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How Cathy McGowan Won Indi

The final speaker at CMPM2014 today is Campbell Klose, and adviser on the wildly successful Cathy McGowan campaign which managed to unseat Liberal shadow minister Sophie Mirabella in the electorate of Indi in the 2013 Australian federal election. Indi is a very large electorate (roughly the size of the state of Massachusetts), with some 100,000 voters.

Early on, the Voice 4 Indi campaign began by holding some 55 kitchen table conversations with 425 participants, covering local and national issues. The results of this process were taken to Mirabella, who fundamentally disagreed with them and suggested Indi-ans cared only about cost of living issues; in response, the campaign vetted several candidates and finally settled on Cathy McGowan.

V4I then attracted volunteers, with each volunteer having to sign up to a shared value statement. These volunteers covered the entire political spectrum from the left to the right, and represented all the geographical areas covered by the electorate. Social media was used extensively to break down the geographical boundaries (such as mountain chains) separating these different areas – and the campaign conducted significant social media training with its diverse group of volunteers.

There were Facebook groups for volunteers in each of the towns in the electorate, and these were used to organise local events in collaboration with the central campaign office. But Facebook was also used to communicate directly with supporters, though at first it turned out many of these were in Melbourne, outside the electorate; the campaign then ran some very targetted Facebook ads to attract supporters and encourage young residents to enrol to vote. Facebook brought politics to the level of the people, then – and through Facebook McGowan received many invitations to speak in local gatherings.

Twitter, by contrast, was used more to connect with interested people outside the electorate, as well as with journalists across the country. And there was also a crowd funding campaign to try and counteract the expensive negative advertising campaign run by the Liberal Party, for which key celebrities from Malcolm Fraser to Corinne Grant were enrolled as supporters. This raised some $117,000 in online donations alone, with an average donation size of $26. The largest single donation was only $5000, documenting the grassroots nature of the campaign.

A tools called NationBuilder was used to connect the campaign's social media accounts and mine their engagement data. This enabled the geographic mapping of supporters, and thus the local targetting of messages and events. Such activities included key social events, such as dance nights, which attracted a substantial percentage of local residents in some towns. The campaign also generated several memes by encouraging locals to create and upload their own campaign materials.

Following advice from fellow independent Tony Windsor, the campaign focussed especially on the valleys: organising successful local engagement events in 100 people-strong towns, whose inhabitants would then carry their support into the larger centres as they came down to shop and undertake their other business. Local volunteers were also making cupcakes, badges, and campaign flyers; they would even walk through he towns singing the campaign's theme song.

The campaign spent $47,000 on print ads, $41,000 on broadcast ads, and $40,000 on campaign materials. Mirabella, apparently, spent $300,000 on advertising in the final week alone. And it generated at least one press release per day, as well as various colourful local events, ensuring that local media could not help but cover the campaign.

The main elements of this success were the lack of popularity of the incumbent, and the campaign's ability to position McGowan as a credible alternative. There was a strong bush telegraph with local volunteers, and empowering them to create their own events both made the campaign credible and attracted supporters.