New Sites Document Community Biochar Business Ventures

We've been working on a new group of websites to document AHG owner Adriel Hampton's efforts as a biochar entrepreneur. Adriel has been researching biochar as a carbon mitigation strategy, and has been interviewing popular chatbot ChatGPT about the ins and outs of biochar as an entrepreneurial focus.

You can read more about Adriel's biochar startup adventures at ClimateStartup.TV, where he is documenting the process of starting a biochar business, and interviewing interesting climate and carbon capture technology startups, founders, and entrepreneurs.

You can see more conversations between Adriel and ChatGPT about biochar at

We are also writing about a wide range of topics with a new focus on community biochar production and business development at

Adriel is interested in biochar production as a companion business to AHG's digital services. He recently asked ChatGPT about the growth in biochar and technology industries:

While the biochar industry is growing rapidly and has significant potential for further expansion, the technology industry is currently growing at a much faster pace. The technology industry has experienced rapid growth in recent years, driven by advances in areas such as artificial intelligence, cloud computing, and mobile devices. This growth has resulted in a wide range of new products and services, as well as significant changes to the way that businesses operate. While the biochar industry is an important and growing sector, it is not currently growing at the same pace as the technology industry.

Let's see what we can do to even things up...

Avoid Election-Season Burnout

Guest Post

Election season can be a stressful time for everyone, but it's especially hard on those of us working in politics and political media. Campaigning, working with email data and append services, reporting, and organizing volunteers for phone banking all take a toll. During the most intense peak of these cycles, it's important to be aware of the signs of burnout so you can avoid it.

Common symptoms 

Some commonly-reported symptoms of burnout include exhaustion, cynicism, and detachment. If you notice yourself slipping into these, it is especially important to take a step back and assess your situation. Is it possible to delegate any of your tasks? Take a moment to breathe and assess your workload so you can prioritize.

What can you do to preserve your mental health and react accordingly if you notice yourself burning out? 

  1. Make sure you're taking breaks and disconnecting from the news and social media every once in a while. This is a challenge when your job is directly related to what is happening in the media. If you cannot fully disconnect from the constant barrage of breaking news and online discourse, at least schedule 5-10 minute breaks from your screens. Taking breaks for a few minutes every few hours to clear your head and help you regulate your emotions will make maintaining relationships easier.
  2. Schedule time with friends and loved ones, and do things that help you unwind and relax. Mental overwhelm may have you feeling like you can’t look up from your work even for a minute but taking a walk together, making a meal, or taking a moment for a hug from a member of your family or support network can help you return to your tasks more relaxed and ready to focus.
  3. Exercise and eat healthy foods to help reduce unnecessary stress levels. Much of the stress is out of your control but what you put in your body is. This can be tough because fast food and sugary snacks are easy and convenient. Don’t forget to drink water and have some nourishing foods around even if you choose to visit a drive-through to save time.
  4. Avoid getting into arguments with people who have drastically different political views than you. This one may be the hardest of them all. Remember your energy is finite. You only have so much. Try to spend your limited time and attention on the things that matter and have the potential to create material change. Arguing rarely does anything but deplete you. Productive, good-faith conversations don’t include name-calling or a rise in blood pressure.

Remember that you're not alone and this experience is temporary. The stakes may be high but this period of urgency will end. This is easily forgotten in the thick of stress but you don’t have to suffer in isolation. Reach out to your network for support. Remember in times like these, a deep breath is always available and you will get through this. 'Til the next election!

Photo: Claudia Wolff / Unsplash

Four (Fun) Ways to Improve Marketing Performance

Data-driven marketing is about a lot more than just clean, complete lists with accurate phone, email, and address data. To get the best results for your outbound campaigns to reach and convert your prospective customers, it’s important to continually test and improve your campaigns. And we mean a lot more than simple A/B tests.

With our campaign advertising thinking caps on, we’ve put together four ways that you can test and improve your campaign performance to grow revenue faster:

Creative Test Design. The most common type of test is “A/B,” simply splitting an audience into two random samples—with different headlines for example—and then extending the more popular campaign to the remainder of your audience. A little boring…

Creative marketers are constantly looking at comparative performance data to improve the next campaign, and creating meaningful variations that help you understand the bigger picture. Can we segment our audience by meaningful differences such as housing status, household income, interest in environmentally friendly products, age, and more? Are we comparing results between like groups such as past customers vs. leads? Audience segmentation is one of the best ways to start measuring and improving your campaigns. (Use this resource to determine whether you have a meaningful sample size.)

Social Ads. With a platform like Meta (Instagram and Facebook ads), it’s simple and inexpensive to set up dynamic ad variants or several different campaigns with different creative and a custom or native audience. In many of our experiments, we’ve found that images often account for a 500% difference between winners and losers, and that the best image in a test of eight to 12 will be 30-100% better than the campaign average. You can do the same type of testing with text on images or on-ad descriptions. While Meta ads can automatically favor a winner, deliberate campaign design can help you tease out insights that will help all of your campaigns – even direct mail. You can also improve your website and other marketing materials based on what social media users tell you about your campaigns.

Layering Your Campaigns. Customers are more likely to buy if they see your campaigns all over the place. That could mean using Meta and Google’s ad platforms, but things get really exciting when you start using customer data to create custom digital audiences that match your offline marketing. What if everyone who got your calls, texts, or direct mail was also seeing your winning creative at their desktop and on their cell throughout the week? How about visitors to your site getting direct mail a week or two later?

Free Data Test. AHG client Accurate Append specializes in consumer data and can help improve your contact rate and custom digital audience matches. Accurate Append routinely provides more phone append and email append matches than the competition, and is happy to demonstrate. Visit their site and ask for a free data test to learn how many more opportunities to reach your contacts this data provider can add to your list.. Data-driven marketing isn’t just testing, it’s also about starting with the best possible audience outreach.

How to Build Your Company's Marketing Strategy From the Ground Up

If you’ve just started your own business, you need to increase visibility for your company. That means creating a comprehensive strategy for your brand new marketing department. Even if you’re interested in working with a marketing agency like The Adriel Hampton Group, you’ll want to spend a considerable amount of time plotting out the general details of your company’s marketing strategy. These steps will give you a blueprint for designing an effective marketing strategy for your company.

Invest in Templates

Even if you’re building your marketing strategy from the ground up, you don’t have to start completely from scratch. In fact, using premade templates to outline your brand details and different marketing initiatives can make the process much more efficient.

For example, if you’re getting ready to release a new product, you might be tempted to put together a unique go-to-market strategy - but chances are, you’ll be surprised by how complex this task really is. To make matters easier, you can utilize a go-to-market strategy template. A template like this will help you organize your business plan and marketing strategy along with other key details for your product launch. By creating your strategy with a premade template, you can establish a seamless process.

Hire Support

With your long to-do list as a business owner, you might not have much time to focus exclusively on marketing. While you’ll want to be involved in the development of your marketing strategy, you may want to hire marketing specialists to handle the bulk of the work in this area. Reach out to your network to see if any of your professional contacts can refer you to marketing experts.

Identify Your Target Customers

In order to get a significant return on investment from your marketing efforts, you need to have a specific idea of your target customer. Basically, you’ll need an in-depth understanding of their demographics, budget, and the problems that your company can help them solve with your products and services. If you’re still unsure of your audience, Market Evolution recommends looking closely at the consumers that your competitors target with their own marketing initiatives - who are they attempting to reach?

Establish Your Brand Identity

You want to ensure that all of your marketing materials clearly convey your brand’s identity. But what if you’re still a little uncertain about your brand identity? Don’t stress - working with your team to determine the values you want your brand to communicate, and how you can visually represent these values, is an opportunity to get creative and dive into the purpose of your business. Rebrandly recommends thinking about your company’s mission and what kind of brand voice will resonate with your audience. You should also consider how your font, color scheme, and logo will appeal to your customers.

Consider Your Messaging

In marketing terms, messaging refers to what you’re saying to your audience. But you don’t just want to focus on the content of your message - you also need to carefully determine your tone and how you can play with language to connect with your customers. Depending on which channel you’re concentrating on, you may need to modify your messaging slightly due to the medium itself or the specific customer segment you’re trying to reach. You can brainstorm different messages for each campaign.

Digital Channels

If you’re unfamiliar with the concept of marketing channels, it’s time to brush up on your knowledge! A marketing channel refers to a platform or communication route that you use to get in touch with your audience. For example, digital channels include email marketing, social media marketing, video advertising, and even search engine optimization. Digital marketing is a great way to connect with younger, tech-savvy consumers.

Offline Channels

Although lots of companies focus on digital marketing today, you don’t want to neglect offline marketing channels like cold calling, direct mail marketing, and placing ads in print publications, especially if you’re trying to advertise to an older customer base. Bulletin boards in local cafes, telephone poles, and billboards can also function as offline marketing channels!

Measure KPIs

How can you really be sure that your marketing strategy is working? You need to measure and monitor several key performance indicators to ensure that you’re getting the results you want. There are endless KPIs you could measure, so try not to get too overwhelmed! You’ll want to start by focusing on cost per customer acquisition, customer retention, cost per lead, marketing qualified leads, and, of course, sales revenue.

If you’re fairly new to the basic principles of marketing, designing your company’s marketing strategy can seem tricky. But once you get a clear picture of your target audience and start testing out different methods, you’ll quickly start to learn which promotional techniques work best for your business. With time, you’ll be able to grow your customer base!

Ready to optimize your organization’s marketing strategy? The Adriel Hampton Group can help you reach new audiences. Email us today at [email protected] to get started.

Photo by Kindel Media from Pexels

Tips for Hiring Freelance Marketing and Sales Pros to Support Your Business

Guest post by Jenna Sherman from Photo by Amy Hirschi on Unsplash.

As a business owner, you rely on marketing and sales experts to attract customers and drive growth. However, if you're just getting your business off the ground, you may not have the means to build a full-scale marketing and sales team yet. Don't worry. Freelance professionals can help you fill the gaps and give you the support you need. Agencies like The Adriel Hampton Group help businesses like yours scale up, giving you professional insights from a trusted external source. Read on to find out how to find the right experts to get started.

Understand the benefits of hiring freelancers

You might think that it's preferable to have an internal team to handle your marketing and sales. In fact, inviting an external point of view is often preferable, as you'll get fresh insights from an objective third party. Hiring from outside of your company has other benefits too. You'll be able to tap into specialized expertise and enjoy the greater flexibility that comes with hiring independent contractors. You'll also save significantly, as you'll pay for what you need when you need it.

Identify what type of freelancers you need

There are many niches in the sales and marketing field, so it's important to narrow down your needs. Hubspot provides a list of types of marketing to help you figure it out. In some cases, you may not need a person for the job but can rely on "off-the-shelf" services. For example, if you haven't established a formal business entity, you can use a business formation service like ZenBusiness. This is cheaper than a lawyer, and creating an entity like an LLC will help you save money, reduce paperwork burden, and protect your legal liability.

Write detailed and targeted job ads

Once you know exactly what roles you want to fill using freelance sales and marketing professionals, it's time to write job ads. The key to a successful job ad is detail. There are a few questions to ask yourself as you craft the ad, such as why there is a need for this project position, what personality traits will make a person successful in the role, and what credentials they need. You also want to think about how you can attract top talent. That means highlighting the benefits you offer, such as a budget for software and equipment.

Set up an interview screening process

Once you've posted your job ad, the applications will start rolling in. As you screen resumes, have your original job posting in front of you. This will allow you to directly compare the wants and needs of your post with the profile of the applicant. You can then narrow down the pool to a handful of applicants to interview in person or via video chat. BetterTeam provides a guide to running a good interview, like preparing questions in advance. You may also want to take notes during the interview. 

Create an onboarding process

Once you've completed your interviews and chosen your final applicant, it's time to get started. Don't just throw your freelancers into the deep end and expect them to swim. Give them the tools they need to succeed. For example, if you use collaboration tools like Asana or Slack, make sure they have access to these. Establishing a rigorous onboarding process can help your new talent feel at ease. Start by establishing a visual connection to the team via an introductory Zoom call.

Craft a detailed sales and marketing plan

You hired your sales and marketing freelancers because you want them to help your business grow. To make sure that happens, sit down with them to create a detailed sales and marketing plan. Ideally, sales and marketing will work in tandem, creating a supportive network. Marketing should attract new leads, which sales should then convert to new customers. Talk to your freelancers about your goals and how to best achieve them. Then, create a written plan you can all refer to.

Identify critical KPIs to measure success

When drafting your sales and marketing plan, make sure to discuss key performance indicators, KPIs. Rhythm Systems explains the importance of KPIs, revealing that they allow you to analyze patterns, track progress, monitor company health, and make adjustments to stay on track. KPIs are also great for seeing how well your freelancers are working. For example, if you wanted 100 new leads in a month, did they achieve that? If you aren't achieving your KPIs, it may be time to adjust your sales and marketing plan.

Maintain regular communication with your team

One of the challenges of working with freelancers is communication. Take a proactive approach to this hurdle by setting up clear communication strategies and policies upfront. There are many tools you can use to stay in contact with people who aren't on-site, like Slack, Skype, Zoom, and Dropbox. Encourage your team to download the necessary tools and use them regularly. This ensures that your freelancers feel seen and are comfortable coming to you with questions or concerns.

External sales and marketing professionals can benefit your business in many ways. However, you want to make sure you're hiring the right people. Follow the steps above for success.

Want more content about leveraging sales and marketing for greater business success? Check out the Adriel Hampton Group blog.

The Pandemic and the Transition to New Political Communication

The COVID-19 pandemic has upended a lot of assumptions. We used to think that things like work location, physical proximity and functional spatiality were all fixed concepts. Remote work was considered a novelty and people were expected to gather together in the same space for organizational functions. Yes, some of that was already changing, with forward-minded activists and entrepreneurs developing collaborative platforms where work and communication could take place from anywhere with a signal. But mainstream society still saw this as a novelty.

The pandemic altered this by forcing us to consciously define, "essential" work, and the ruling class hasn't done a very good job with its version of these redefinitions. From insisting that education (primary, secondary, and college/university) could not be moved into safer physical space to forcing dangerous situation onto retail and restaurant workers, they proved they do not take care of the workers they need and employ and instead use their very essentiality to force them into precarious workplaces.

This insistence on proximity, as we'll call it, is also reflected in far-right populist political gatherings, from maskless Trump rallies (which will presumably re-start soon) to mob attacks on governmental spaces. It's this trajectory — this growing insistence by those in financial power, or those seeking illegitimate political power, that we "show up," that our bodies be there — that I want to examine by taking a closer look at the conversation about covid-19 and governance.

I'll start with Professor Andrew S. Roe-Crines's February 23 essay in The Conversation.  Roe-Crines uses the impact of the pandemic on British Parliamentary PMQs to express concern about the future of democracy, which he sees as reliant on (in my own words) a physical immediacy and spontaneity. He writes:

The impact of COVID on these rhetorical arena affects the ability of one of our key democratic norms to function – communication. Without communication (or rhetoric), there is no meaningful liberal democratic society or scrutiny of our political leaders. This is not to suggest our liberal democracy has ceased to function (indeed, its move into the virtual realm is a testament to its strength). However, the manner in which PMQs is currently functioning impedes not just scrutiny but also the ability of party leaders to lead their parliamentary parties.

I've included the whole paragraph because I want to dwell on the weirdness of it. The author recognizes that the move into virtual processes and gatherings is a testament to democracy's strength, but believes, and goes on to articulate, that some essential part of political rhetoric is lost when crowds do not gather. There's never really a global definition of what rhetoric is, but there's an assumption about not being able to exercise the same quality of leadership absent physical immediacy.

Roe-Crines continues by saying that without an immediate crowd, leadership can't be discerned: "The virtual conference cuts out a key measure of how much support a leader really has – the sound of the audience. Without that feedback, party leaders are left speaking into a camera in the hope that the audience accepts their arguments without really knowing if it does." Of course the "audience" that is residents of the UK is very different from the "audience" one would be speaking to in PMQ. Plus, the whole argument is quite creepy, particularly when seen through a lens of ability, political and economic geography, and the actual danger of right-wing populism having less to do with it being populism and more to do with who is funding it.

I'm left to wonder why we wouldn't consider new Q and A formats that would try to find the spontaneity and authenticity the author wants without requiring people to inhabit particular geophysical public space. "Gone are loud displays of support, or the need for the Speaker to regularly demand 'order!' . . . little to no interaction with the physical or virtual audiences of MPs." Frankly, all of this seems like a logistical problem.

Which brings me to Aristotle. Aristotle defined rhetoric as the ability to see and deploy the available means of persuasion in a given situation to win over your audience. This materialist and historicist definition is extremely pragmatic. Rhetoric so-defined isn't damaged, undermined, or limited by the transition from in-person to virtual collective action. It just changes. It just needs a new set of methods.

Furthermore, if the initial argument is that lack of physical proximity undermines connection, Aline Burni's observations about the role of empathy in leadership during COVID, and its connection to superior forms of political leadership (if your measuring stick is pandemic survival and functionality) found in states with female leaders, subsumes any argument about the breakdown of democracy due to space and distance regulation. The importance in political communication, particularly during crisis, lies in ability to connect rather than mobilize a proximate crowd. In fact, that connection is exactly what my client Accurate Append has offered during the pandemic: it has provided quality email append services to enable organizations and companies in touch to support those who support them.

Political scientist Aline Burni studies international and transnational cooperation at the German Development Institute. Burni writes: "During the COVID-19 pandemic, female leaders have been portrayed by the media as more competent and efficient in dealing with the outbreak. A study by the University of Reading has provided evidence that countries led by women entered lockdown significantly earlier. Consequently, these countries suffered less in terms of COVID-19 infections and deaths, at least in the first wave." Now, we don't need to dwell too much on female leader X vs female leader Y — that kind of overly-analytic approach is not helpful. Burni is intellectually honest sticking to the first wave in this very recent article, and we know that there are always exceptions to any general conclusion, and we're seeking general observations about leadership attributes.

Importantly, ". . . the study emphasises [that] the proactive attitude of females compared to male leaders (earlier lockdowns) that helped to avoid deaths” is a universalizable trait. There is also a plurality of often creative "crisis communication approaches" which Burni frames as opportunities for leaders to connect with constituents. The clincher: "In general, there is not one successful model of crisis communication. However, it appears that communication has been more effective when based on a balance between science, rationality and emotions simultaneously, especially when the leader expresses empathy."

We know that people find ways to express empathy on conferencing platforms and constituent communication system, and that deep canvassing methods as well as streams of transparent and useful information (constantly accessible "news" from every level of government, delivered via tweets, for example) can even shape quantitative data gathering around communicated human needs. And some technologies can be empathetic.

Empathy seems far more important than physical proximity in exercising good leadership. The privileging of physical proximity is old world, assumes a level of material privilege, and is patriarchal in that it depends on control of the powerful over the proximity of others.

Empathy, the recognition that others have moral worth and consideration on par with one's own, must include a literal, material "taking one where one is." That makes egalitarian, equally-distributed communication technology essential for collective action and decision making, as well as just checking in on the well-being of constituents.


Is a Mars Mission Feasible?

In an interview late in his life, Carl Sagan speculated on the number of reasons humans would want to colonize Mars. "I don't know why you're on Mars," he said. "Maybe you're there because we recognize we have to carefully move small asteroids around to avert the possibility of one impacting the Earth . . . maybe we're on Mars because we recognize that if there are human communities on many different worlds, the chances of us being rendered extinct by some catastrophe on one world is much less. Or maybe we're on Mars because of the magnificent science that can be done there, that the gates of the wonder world are opening in our time. Or maybe we're on Mars because we have to be, because there's a deep nomadic impulse built into us by the evolutionary process."

In theory, everybody wants to go to Mars, at least in the sense that it remains the aspirational goal of nearly everyone interested in space travel to send humans to Mars and possibly establish a colony. Even Apollo astronauts like Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins want us to do it. At one point, the president apparently offered NASA an unlimited budget with the mandate that they stop everything else they're doing and focus entirely on Mars. The consensus (and an obvious conclusion) is that we won't get to Mars during this presidency, but it's not clear the president knows that. Whether he knows it or not, his administration is compromising by encouraging stepped-up "lunar missions seen as vital steps toward sending Americans to Mars by 2033." Congress apparently wishes the administration was moving even  faster to Mars, and the U.S. House of Representatives has continued to pressure the administration to prioritize Mars over more Moon landings.

Numerous private sector forces also give us reason to be optimistic. Those companies will need massive government funding, though. They often operate at fairly marginal profit lines, particularly when they're developing cutting edge technology with high development and production costs. Making the jump from Earth-based demonstrations to the feasibility of replication on other planets is a huge leap of faith that private investors are unlikely to want to take on their own. 

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said last year that he did not "rule out a first human mission to Mars as soon as 2033." He pointed out that NASA is working on such a plan based on already-existing (or near development) technologies used to get to the Moon, and it's that assumption that the technology can be transposed that is responsible for the otherwise audacious speculation that we could actually get to Mars in 13 years. Less optimistic analysis says such a mission could not be conducted before 2037, but for those of us watching from home, a four-year difference in projections seems like splitting hairs. More rovers are planned in order to collect soil samples from Mars to aid in planning human settlements there. 

But the naysayers — and there are many — say that, at present, too many feasibility issues exist. These include cost (which is more of a political question) and technological capacity. The cost has to be looked at as a function not only of the distance to Mars (and thus the need to pack tremendous amounts of supplies for both the journey and the stay), but also of the cost of each individual piece of the project.  "A trip to Mars would take six to eight months each way, plus the time it would take astronauts to explore the planet when they get there," according to experts. Other consultants point to the high cost of transporting things from Earth to Mars, in the magnitude of $1.5 million per pound of instruments, robots, food, etc. 

Then there's the dangers found in both the journey to and the "settlement" of the planet. As George Dvorsky at Gizmodo writes, "a Martian colony would be miserable, with people forced to live in artificially lit underground bases, or in thickly protected surface stations with severely minimized access to the outdoors" — a recipe for sickness, depression and other dysfunction. Mars has no magnetic field, thin air, and therefore major vulnerability to radiation

On the question of radiation, NASA appears to want answers sooner rather than later. The agency is sending radiation sensors on its upcoming lunar launch tests to track exposure levels, which can help scientists calculate the amount of radiation in the much longer journey to Mars. We already know that there would be a lot of radiation exposure on the trip a lot there and back, and that any travelers would be sitting ducks — fried ducks, even — on the planet. Being there would be dangerous unless one were so well-shielded that their body wouldn't be in contact with anything Martian or human. At that point, why not only explore it virtually? 

Orbital missions may have to suffice — assuming the radiation of the journey can be mitigated. Perhaps the orbital station could serve as an interim mission allowing very short trips to the surface, probes to both Martian moons, and more. 

Several years ago, Bethany L Ehlmann, Professor of Planetary Science at the California Institute of Technology, wrote a feasibility study and CBA on a Mars mission. Ehlmann concluded that the mission would be economically feasible, that technology could be developed to overcome the radiation risks to travellers, and that ultimately such a decision is "political" rather than scientific. That may very well be; as with so much of what we take to be "natural," feasibility is in the eye of the beholder and is a question of what we are willing to prioritize in terms of economics and human resources. But given the political and economic playing field as it currently exists, we could not presently get to Mars (at least get to the surface long enough to establish a semi-decent base camp) without cutting some dangerous corners. 

Until then, whenever "then" is — and meaning whenever we make the political decision that the comprehensive mission is feasible — we will likely keep stepping tantalizingly closer. We already know it isn't impossible. In many people's minds, that means it's inevitable. 


This post is sponsored by our client, Accurate Append, who offers affordable and high quality email, phone and data appending services.

Can Tech Help Get Out the Vote in a Chaotic Election?


Success in getting out the vote — motivating potential voters to register and then participate in mail-in or in-person voting — acts as the canary in the coal mine for American democracy. Voting is something that the least powerful and most marginalized groups in U.S. society don't do nearly as often as their wealthy and more privileged counterparts. Dambisa Moyo, who writes about democracy, pointed out in a New York Times piece last year that "nearly half the people who don’t vote [in the United States] have family incomes below $30,000, and just 19 percent of likely voters come from low-income families. So it’s hardly surprising that the Economist Intelligence Unit's Democracy Index downgraded the United States from a 'full democracy' to a 'flawed democracy' in 2017, based on diminished voter engagement and confidence in the democratic process."

So with a consensus that there's a lot at stake in the 2020 elections, you'd think voter turnout would be at an all-time high. But that thinking doesn't take Covid-19 or true voter suppression efforts into account. Some people are (justifiably) afraid to go out, while others are nefariously discouraged from voting. And this time around — in 2020 — fighting these trends won't be easy. Not only are we experiencing a never-ending pandemic, it's also impossible even under the best circumstances to keep track of all the illegitimate mechanisms some states are using to keep people from voting. 

In normal circumstances, in-person interactions are the key to almost all effective political engagement, especially where motivating people from scratch is concerned; but, as has been established, these are not normal times. We might be able to maintain relationships remotely, but starting those relationships is much more difficult as long as constituents, potential voters, donors and/or activists must remain at technological arm's length. Though some candidate and voter drives are taking place in-person, these events carry a COVID-19 stigma and, even in safe conditions, most people will not show up to things they don't have to show up to. With the election only a handful of days away, technology is all we really have. 

Getting out the vote requires two elements: people need access, and they need enthusiasm. One can explain access remotely but not provide it. And one can transmit enthusiasm, but one better be darn good at it. Tech companies, social media platforms, and app makers are all doing their best. Some companies are providing tools that bolster existing GOTV efforts by connecting campaigns and organizations with potential voters. Accurate Append, for example, provides data append, phone append and email append services that help facilitate the important work of getting out the vote. 

Some tech companies are doing GOTV work themselves. Several platform and content creators in the greater Los Angeles area "are leveraging their influence to encourage voting by Gen Z and millennial audiences as registration deadlines approach." These companies and innovators are creating voting guides and tools that they hope will "motivate first-time voters to cast a ballot." Most GOTV tech apps already begin with the premise that in-person interactions are important, and so a handful of them seem to be making an effort to replicate those interactions, either through peer-to-peer GOTV reminders and canvassing, or through widespread campaigning on the availability of the tech. On that note, Snapchat had registered a million voters by October 1 of this year, and over 60% of those users were between the ages of 18 and 24. 

Why is the 18 to 24 cohort important? Age and adaptability are key factors in the tech transition. Since the last presidential election in 2016, over 15 million people have turned 18, and are thus eligible to vote for the first time. Even a fraction of that number can swing state and local races. In fact — as we saw in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania — a few tens of thousands of people voting or not voting can even swing the electoral college for a presidential contender. 

Events (which can be done in a fun way online, requiring some planning) are still important in building GOTV enthusiasm. Recently at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, student groups hosted a GOTV Fest focused on motivating communities of color to vote. 1000 people attended online, thanks to the efforts of MITVote, the Asian American Initiative, Latino Cultural Center, American Indian Science and Engineering Society, Chinese Students Club, the South Asian Association of Students and the Black Students’ Union. It was done through Zoom. 

The sweet spot would be finding a way to utilize the spirit of deep canvassing in the service of mobilizing first-time voters. It's already been used (and tested by research) in the context of deliberation designed to increase tolerance and decrease bigotry. That research tried to identify “the secret ingredient that makes deep canvassing work" and examined the role of actual deep communication with people in Tennessee, Central California, and Southern California, all prior to the 2018 elections. These are places where cultural worlds collide, including places with strong nativist and conservative tendencies running smack into the reality of ICE raids and immigrant workers. 

Of course, perhaps the reason tech companies aren't doing more to get out the vote is that those companies themselves aren't particularly good at encouraging their own workers to vote. This seems to be the case with Amazon, a company purporting to have progressive values. Currently, thousands of tech employees at Amazon recently "signed a petition calling for the e-commerce giant to provide paid time off to all of its employees to vote." That's 1.3 million workers (if you include both Amazon and Amazon-owned Whole Foods) total who, if eligible, would benefit from this policy and the resulting accessibility of voting. That's not a small number. 

The petition calls for eight hours of paid leave, and if that seems like too much, consider that some people are waiting in line for longer than that just to be able to vote early. Additionally, the eight hours can be spread out — time to register, time to volunteer, and time to vote. That is a sweet package, and Amazon should grant it. 

Technology’s attempt to keep up with democracy's demands has always been tough, but it's been made tougher because people are rightly afraid of too much social interaction and because the government currently displays no support for voting rights. Thankfully, people step up when institutions fail; and the tech sector — increasingly decentralized and facilitative of grassroots activism — has stepped up impressively.

Ideographs in the Economy of Political Communication

If you were to open up any campaigning handbook to the messaging section, you’d inevitably find exhortations, commands, and reminders to keep your messages short: short slogans, non-complex sentences, memorable short phrases. It’s reminiscent of being lectured on saving money by older folks when I was younger; there’s a similar appeal to the scarcity of resources. 

Anybody who works on campaigns understands that discourse is an economy. Simply put, we always have little time and limited space to say as much as we can, and hope that the right things get remembered. Although AI can create algorithms and we can tip the scales through microtargeting and other data-driven surgical strikes — something that data append vendors like Accurate Append can help support — no candidate can or will try to escape the burden of messaging. It’s just too important. 

Rhetorical scholars study this economy of discourse, the way meaning can be denotatively packed into words and other symbols and signs. For Aristotle, rhetoric was a skill, and the ability to see the available means of persuasion in any given situation. He believed that audiences shared common iconic thoughts and history with speakers, so speakers should naturally use familiar words and phrases to take advantage of those topoi, those common places. 

One of the more interesting analytical tools for studying the way that a few words can speak many more words — or how symbols and words can combine — is the "ideograph," the most comprehensive treatment of which comes from the work of comm-rhetorical scholar Michael Calvin McGee. 

The ideograph is subtly different from the "ideogram" although the two are sometimes used interchangeably. An ideogram is a graphic symbol representing a concept independent of a particular language. The parameters of that definition are a bit fuzzy, but what scholars typically mean are things like Egyptian hieroglyphics, or symbols put in multilingual public spaces like the fifty DOT pictograms conveying things like train stations, hotels, or toilets. Ideograms are symbols that mean words.

In contrast, ideographs — as Michael Calvin McGee explains in his definitive article on the ideograph in 1980 — make symbols out of words. Ideographs are phrases or sentences that create or reinforce political and, ultimately, ideological positions. That these are ideological and not just political is important. Politics are minutiae: policies, one candidate or another, personality disputes. Ideology is systemic, moral, committed. An ideograph saying simply that public transit would save energy would not be very effective. On the other hand, an ideograph that said "public transportation: good for everyone, good for the planet" pushes the idea into the realm of the ideological. It conceptualizes public transportation in terms of the common good, the need for universal infrastructure, a commitment to environmental sustainability.

There's an assumption in McGee's work — and in much study of political rhetoric — that ideology is always going to be characterized by sloganeering of one kind or another. There's always an assumption that things must be simplified, though not because people are unintelligent and cannot understand ideas in all their complexity. The goal is not to be like Snowball, the revolutionary pig in Orwell's Animal Farm, who deliberately simplifies everything for the animals who aren't as smart. Rather, the goal is, in recognizing the ‘economy’ of discourse, to economize our words: our time and resources are scarce, other people's time and resources are scarce, and the demands of the world and the diversity of culture and thought (particularly in a huge country like the United States) force the choices of a finite world. 

Ideographs work because people already (mostly) understand and agree with them when they see them. In containing their unique ideological commitment, McGee argues, ideographs rest on the assumption that everyone in a particular "community" or cluster of belief will understand their complexity and nuance. Consider a well-known joke as an analogy: the purpose isn’t the punchline, it’s getting people into the joke itself. 

In this respect, ideographs often use another rhetorical device called enthymeme. In its classical sense (again developed and explained by Aristotle), the enthymeme is a type of syllogism where one of the premises is hidden or suppressed. The word has later come to mean any kind of argument, formal or informal, where the speaker/writer assumes that the audience already knows part of the information necessary to walk from the introduction to the conclusion. When a Republican operative said in 2007 that they knew the American people weren't going to elect "Barack Hussein Obama" as president and over-enunciated "Hussein," that was an enthymeme. There, the suppressed premise was that the name "Hussein" denoted terrorism, an Iraq despot, and/or Islam (thereby stoking Islamophobia). Enthymemes are natural allies to ideographs, because they reduce the amount of words needed to make a point and don't have to be argumentatively or logically accountable for every word used. 

Trump’s slogan, "Make America Great Again," is a strong ideograph. It's a short and proactive phrase using ordinary language to indicate a virtual Las Vegas buffet of ideological commitment. Its conservatism is found in the word "again," suggesting a return to the past. Its radicalism and populism is found in the word "make," indicating the need for proactive restoration of a golden age. The enthymeme — the argument with the hidden premise — is "America," and implicitly indicates that there are certain forces that have rendered America no-longer great. These forces might include President Obama, hatred of whom is an obsession for Trump. Similarly, they might include the "deep state" that the administration constantly invokes to convey an image of powerful corrupt insiders. 

McGee calls the ideograph "a high-order abstraction representing collective commitment to a particular but equivocal and ill-defined normative goal." That ambiguity, along with its ability to do a lot with a little, gives it utility as a tool of campaigning and mobilization. It creates a common mythos, strengthened by each person’s commitment to an unstated moral imperative. 

Propaganda vs Disinformation: What's the Difference?

The idea that powerful people lie to us to achieve political objectives seems like the bleakest of political truths. There is a silver lining, though: it's the idea that they think they have to lie to us, that they must lie to us because they would be unable to achieve those objectives without lying. If that's true, then it's also possible to understand their lies, why they lie, and why the lies work. Once we do that, the thinking goes, we can fight back against dishonesty..

Casting political lies as a problem and methodological understanding as the solution is pretty modernist, grounded in Enlightenment thinking: lies are a problem, diagnosis and understanding are the beginnings of solutions. I think that an understanding of what we mean by "disinformation" complicates this problem-solution scheme, but not fatally. What we need to do is understand disinformation not so much as "political and economic leaders lie" as "there is always already disinformation."

By "always already" I don't mean, and I hope it doesn't sound like I mean, that every political statement from the elites is a lie, or even that every political entity is involved in disinformation. It's true that there is "spin" in every political statement, but both solidarity (how committed the leader is to her constituents) and motive are important, and just because something is "rhetorical" or even "propaganda" doesn't mean it's disinformation. Some definition of terms:

Propaganda refers to "information, ideas, opinions, or images, often only giving one part of an argument, that are broadcast, published, or in some other way spread with the intention of influencing people's opinions . . ." I like this definition because although it admits to the one-sided nature of propaganda, it stops short of calling propaganda dishonest per se. George Orwell is famous for declaring all propaganda to be lies, but he wasn't technically correct. Propaganda is the production and promulgation of ideological or political rhetoric. We might distinguish propaganda from product marketing and labeled advertising, while including search engine optimization, like the work we do for cell phone and demographic append lead vendor Accurate Append and recommended for the Medicare-for-All movement. Rhetoric is just what we call methodology of persuasion, so it doesn't intrinsically imply dishonesty, and certainly not intentional dishonesty. But hold that thought, because propaganda can be part of disinformation.

Disinformation as a term of art in diplomacy and espionage means “false information, as about a country’s military strength or plans, disseminated by a government or intelligence agency in a hostile act of tactical political subversion.” This is pretty narrow. It's a tacticalthough it can be a tactic used against the general public, rather than diplomats, military leaders, or public officials. But the analysis broadens a little: disinformation can also mean “deliberately misleading or [deliberately] biased information; manipulated narrative or facts; propaganda.” Although this circling back to propaganda makes things imprecise, I think the most accurate way to describe that relationship is that disinformation utilizes propaganda; the two are not the same. Not all manipulation is intentionally disinformation. According to Democracy Reporting International, there were instances of "manipulation of public information in 12 countries in 2019 ahead of or during elections." But not all of that is "disinformation" in the strictest sense of the term.

Disinformation is also often distinguished from misinformation, which is "false information that is spread, regardless of intent to mislead." Disinfo can utilize both misinfo and propaganda. The ubiquity of disinformation is that it lies, always dwelling in amoral political institutions, somewhere between propaganda and deliberate, bad-faith lies, becoming concretely the latter, the big lies, when the elites (of whichever faction) think it's time to deploy such lies. It's always there, it's always ready. But it takes resources, and so it happens with great intention.

Purveyors of disinformation often hide it in other sites or platforms. "Honest" political propaganda and polemic, on the other hand, is found on openly political platforms, where people know they're going to be subject to a variety of (often passionate and combative) political opinions. Call it propaganda with a warning label versus disinformation placed to bombard the consumer without representing itself as a side in a debate or part of a larger conversation.

The Democracy Reporting International research found such strategies in Tunisia and Sri Lanka: "Facebook pages focusing on entertainment with murky affiliation and ownership, which consistently posted and sponsored political messages" and "celebrity-focused pages . . .  sharing misleading political content in the run-up to the 2019 presidential elections."

Propaganda has always been intrinsically linked to news productionand again, not an "exception" to or aberration of news. Alexander the Great had newsmakers accompany him on his epic campaign eastward, and these "embedded reporters" would send messengers home with reports of the conqueror's exploits and victories and even the metaphysical claim that he was son of Zeus. We call that propaganda, even though it probably contained a lot of tall tales. But what Athenian general Themistocles did to the Persian king Xerxes in 480 BC, convincing him to wage a naval battle based on information that the Greeks weren't ready to fight, was disinformation in the term-of-art sense. Propaganda spins. Disinformation creates "from whole cloth," or out of little or nothing.

We can learn something about the distinct power of disinformation by studying the role of the Soviet State Security Committee in the 1980s, and Russia and Chinese agencies currently, concerning pandemic and epidemic disinformation. The Soviet State Security Committee (AKA the KGB), since-publicized internal documents reveal, launched a campaign to convince the world that the AIDS virus was "the result of secret experiments by the USA’s secret services and the Pentagon with new types of biological weapons that have spun out of control." The plot utilized "forged documents and inaccurate testimony from purported experts to suggest that HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, had originated not from infected animals in Africa but from biological warfare research carried out by U.S. military scientists at Fort Detrick in Maryland." This is remarkably specific disinformationcarefully planned and engineered. The project was immensely successful, because its goals were to at least muddy the informational waters and at most turn people completely against the U.S. on false pretenses. Similarly, arguments that COVID-19 "was invented in a lab or brought to China by U.S. soldiers," along with questioning whether various safety protocols actually work, or claiming it doesn't affect tobacco smokers, rely on deliberately constructed false arguments about facts rather than moral sentiments or general impressions more characteristic to ideological propaganda.

Casting doubt, or getting people to disengage, is a top-level disinformation program goal. The objective need not be a vote for your candidate or yes vote in a referendum. It might be influencing people not to vote at all, which is one less vote for the opponent. According to Rafael Goldzweig, Cambridge Analytica successfully influenced the 2016 UK Brexit referendum and the 2016 U.S. elections, using misinformation designed to either influence the vote or get people to not vote.

Understanding the difference between propaganda and disinformation is important as we enter the final months of the 2020 election cycle because many people will conflate the two, and thus be unable to understand the difference between the candidates who are simply good at spin and those actively engaged in the production and distribution of factually wrong, deliberately promulgated information. Evan Halper's recent L.A. Times piece points out that Democrats have become "adept at tracking the origin and spread of the disinformation," but "have yet to find an effective strategy for depriving it of oxygen," especially since so many social media platforms appear to be willing to let some threads of disinformation run their course rather than stopping them at the point of dissemination. Perhaps the distinction between spin and deliberately manufactured untruths can help people understand that, even though disinformation is always around, not all candidates or public officials openly embrace it.