Campaigning Online

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How to commission a website      

Question Mark - CC / Flickr

Question Mark - CC / Flickr

The website for a candidate in an election campaign is going to be the hub around which all other online activity revolves. Hence decisions taken in this area are vital to ensure success of all other online activities.      

The main question here is: where do you compromise? Your campaign will have finite financial resources and not everything will be possible within the time and especially the finances available.      

When approaching a web agency to commission a site it is good to have a clear idea in mind about what sorts of functions the website is going to need from the start, what functions may need to be added in future, and also to draw up a list of links to sites from similar organisations or individuals that you consider to be good in some way.      

The brief for a new site should be something between 1 and 3 A4 pages in length. If it is shorter the agency will have to guess what you want, and correcting problems later will be time consuming for all concerned. Conversely, a brief that is too long and detailed may bind an agency so tightly that costs of a project rise as programmers and designers strive to meet every last criterion.      

At the heart of every modern website is a content management system – this is essentially a web-based software system that allows users to update content from a web browser, using a username and password to login. Any campaign is fast moving and you need your content online now, not when someone from your agency has time to fit it in.      

In terms of technology, the main costs that can be cut depend on the choice of content management system. I am yet to see a system programmed by an individual agency that comes close to the capabilities of the main open source (i.e. free) content management systems such as WordPress, Drupal or Typo3. So insist on open source, and, if told an open source option will not work, then ask why not, and consider going elsewhere. The vast majority of campaign sites are not breaking the mould of net politics – this is primarily about doing the basics well.      

A detailed guide on how to choose a Content Management System can be found at WebDesignerDepot here, but in simplest terms it depends on the style of site you wish to create. Are you looking for something blog or magazine style? If so, then WordPress would be a good starting point. Are you looking for a detailed, structured site with dozens of pages that will develop over the years? If so then Typo3 could well be the place to look. If you’re looking for a combination of those things then Drupal might be a good option, although it is not always the easiest system to use.      

When it comes to design it is important to see the big picture, and make sure all design ideas are collated by one staff member before sending them to a designer. Further, avoid getting stuck in a cycle that concerns the exact shade of green or blue, or whether a certain object requires a shadow or not. Some design tasks are simply not worth the financial outlay to make them work – especially when you consider that websites look very different considering the browser used to view them. Above all make sure you do not end up in design hell, and try to build an effective and constructive working relationship with the people doing the design work.      

So, in short, you should be able to compromise when it comes to the technical choices that you make. But it is content where fewer corners can be cut.      

I cannot emphasise this strongly enough: your online campaign will be made or broken according to the quality of the content produced, and not due to tech or design.      

So, if you have limited resources, think content, content, content. Focus relentlessly on that. The smartest tech or smoothest design without the necessary content serves no purpose whatsoever.      

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  1. Jocelyne 11/11/2010 at 11:15 | Permalink |

    I would just like to illustrate this article with what the EGP did during the launching of the latest campaign for the European elections.
    That is : three bloggers were selected and called “activists”. Each was blogging in English and in their mother tongue. Thus we had four languages : english, french, german and spanish. We were blogging on the EGP blog but also on Facebook and Twitter.
    In that way, the blogging was made very lively, and because we were men and women, from different countries, the approaches were different and could attract different people’s attention.
    I suppose we could do exactly the same thing in a local campaign with men and women, young people, and older people, locals and foreigners in the area, people working in offices and people working in factories etc.
    The weblink to my blog where you can find the blogging during the European elections: