Campaigning Online

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Additional tools      

Tools - CC / Flickr

Tools - CC / Flickr

Above and beyond the text and images your website will be able to deliver, what are the other tools you are going to need? Here are a few suggestions.      

1. A newsletter system
You need a solid and reliable way to mail supporters, activists and the press, so a reliable newsletter tool is important. If you are mailing more than 50 people in one go then a newsletter tool will do a better job than Outlook. You have essentially two options – an open source system such as phplist that allows you to mail as many people whenever you like for no additional cost per mailing, and features a web-based signup and unsubscribe function. Alternatively, paid services such as MailChimp and Campaign Monitor offer detailed statistics on how many people open a newsletter, but charge for each mailing sent out.      

Regardless of the technology you choose, make sure you keep your mailings short and snappy, linking wherever possible to your website, and also asking for something from the readers – practical action to take.      

Do not be over-reliant on your newsletters, however – as we are all so swamped by e-mail you will be lucky to get more than 1 in 5 recipients actually opening your messages.      

2. A website news system
Not a separate technology as such, more of an aspect of your website. You are going to be producing all kinds of news stories throughout a campaign – who did what, where and when, who was quoted in which newspaper, etc. – and you need a simple way to catalogue all of these stories. ‘Posts’ in WordPress and the News plugin in Typo3 can accomplish this function for you.      

3. A blog
Essentially a blog is a website with content written in an informal manner, in chronological order, and with the opportunity to comment on articles. The latter is important – blogging is about building a conversation, and the lack of a comments function prevents that happening. Avoid falling into the trap of just calling site news a ‘blog’ to try to sound cool – it does not work. Take a look at Carl Bildt, Iain Dale and Tom Harris for examples of good political blogs, and see how these individuals highlight important political issues in an informal yet serious manner.      

Importantly, do not be to worried by the prospect of negative comments on a blog. If the US Air Force can manage to have a blog commenting policy – and they work in a very sensitive sector – then I’m sure you can do the same.      

4. RSS feeds
There are many different ways to read articles on the web, and RSS (Really Simple Syndication) is a vital aspect of any modern website. This allows users to subscribe to content in a RSS reader, meaning they do not have to visit your actual website for news about what you are doing. Keeping an eye on RSS feeds from your opponents’ sites is an important way to monitor online reputation (see section 6 below).      

5. Social Media (Facebook and equivalents such as StudiVZ, Hyves, Orkut etc.)
In each of these networks individuals set up profiles and the assumption is that the actual individual is behind a profile, not a politician’s staff. The alternative is to establish supporter groups or pages for politicians in these networks if the candidate does not wish to be personally engaged in everyday use of the network. As stated above the key is to be honest and clear at all times.      

Facebook, with more than 500 million users worldwide, and half of regular online users with profiles on the network in some countries, is the clear market leader, although a case can be made for using other networks if they have a particularly strong local user base.      

Be aware that Facebook creates a grey area between the personal and the professional, and building an organisational rather than a personalised presence on Facebook can be complicated. Facebook is also now a saturated medium, meaning it can be hard to get messages through to supporters there.      

6. Twitter
If Facebook is for the people you know, Twitter is for the people you would like to know – even if you have no way of actually meeting those individuals in real life. The key here is in the vocabulary – on Twitter you have followers, on Facebook you have friends, with ‘follower’ implying a lower level of commitment.      

Twitter is an excellent medium to reach journalists and those interested in the topics that motivate you – it should be viewed as a professional networking tool.      

Twitter works very well off smart phones, and the super-short nature of the communications (140 characters in each tweet) means that finding time to use Twitter should be within the scope of every candidate.      

7. Flickr
A photo sharing website that takes imagery of what you are doing to a wider audience, although using it for your own ends – the Creative Commons option in the Advanced Search for royalty-free images – might be more useful on an everyday basis.      

8. Youtube and Vimeo
Youtube pioneered video sharing online, while Vimeo is its challenger with more flexible tools for not-for-profit organisations. These services make the tech aspects simple – upload a video in more or less any format and the sites handle the rest, and embed codes allow you to integrate videos from these services into your own site. The problem comes when you have to ask yourself what to film and how, and whether your video is going to be adequately interesting to garner hundreds or even thousands of views. Effective use of online video can be expensive and time consuming – ask yourself whether use of video is the best use of your time.      

9. Something cool?
What is going to set your campaign apart from the rest? If this is your aim then it is worth giving some thought to using some new, innovative services and being the very first person to be active using a particular technology. The current web boom areas are location based services, and smart phone applications. Have a look at Foursquare and Layar, and think whether there could be mobile phone applications that could be developed for your campaign. As with anything else keep a close eye on the finances, but doing web tech well is still interesting enough to generate coverage and interest in its own right.      

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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: