A quarter million doesn’t go as far as it used to

Rand Paul’s $250,000 money bomb is being treated like a dud for failing to meet the lofty $400,000 goal the campaign set for it.  For a Kentucky Senate race, a cool quarter mil is far from chump change, but the dour coverage shows the value of managed expectations in setting benchmarks for online metrics.

Paul inherited from his father a reputation for both staunch libertarianism and savvy online organizing, which make his swings-and-misses at online fundraising and Facebook recruitment much more pronounced.  But Paul isn’t the only one who falls into the trap of easy metrics: dollars raised online, Facebook “likes”, Twitter follower counts, and other obvious numbers are easy to understand, so issue and candidate campaigns alike will use them as benchmarks for impact.

Two problems stem from this.  First, metrics which are easy to understand are not always easy to obtain.  Second, having big numbers doesn’t always translate to big impact.  Having 100,000 Facebook followers who don’t vote is just like having 100 Facebook followers who don’t vote.  Further, there comes a time when a campaign must balance the effort of recruitment with the reality of mobilization.

In the particular case of the campaign’s recent online fundraising attempt, Rand’s supporters may be suffering from money bomb fatigue, since the campaign has used the tactic regularly.  They might be feeling the pinch of a tough economy, and giving $25 where they would have given $50.  But none of that would be in the discussion if, at the outset, the campaign had set a reasonable benchmark for dollars.  There are plenty of completely legitimate explanations for why Paul raised “only” $250,000 – but what really requires explanation is the original expectation for $400,000.

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