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  • Revisited: Dos and Don'ts of Online Political Campaign Marketing

       November 13, 2005

    While pundits across America searched for the meaning of Election Day 2005, I know what this past Tuesday really meant. It meant that it's now time for politicians to start their 2006 campaigns in earnest. And actually, truth be told, most of those campaigns have already started, at least online. My inbox is full of political communications every day. Campaign managers obviously think the internet is the new, great way to get their message out, but they just as obviously have no idea what they're doing.

    I think now is a great time to revisit an old post of mine on the Dos and Don'ts of Online Political Campaign Marketing. Political campaign managers haven't learned much in the year or so since this was last posted. In fact, some of the emails I've received lately have prompted me to add a few things to this last.

    (As an aside, I keep reading about how some presidential candidates have already hired online campaign directors. I'd like to note that in addition to my MBA and degrees in political science and journalism, I also have over 5 years of experience in online marketing. If any political gurus are reading this, I am not yet taken for 2006 and/or 2008. ;-)

    So, without further ado, the new, and improved, Dos and Don'ts of Online Political Campaign Marketing:

    1. Don't spam. Ever. This is the cardinal rule. If you spam, be prepared for a huge backlash that will dwarf any positive gains from your unwanted emails. Yes, it's legal for political campaigns to spam (CAN-SPAM states, somewhat ironically, that politicians can, in fact, spam), but that doesn't make it right and it doesn't make it good marketing. When you go online, you play by the online rules. And, in the online world, a spammer is about the lowest form of life.

    2. Do, however, consider emailing bloggers individually. A caveat here, by "individually" I really mean individually, not by putting a different name in the "to" field. Target bloggers who share your geography or specific ideology. For example, I wouldn't be offended if someone from the staff of the Republican candidate in my congressional district emailed me individually. I'd be flattered.

    3. Don't email bloggers asking for money, even if they're in your district and even if they share your opinion on everything. Ask for their involvement both on their site and on yours as guest writers. Save your online fundraising for those who have already given you their permission to email them.

    4. Do realize that content is king. Talk about your goals and policy positions. Save the sound bites for TV. The internet is the place for your candidate to expand, in detail, on their positions. Your web presence should reflect that. Post policy papers. Share statistics. Highlight your candidate's accomplishments in.

    5. Don't think that you can put up misleading information on your website and then simply erase it if you get caught. A record of your mischief will still exist and your opponents will have as much proof as if you placed a traditonal ad.

    6. Do understand that people who read about politics online are interested in politics, not just issues. If your campaign has a blog, don't just post old press releases, write about some of the inside details of the campaign. If you do, people will come back time and time again and you'll gain an audience for the rest of your candidate's pitch.

    7. Don't think putting your website's URL on brochures is effective online marketing. Read and comment on other blogs. Reference interesting articles that other people are writing on your blog. Bloggers always read their referral logs and if you link to them, they will come back to you. And, they'll spread the word to their audience as well.

    8. Do constantly update your website. At the very least, keep an up-to-the-minute schedule of campaign stops online. Neither the Kerry or Bush campaigns do a good job of this. If they did, I'd visit their sites all the time to get local coverage from their latest destination.

    9. Don't make your online communications a one-way street. Encourage supporters to participate through moderated email lists, forums and the like. Of course, everything the public says won't be positive, but it may be instructive. Think of it this way: if you give the public a voice, campaign staff can be partly released from the nasty job of telling a candidate things they don't want to hear - staff can simply point the candidate to the nearest computer.

    10. Do speak online in a slightly different voice. For whatever reason, a little more irreverance is allowed online. Ironically enough, your candidate may be able to best showcase their personality and humanity through a computer.

    And now for a couple of new additions to the list:

    11. Don't send attachments. Seriously. In last few weeks I've gotten word documents and pdfs sent to me by various campaigns. I'm not going to open them and what's worse, I resent it that you're clogging up my email and possibly sending me a virus. Whenever you feel like sending an attachment, don't do it. Either post a link in your email to an HTML version of the information OR just put the text directly in the email itself.

    12. Do create events especially for bloggers. Set up a teleconference for your candidate and invite local bloggers along with members of the traditional media. The bloggers will actually be excited to attend and will undoubtably write about it. I think bloggers still feel special when they're treated like the "regular" media. Take advantage of that feeling while you still can.

    13. Don't communicate too often. I don't need to hear from the RNC twice a week. The more email you send me, the more likely I am to ignore it. And don't think you can justify the frequency by saying that you're not seeing an increase in your unsubscribe rates. People don't unsubscribe anymore. They either block your email or just delete it without reading it.

    14. Do learn lessons from other online marketers. Online, your candidate's website is just a keystroke away from Amazon and your email can hit an inbox right next to a message from Best Buy. Learn from the people that make those sites and those email programs successful. Online political marketing isn't so different than online marketing in general. There are a lot of very worthwhile conferences and vendors that can help online political marketers as much as online retailers. Use them. I'm always surprised that I don't meet more people from non-profits and political organizations at such events. I'm sure it's just as important for a candidate to know where traffic to their website is coming from or what areas of their website are most popular or who is actually opening their emails. In fact, given the stakes involved, I'd think it's even more important.

    Posted by at November 13, 2005 01:18 PM

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    #  November 13th, 2005 10:04 PM      james
    the rnc either pulled my email address off of the internet or matt margolis sold the old "blogs for bush" list to them. in the span of 2 weeks, i got 30+ messages from the RNC and one from margolis, which is why i suspect him. ive never asked to be spammed by any of them. i never got spam from them prior to 2 weeks ago.

    and the messages are all so f*cking stupid ... "so and so makes press release!!!!!!!!!" "check out our new talking points!!!!!!!!!!!!'" "my exclamation key is stuck!!!!!!!!!!!!"

    as a result, any messaage from rnc-anything or gop-anything dot com now goes straight to /dev/null. funny, i havent even added the aclu to my blacklist yet, but the rnc had no problem making it. wtg, guys!

    i may never vote for another republican again, solely because of the spamming.

    most people probably think im kidding.

    this site is named "dummocrats" to call attention to stupid political tricks. it used to be that 90% of the pandering and stunts were done by the dems. the new republicans have shown that they're very competitive in that arena, however.  
    #  November 14th, 2005 6:06 AM      BadgerBlogger
    Your list is dead on! Especially the SPAM part :-)

    I don't mind being included on a mass email list for press releases, but I do admit that I take them much more seriously if they come from someone that has taken the time to email me personally first. I get a lot of press releases from people that are running for office, but I have no idea who they really are.

    (Note to James) The Democrats SPAM-a-plenty them selves. I like to keep up on the "opposition" and get more SPAM from the DNC and Democratic operatives than from the GOP.  



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