How to run a political campaign in the age of new media

It’s an election year in these parts so it makes sense to toss out some fundamental advice regarding campaigns that make use of social media and new media channels.

First is the recognition of how your messaging will play out across various personas, especially those who will want to either carry it forward or mock it using social media (e.g. Facebook, Twitter, etc.). Recently presidential candidate, Newt Gingrich, came out with the  campaign slogan, “Win the Future.” When this is broken down to an acronym you get “WTF.” Now most everyone knows that’s not the best acronym associate with one’s campaign. While it gave the candidate a lot of attention right at the point of announcing their candidacy (enviable to be sure), many saw him as stumbling, falling and pronounced dead just as he was leaving the gate. The failing here was not testing the messaging outside of one’s own camp of “yes”-men. I just hope grandma doesn’t show up to church wearing a WTF t-shirt.

Have everyone in your camp embrace or, even better, participate in the social media conversations. In this way, misguided supporters can be reeled in and shown accurate messaging, nay-sayers’ misinformation can be quickly identified as such and clarified, and injections of timely messaging can be delivered in a way that quickly reaches the masses and encourages word-of-mouth activity.

But participating in social media is much like sending everyone out to stump in public parks for the campaign. They have to get it as right as the candidate (especially since the Internet never forgets). So some rules to live by in this effort:

  • Everyone should deliver clear and consistent versions of campaign messaging
  • Use problem recognition followed by the solution(s) to educate
  • Recognize attacks for what they are. Respond quickly but not in like
  • Campaign teams need clear definition of roles and command chain

Online mechanics of campaigning are relatively simple but easily and often muffed up. Of course, every candidate should have a web site. This is where people (including the media) will go to learn more, stay up-to-date or simply discover who is running for the position. The majority will not go directly to the site. They will go to their favorite search engine and enter the candidate’s name (misspellings included) and/or the position (e.g. “Bellingham mayor” or “Whatcom executive”). Because of this, it is important to train the search engines to refer their users to your campaign site. This is done using very fundamental search engine optimization (SEO) methods. SEO is not some dark art but rather simple ways to ensure online visibility to your intended audience (much like placing the return address in the top-left corner and the recipient’s address in the middle of an envelope makes it more likely to be delivered correctly).

Here are a few online visibility items most often botched by campaigns:

  • The candidate’s name and the position they are running for is placed in beautiful graphics (invisible to search engine bots that crawl the pages trying to learn what they’re about) but never appears in text on the page.
  • They don’t tell the search engines to ignore the site while they’re building it so the search engines think the site is about construction when all they see “Come back again. This site is under construction.” It can take weeks to retrain search engines once they think they have you figured out.
  • The domain name is specific to the position being vied for instead of planning for future. For instance, a candidate running for mayor may want to run for governor and president later. Building up an audience and training search engines about only to have to start over when is needed is silly. Instead, would have been much wiser.
  • Page titles and descriptions are completely neglected. These are the snippets that appear in search engine results pages. The page title is the clickable link and the description is the short blurb underneath. Each page on the campaign site must have a unique title and meaningful description and should be written to encourage the intended audience to click to the most relevant page for them.
  • Not being picked up by Google’s and Bing’s bots. If you build it, they won’t come. If the pages on your site aren’t in the search engines’ indexes, they are not going to be found.
  • Not encouraging site visitors to join up with the social media bandwagon by following and/or participating on Facebook and Twitter.
  • Building a Facebook profile for the campaign instead of a Facebook fan page. Profiles are meant to be private and hidden from the general public while just the opposite happens with fan pages. Campaigns need to be visible!
  • Reward supporters with badges they can place on their social media profiles. These can be apps or widgets or a simple means of updating their profile photos to reflect their association with the campaign.

I just realized this has become a most lengthy post and must be stopped. So contact Whatcom Marketing if you’re interested in more ways to be visible to your audience and to develop, create and manage your messaging in efficient and effective ways.


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