Lessons compiled by Steven
Clift, Board Chair, E-Democracy.Org
E-Democracy created the world's
first election-oriented web site, so these tips are based on a a decade
of direct experience.
Our non-partisan goal is to promote
competition among political web site so that in the end, more citizens
can find and use diverse political information online.
We cannot answer questions related
specific online promotion strategies, but welcome your comments.
PROMOTING CANDIDATE AND ELECTION
You've just spent what seems like
hundreds of hours building a candidate or non-commercial web site
related to the election. You tell one hundreds friends about it,
put it on all your literature and five people visit it. Sound familiar?
Read these lessons and follow
the submission links, additional tips,
and connect with other online politics builders
Lesson Number 1
Build it and they will never come
unless you tell them it is there. Reach out online to key online communities
and other web sites with an initial site announcement. Do not spam individuals.
Get your site listed or indexed in the web directories and search engines
people actually use (see below).
Lesson Number 2
Cherish every site visitor.
Carefully convince them to join your one-way opt-in e-mail update list
or they will never come back. Never. Make sure you gather opt-in e-mail
addresses at every in-person event and welcome them to your update list
via e-mail within 48 hours.
Lesson Number 3
As you tell people about new content
on your site via your e-mail update, you will build traffic, receive feedback
and create the incentive loop required to justify keeping your site up-to-date.
Lesson Number 4
Truly undecided voters are the last
people to visit political web sites. As you near the end of the campaign,
add special content for informed, persuadable voters. In the last couple
weeks, create something special for the undecided voters, who against all
odds, decided to seek information from your site.
Lesson Number 5
For candidates, the rest of the time
you should think of your site as a command and control communication center
for your core supporters and as a place to mess with your opponents operatives.
You are not Howard Dean. You
are not George W. Bush. You are not John Kerry. No one really
cares about non-Presidential candidates online. U.S. Senate candidates
... in close races, maybe a little, U.S. House candidates ... nope. Sorry.
Unless you have outsider "fight the man" star power like Jesse Ventura
in 1998, nothing about your online strategy will be easy or a miracle.
For non-candidate sites, viral "tell a friend" buzz tends to comes from
humor not substance unfortunately.
Today, effective online campaigning
is about political survival not experimentation. If your opponent
gets it right, that might swing the 2% of the vote that you needed.
And, at the local and state legislative level, where television isn't dominant
(for the most part) it might even be the 10% swing you needed.
So below are some links to help you
promote your election-related website online.
Your Site Easier to Find Online
Assuming that you picked a concise
URL (like firstlastname.com or xyzforcongress.org, with no dashes - try
to get someone to understand "-" on the telephone) and are printing it
on all your materials, at a minimum, submit your site carefully to the
Then make sure these niche political
sites know you are online:
Voter guides - Contact your local
newspaper and share your web address with anyone producing an online or
print voter guide. Here is a new network
of voter guides from e-thepeople. Contact your local
League of Women Voters as well. Many of these voter guide sites often
only show up a month or so before an election (and tend to come out in
print even later).
Party link - If you are a state
or local candidate with a party affliation, request links from area political
party web sites.
Blogs - Some blogs aren't obscure.
Some have real power. Try to get a profile political
blogger to mention your site (you need to have something interesting
on your site or be in a swing district for any exposure outside of your
home state). You often have to dig and dig for their e-mail addresses.
Local blogs might be a better bet. Ask your friends for suggestions.
E-mail newsletter - Every political
web site should have a regular e-mail newsletter. Even something
short that goes out once or twice a month that tells your core users what
is new on your site. If it is interesting, they will pass your e-mail
on to their friends.
Online Ads - Try it. Tell
us if it works. If you are negotiating for traditional ad buys, ask
how many targeted web impressions they will throw in on the side. Use this
online ad space to experiment. To building your opt-in e-mail list,
try placing fill in ads on sites you think your supporters might visit.
With swing groups, annoy your opponent by placing ads where they expect
to dominate. With undecided or youth voters, get some expert advice
- do no harm first.
Tell a Friend - Have a simple
web form that allows visitors to tell a friend about your web site.
You can also encourage supporters to put web buttons and links on their
sites, but don't expect too much down ballot - most of your supporters
don't have web sites.
Headlines - If you plan frequent updates, add an RSS feed on your
site that supporters can display their blog or read with a news aggregator.
More Links - The more links you
receive, the higher ranking you tend to get via search engines. At
a minimum, candidates want to make sure your site comes up the first page
of results when your name is searched.
Engine Optimization -
This is an industry apparently. We don't know who to trust, but we'll
exchange a few links with any experts that can help E-Democracy.Org reach
the top ten on "elections 2004" and five other mutually agreed keyword
combinations on the major sites. We are already #9 on for election
2004 on Google and #8 on
to E-mail Lists, Newsgroups and Online Communities - You must be
very selective. Dig deep into YahooGroups
(then MSN Groups) and look for e-mail
lists with more than 20 people and at least one post in the last month.
There are hundreds of lists for local political party groups and state
efforts of former Presidential candidates. Join first and post directly
(or if you think your announcement is border line appropriate, send it
to the forum owner and ask them if it is OK first). Only post a second
time if you have a major site upgrade or to announce new content on your
site like a position paper related to that e-mail list's topic.
For newsgroups, first create
a temporary free web-based e-mail account. Then create an account at Google
Groups with that e-mail. Post to the local xx.politics newsgroup in
your state or see some suggested groups at the bottom of E-Democracy's
Discussion links page. Be selective and don't put an e-mail address
in your post that you don't want on every "spam me please" list under the
sun. Check your web-based e-mail account in case anyone replies directly
instead of using the direct link to your web comment form you so wisely
added to your announcement.
For web-based online communities,
head to your local media or portal web sites first. If they still
have web-boards, look for a couple of appropriate topic areas and post
and welcome link. Better yet, find a thread related to a topic your
candidate has a position paper on and post a direct link to the position
paper. Yeah, many candidates are afraid to mix it up online - most
of them will become extinct in the information age. Seriously, "one-way"
candidates don't come off well in-person do they? Why would they online?
Do some math ... 10 minutes a day to reach 100 informed voters who know
everyone or one more block of door-knocking that day ...
If you are the candidate yourself,
try out posting a few times - particularly in the first part of the campaign.
You'll be surprised how many more people read discussion boards rather
than post to them. However, in the last two months of a campaign,
unless you are a very local candidate, people might wonder why you aren't
pressing the flesh if you are too active online. Also, avoid any one-on-one
arguments and give others time to come to your defense (or bring in some
authentic supporters to put in a good unscripted word).
to connect with other campaign and political webheads?
Join the Campaigning
Online e-mail list and check out the:
and site submissions to the E-Democracy.US volunteer team. Our links
focus on non-profit and major media sources.