Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Online campaigning tips for candidates and their campaigns

In running the Calgary Democracy project, I end up seeing a very wide variety of things candidates and their campaigns do online. Seeing some very painful (to me, anyway) choices being made, I feel obliged to offer some recommendations for less painful approaches.

Be Contactable

 It may be annoying, a hassle, and open you up to hearing from people who are hostile to you, but you need to provide a phone number and email address (not just a web form). No exceptions.

Put your campaign contact info on every page of your website. Your ideal situation, when a potential voter comes to your site, is for them to be interested enough by what they see to want to connect with you. Make that as easy for them to do as possible.

97% of people will not use a web contact form — so provide an email address they can use instead, if they choose. (Keeping in mind that 76% of statistics are made up.)

Website Content

The purpose of a campaign website is not to convey what you want to say.

Go back and read the previous statement again.

The purpose of a campaign website is to make it as easy as possible for potential voters to learn about why you are their best choice to vote for. Turn your ego off and instead focus on providing answers to what their questions may be. (E.g., “Why are you running?” “How do you propose to deal with the issues in our community(ies)?” “Why should I vote for you instead of the other candidates?”)

Use plain language wherever possible. You’re not talking to lawyers, academics or bureaucrats — you’re trying to reach people who aren’t immersed in political jargon.

Have a “Media” page where you provide access to your campaign press releases, a link to the candidate bio, and a large-size (high resolution) head-shot photo of the candidate. (As well as repeating your contact information, again, including any special contact info for media to use.) If you want any media coverage (which you do if you want any chance of winning) then this is essential.

Website Design

Read up on web accessibility to understand how to make your website accessible to users who may have visual or hearing impairments.

If you decide to use Flash (which I recommend against), always, always, always, offer users a convenient way to bypass Flash and still be able to access all your content (except maybe video — but see below for more on that).

Some problems with depending on Flash:
  • Can’t be used by people with visual impairments.
  • Can’t be used on common devices like iPhones.
  • Won’t be used by users like me who run Flash blocking software.
  • Reduces or eliminates the ability of search engines to index your site (reducing the ability of people to find you).
  • Makes it hard to copy text information from your site (like when I want to copy a candidate’s phone number into my list of candidate contacts).


 YouTube is far and away the most familiar video site for people, so make sure your campaign videos are up there. You can also post your videos on other video services (such as Vimeo, Viddler and Facebook). It doesn’t hurt to post the same video to multiple sites (just don’t post the same video multiple times to the same site).

For any video you post, you should also make a transcript available for people who can’t access or hear the video. Once you have a transcript, YouTube makes it easy to add the transcript as subtitles or, with a little extra work, as Closed Captions for hearing impaired.

Further, if you get your transcript translated to another language, you can add multi-lingual subtitles to videos on YouTube, making your videos accessible to an even wider audience. Keep in mind that many Calgarians have English as a second language learned as an adult, so may not be fluent in political English.

One other benefit of providing a transcript for your video is that it then becomes searchable — making it easier for sites like Google to find your videos for people.


 When choosing a username on Twitter, just go with your name. Leave out the office you’re running for, or things that are about your campaign. E.g., for a candidate named “Leia Organa”, suboptimal names would include: @VoteForLeia @OrganaForWard15 @LeiaIn2010 @VoteWard15; good names: @LeiaOrgana @leia_organa

Why? Because a Twitter account is about the person, not the very temporary thing of an election campaign. Besides, if you’re serious about this politics stuff, you’ll still be around for more elections, that might not be for the same office. If you want to build an ongoing connection with your community and supporters (something useful when in office and for future elections) you’ll want to not lose that because you had a short-term name.

Another point: Please don’t change your name once you’ve set it. Seriously. That breaks all past references to you in tweets from others — wrecking the connections that show the dialogue online (and losing potential future connections from the archive of the past).

Please also go with just one account for the candidate/campaign. More than that is a hassle for people to follow (so most won’t).


 Facebook is evil. But, people are using it and you need to go where the people are.

Your public campaign presence on Facebook should be a Facebook Page (not your personal profile). If users can “like” you, then you’ve got a Page. If they can “friend” you, then you’re using your personal profile.

Don’t count all your Facebook “fans” or “likes” as supporters. Facebook doesn’t offer a way to follow a page without being a “fan” (there’s no “just interested” option). So, many people who are interested in following candidates add them, even though they aren’t actually supporters. Also, some people who oppose a candidate will sign up for the page just to post opposing comments.


As an absolute bare minimum, you need to provide an easily downloadable high-resolution head shot. Put a clear license for reuse on it (ideally a Creative Commons license that allows for commercial use and derivative works). Media and bloggers will use this in talking about your campaign. Not having a photo will diminish the impact of that (and also diminish the media and bloggers’ interest in you).

 You can set up a Flickr photo account (the free ones are usually enough for a campaign) and share photos from the campaign. Do the same with your Facebook page. Accept submissions from campaign volunteers and fans, but always credit the photographer if you reuse or upload a photo.

I’ve set up a Calgary Municipal Election 2010 group on Flickr for sharing photos from this campaign.

Calgary Democracy Candidate Listings

 Of course, as you add a campaign website, contact information, and social networking resources, you should update that information in your campaign listing on the Calgary Democracy website. Currently, you can do that by email to Hopefully soon, campaigns will be able to register on the site to directly update their information.


Anyone have other things to add here?


Enlightened Savage said...

All great points, Grant, and addressing things that have been grinding my gears as I try to contact candidates.

Remember, folks - nobody HAS to contact you to cover your campaign. Particularly in the citizen media realm, where people are doing it for free, because they care about the race or the issues. Making it easier helps them get the word out about you, which is worth THOUSANDS of dollars in advertising.

And, if motivated, web-savvy people can't find your contact information or issues, what chance do the thousands of (possibly, to this point, unengaged) voters you'll need on your side possibly have?

- E.S.

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