water. It contributed to a cloudy appearance to many of the photos. Like the water stains, it was easily removed.
I found the DiCAPac WP-S10 to be a reliable option for waterproofing my camera. It doesn't have many of the features of the professional cases, but it provides a cost effective solution that gets the job done. I hope to capture many interesting images near and under the water now that I won't have to worry about getting the camera wet.
Digital Media’s Role in Beto O’Rourke’s Upset Victory Over Silvestre Reyes – Part 4: Final Moves and Reyes Errors
This is the fourth part in a series of posts describing the digital media efforts used by the Beto O'Rourke Congressional campaign.
As we moved toward early voting, the mix of goals shifted to remove fundraising and replace it with motivating people to get to the polls. The “dollars” component of “dollars or votes” was removed and the new goal was “decide and vote.” Efforts were split between providing information that would win over a voter and motivating that voter to actually go out and vote.
The goal of building a large audience of supporters served both aspects of the redefined goal well. As more people expressed their endorsement of Beto by liking his page or commenting on an element of it, an increasing number of people joined the campaign as a supporter. “On the recommendation of a friend” is a powerful social media concept that uses the components of personal relationships to spread support for a concept. This was helping us achieve the “decide” portion of the goal because more and more people were making a decision to vote for Beto - on the recommendation of a friend.
At the same time, the campaign was establishing a channel of communication with an ever-growing group of people. This channel would be very valuable when it was time to motivate people to actually cast their ballot - which would accomplish the “vote” portion of the goal.
Momentum Breakthrough: Endorsement Photo Contest
First I must be clear that I can't take credit for this idea. Someone within the campaign devised a plan to spur interaction on Facebook by creating an "Endorsement Photo" contest. This idea had social impact in many ways. By asking people to submit photos of themselves "endorsing" Beto and by asking others to vote for their favorite photos by clicking "Like," the sphere of influence of the page on Facebook wad exponentially increased.
Each time a supporter clicked "like," all of their friends (the campaign's "friends of fans") would see the action in their newsfeed. Additionally, the competitive aspect of the contest created a motive for supporters to encourage their contacts to interact with the page.
This contest paid off hugely in terms of gathering new followers in the critical time just before early voting started.
Endorsements - Drawing Contrast
While the Reyes campaign focused on the traditional tactic of getting endorsements from individuals and groups, we thought it would be great to create a strong contrast and represent Beto as being endorsed by everyone else. The endorsement photo contest provided us with a large amount of photos of regular El Pasoans showing their endorsement of Beto. We took these photos and created a collage that was used on social media as well as in digital ads.
One supporter summed it up best when they posted the following on Facebook as well as other online locations:
The Reyes facebook page is a perfect example of why Reyes is absolutely out of touch with his constituents, he has a large picture of Clinton endorsing him. Compare that to Beto O'Rourkes profile picture which has the most important endorsements, those of his constituents. This shows exactly what the incumbent actually stands for, the special interests of political bigwigs and defense contractors instead of the people he was elected to represent.
Killer Apps: Voting FAQ and Polling Place Lookup
Voter education includes two major components: information about the candidates and information about the process. Our efforts to this point had focused on the candidate portion. Feedback we were receiving indicated that there was a need to provide information about the process.
Based on questions we received through Facebook and other means, as well as our strategy of getting first time and casual voters to the polls, it was clear that a comprehensive list of voting Frequently Asked Questions would be beneficial.
We constructed content that described the following in very simple terms:
- How the primary works
We built a sports-style bracket that showed how the Democrats and Republicans would each choose one person to represent their side in the general election in November.
- Basic voting questions
We posted answers to simple questions about voter registration and similar topics.
- How early voting works and where to vote
We built a map that showed early voting locations and promoted the fact that voters could vote at any location during early voting
As we got closer to election day, it became obvious that a large number of supporters were not sure how to cast their ballot on election day. The most frequent question was related to polling location.
A quick search of the usual sources for information like this revealed that a user-friendly tool for locating a voter’s polling place did not exist. The elections department at the county and the major news websites posted a list of polling places, but provided no easy mechanism for an individual voter to find their polling place.
Side note: In a region where voter turnout is embarrassingly low, wouldn’t it be obvious that the County and the local media should do whatever they can to remove all the excuses that people have? I am disappointed that a simple “where do I vote” tool did not already exist.
The disconnect in the existing “find your polling place” links was that the voter would need to know their precinct number in order to find their polling place. Even considering that new voter registration cards were recently mailed to every voter, a huge number of voters did not know their precinct number or how to find it.
Our solution was simple. We built a web page that would allow a voter to enter their name (or part of their name) in order to find their polling place. Once they identified themselves through the system, they could click a link to view a personalized page that listed their name and displayed the address of their polling place. A large map was also displayed on the page.
By election night, nearly 1,000 voters had used the system to find their polling place. There is no doubt that this system helped get people to the polls by removing one excuse from their list. No longer could they say - “I want to vote, but I don’t know where my polling place is.”
Evaluation of Reyes Errors
Here is a quick summary of the errors I believe the Reyes campaign committed in the realm of digital media.
Failing to register the slogan as a domain name.
The “Reyes Works” slogan was very creative. It was a powerful mantra that offered huge marketing opportunities. I can’t understand why the campaign didn’t register it as a domain name (reyesworks.com) prior to making it public. Even better, the creative agency should have registered it before they pitched it - just to be safe. It was certainly not a good situation for the campaign to have an anti-Reyes website come up whenever people visited reyesworks.com.
Disjointed and improper Facebook efforts.
We counted no less than three Facebook pages and profiles for the Reyes campaign. In the beginning, it was a bit humorous to see updates on Facebook that read like someone with a multiple personality disorder was running the show. We’d see things like “Reyes for Congress shared Reyes Works photo - Re-Elect Silvestre Reyes likes this.”
Even worse was the promotion of the Facebook page on the Facebook page itself. Each post would include a link to the Facebook page - the one that the user was already a fan of or was currently looking at.
Another significant error with Facebook was the creation of a personal profile instead of a page. Up until about mid March, the Reyes Works Facebook page was configured as a person instead of a page. The difference between the two is huge and it is a violation of Facebook’s policies to use a personal profile the way the campaign was using it. Beyond the violation of Facebook’s policy, there are many reasons why an entity shouldn’t use a personal profile on facebook. You can read more about that here.
Closed policy to dissenting opinions.
Many people reported that they had posted negative or challenging items on the Reyes Works Facebook page and the items had been removed. In some cases, the poster was also blocked from the page. The decision to allow negative content to be posted on social media is a difficult one for any organization. However, if you are an incumbent public servant who is running for re-election and you have been accused of not being available for your constituents, why would you feed that accusation by blocking dissent? In my opinion, it would have been much better to take the criticism head on and show that you are not hiding behind anything.
Missed opportunity of variety in digital advertising.
Digital advertising provides a benefit not previously available in the world of advertising: the ability to show a wide variety of ads within a single campaign and evaluate their performance in near real-time. All of the ads we built for Beto’s campaign used a variety of colors, photos, and messages. We carefully monitored which combination was getting the best response. This was not the case with the ads for Reyes. Every single ad I saw from the campaign was exactly the same. If I wasn’t motivated to click on it the first time, what made them think I would click on it any of the other times I saw it?
The items above lead me to believe two things about the Reyes campaign:
- Digital efforts were not integrated into the core of the campaign
- The person or group in charge of the digital efforts did not have significant experience with digital media.
That’s not all...
There were a few other efforts that contributed to the final result, but I can’t discuss them yet. Check back after the November election for a few more details.
Digital Media’s Role in Beto O’Rourke’s Upset Victory Over Silvestre Reyes – Part 3: Ongoing Efforts
This is the third part of a four part series describing digital media’s role in the Beto O’Rourke for Congress campaign.
Once the fundamentals were in place, the efforts turned toward making the most of each component of the strategy. The goal continued to be “dollars or votes.” To accomplish this we needed to ensure we had an efficient communication channel to existing supporters as well as a plan to continually increase the size of the supporter base.
Below is a summary of efforts in each of the communication channels.
The website served as the primary source to collect contact information from supporters. Visitors to the website were encouraged to provide their email address to receive updates from the campaign. If a supporter wanted to make a donation or to request a yard sign, they would do so through the website and their information would be added to the contact database.
A mobile-friendly version of the contact capture functions of the website was developed to allow campaign workers to easily capture information at events or while block walking. The goal here was to remove any barriers to data capture. The app even used geolocation data to allow a volunteer to identify nearby supporters when walking neighborhoods.
Content on the website was kept current to provide new visitors with a complete picture of the story of the campaign. We knew that many visitors to the website were not fans on Facebook, so we couldn’t assume they had knowledge of prior communication efforts through that channel. We added things like photo galleries and a blog-style list of announcements to help with this effort.
Social media acted as a hub in the campaign, but it had shortcomings when it came to the goal of getting a message out. Characteristics of Facebook and Twitter make it unreliable as a single-solution broadcast medium when the audience is a defined group. Facebook pages don’t enjoy 100% distribution of page posts to their fans. This is the result of two factors:
- In the default news feed, Facebook only shows page posts to fans who have a history of interacting with the page. Fans who “like” the page, but never interact with it will likely never see a post from it in their news feed.
- Page posts are included in the newsfeed which acts like a stream. If a post is not timed correctly, it will be missed when it is replaced by more recent posts.
Even though the facebook page for the campaign had over 2,000 fans, some posts were only seen by as few as 500 people. This presented a problem when the campaign had an important message to distribute.
This drawback is balanced with Facebook’s potential for a message to catch fire and be spread far beyond the fan base. Some posts were viewed by an audience that was larger in number than the fan base. This is because friends of fans would see the message whenever a fan would comment on something. This characteristic of Facebook has huge potential, but it can’t be relied upon when an important message needs to get distributed.
Facebook now offers pages the ability to pay to have a page post’s visibility increased. We tried this on a few posts and found the results to be mixed. The real factor was the content. Compelling content was more likely to reach a larger audience.
Timing is the second component of social media exposure. Both Facebook and Twitter are subject to the ever-flowing stream of posts consumed by users. If a post is created at the inopportune time and subsequent posts by others are significant in quantity, the campaign’s post would be lost in the stream.
This led us to be strategic with post timing. Whenever possible, posts were timed to hit the largest optimal audience. Not only does the social media audience size vary by time of day and day of week, the demographic composition of the audience varies as well. The same message posted at two different times would be seen by two different groups and it would generate different levels of response. The volume of posts generated by the campaign gave us good data as to the optimal posting times for various target audiences.
Patience was always required when an urgent message would need to be distributed. The natural tendency is to post it as soon as possible, but this is not always the best strategy. In some cases, the value of getting a message posted quickly was insignificant when the value of hitting the right audience was considered.
Finally, we did our best to pay attention to the pace of posts. Facebook is not friendly to pages that post multiple items within a short period of time. These items have the potential to be “rate limited” and summarized in the audience’s news feed with a label such as “See 3 more posts from Beto O’Rourke for Congress.” Twitter does not impose a rate limit like Facebook, so the posting rate is only limited to what the followers would tolerate before they considered it to be too frequent.
Because email doesn’t suffer from the audience access restrictions of Facebook, we found it to be an excellent way to send important messages to supporters. The website was doing a good job of collecting new email addresses, so the audience was constantly growing. The email system allowed users to opt-out on their own, which helped us keep the list clean and increased its efficiency.
Each email was coded so that we could track actions that took place based on links in the message. Actions included page views of news releases, completion of volunteer sign-up forms, and donations.
Requests for donations were a good test of the effectiveness of the various communications channels. By far, a request sent via email would receive a greater response than a request posted on Facebook.
Digital Ad Campaigns
We created and managed several digital ad campaigns. Campaigns were run on the following platforms:
- Google Display Ads
- El Paso Times
Early ad campaigns were created with the goal of expanding the supporter audience size as well as requesting donations. The first ad we ran on Facebook was a direct response to a Superbowl ad run by the Reyes campaign. It featured a page post that linked to a page on the website that fact checked the ad.
Both Facebook and Google offer incredible tools for targeting certain users based on a wide range of characteristics. Specifically, the Facebook ads allowed us to target “friends of fans” as well as groups such as “college students interested in politics.”
As early voting started we used these ad campaigns to give voters useful information about the voting process. Digital ads proved to be a valuable tool in the effort to get information in the hands of supporters at the precise moment they needed it. This will be covered in more detail in part four.
Based on our statistics, it was clear that each of the communication channels was hitting a mostly distinct audience. There was some overlap, but the audiences were largely separate from each other. For example, fans on Facebook would not be aware of content posted on the website or distributed via email unless we posted that content to Facebook.
The diagram above depicts how the various worlds overlapped and how they were separate (click to view larger). The circles indicate the relative size of each of the audiences. The lighter color is the size of the audience and the darker color is the portion of that audience we could reliably reach through that channel. Overlapping areas indicate supporters who were members of multiple channels. The amount of overlap represents an approximation of the quantity of members who met that criteria.
Not represented on the diagram is the potential audience (the friends of fans). If it was represented, the Facebook portion would be too large to display.
Because the ability to reliably deliver a message via the email channel was much more certain, efforts were made to get people from the other two channels to sign up on the email list. One technique we used in this effort was to make the Facebook supporters feel they were missing out if they weren’t receiving emails from the campaign. We would post items on Facebook that would say things like “We just sent an important update to supporters via email. If you didn’t get it, sign up here...”
Although there was an effort to get as many people into overlapping areas as possible, we knew we would never achieve full saturation, so content had to be distributed via all channels. Email messages were posted to Facebook and Twitter as links. Important messages were also posted to the website.
The value of having a reliable way to quickly communicate with supporters was critical to our election-time strategy. Part four will describe this strategy in more detail.