For many first-time candidates, the web can be an intimidating experience. There’s a lot of talk about how essential it is to have a campaign website and to engage voters through social media. Technology trends from larger campaigns have even trickled down to local races. It’s true that there is a lot more to know today, and the bar has been raised as to what the public expects from online political campaigns.
If all of this is new to you, relax! Before you worry about what website you are going to put up, how you will build your email list, and what Facebook pages you will create, keep these items in mind. These should help clear up common misconceptions and give you a leg up on an opponent who is less web-savvy!
Websites don’t win elections: Good candidates and effective campaigns win elections. Campaign websites and social media are ways to communicate with voters – not an end to themselves. Online support only matters if you can translate it to votes. If all your campaigning consists of are website updates, sending Tweets and posting Facebook updates, then you are going to be in trouble. The web has added to the rules of traditional political campaigning – it hasn’t replaced them.
Nobody finds your site automatically: Just putting up a website and expecting visitors is a recipe for failure. Getting people to find your site when they search for your name or the office you are seeking takes a little work. Not only should you promote your website in your offline print literature and campaign signage, but you should actively build links from other websites.
Content matters: The only thing more important than having a campaign website is the content within it. Tell voters who you are, where you stand on the issue, how they can volunteer and donate, and how they can help spread the word about your campaign. Regular updates are important, as they give people a reason to return to your site again and again.
You don’t have to spend a fortune to be online: The price of a Facebook page and Twitter account is nothing. A campaign website cost can vary, but we’re always sad to hear how a small campaign spent two, three or even five thousand dollars or more just to get a small site up and running. (We’re a lot less, by the way.) Political campaigns are dynamic and website updates should be frequent. If you have to pay an outsider every time you want to make a change to your site, that’s money lost that could go toward other things – like campaign signs, mailings or fundraising outreach.
Following the rules are a must: Be sure to follow any disclaimers and other local rules, such as what you can and cannot include in your website design. At the very least, not following the rules can become a distraction if opponents make a big deal out of small infractions. The worst case can be that a candidate is thrown off the ballot!
We wish we could tell you that this is all you need to know to run an effective online campaign, but it isn’t. For new candidates, it’s a good idea to get a lay of the online landscape as early as possible. Knowing what’s out there and what the opposition is doing will help you to better prepare for your own online presence.