As online political campaigning has grown in recent election cycles, it has also become more complex. If you take your cues from recent presidential campaigns, you’ll think that you will need a deep and extensive online operation. Truth is, most campaigns cannot manage a large online presence.
Local campaigns have limited time, resources – and even experience. It is important to have a clear, focused plan.
There are four major pillars to creating an effective online campaign. Each are important, but combined they are even more effective in building overall support.
Having an online network already in place gives you a leg up when you announce your intention to run for office.
A large number of social media platforms exist today. It’s easy to get caught up in trying to be everywhere. Unless you have the staff and resources, it’s better to keep your presence focused. Local campaigns should stick with established social media platforms: Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.
Social media is instrumental to engage voters on a personal level. It can help you promote events and to drive traffic to your campaign website.
Social media also allows politicians to circumvent traditional paid advertising or earned media. Journalists often write about social posts, exposing your message to a wider audience.
Open your own social media accounts. Learn how to join groups, find friends and interact on the platforms. That will make it easier for when you use them for your political campaign.
If you decide to use social media in your campaign, you must remain active with your accounts. That means making regular posts and active outreach to others. Creating accounts and abandoning them is worse then having never created them at all…
Email is one of the most powerful tools a local campaign can use. It can help your campaign keep in touch with supporters throughout the campaign. Email can affect both your online and offline success. A good use of email can help rally volunteers, improve donations and enhance GOTV efforts.
Campaign is email is different than personal email in several ways. First, it is impossible to manage a campaign email list through a personal email account. Maintaining subscribers and segmenting large email lists requires automation.
Email marketing vendors offer advanced tools and functionality, including:
- Mail merge: You can insert the member’s name, email address, or other information into the text of the message.
- Automatic subscribe and unsubscribe of email addresses.
- Automatic error processing: Bad email addresses are flagged and removed from the list.
- Trackable URLs: You can track how many people click on the links in your emails. This feature can be useful in determining the effectiveness of your messages.
There are many email marketing vendors that can serve your needs. Some services, like Mailchimp, are free for smaller lists. Expect to incur some costs, though, as your subscriber numbers grow.
If you want online exposure, you will need to pay for it. Dedicate a percentage of your promotional budget for online advertising.
The three most common forms of online advertising for local campaigns include:
- Social media adverting: Compared to television, advertising on social media platforms is inexpensive. It also allows you to target segments of people more directly.
- Pay Per Click advertising: PPC through Google and Bing/Yahoo is one of the easiest ways to target users and deliver traffic via search engines. You pay each time someone clicks an ad that appears for particular searches.
- Retargeting: Keep your campaign brand front and center. Show display advertisements to people who visit your campaign website.
The forth pillar acts as the ‘hub’ of your online campaign. A campaign website provide many benefits.
First, voters expect campaigns to have a website. Limiting your exposure to social media limits your ability to reach all voters. Not everyone uses or follows social media.
A website provides informational platform and a place to reference in your advertising. The domain name that you choose acts as your ‘brand’ name. Your website should be linked to from your social media accounts and on your offline print material.
When people search for you, you want your website to appear in the top search results. It may well be the first place that people read about you online. On your website, you can present your message without filters or distractions.
Post position papers, press releases and extra information. You can even add an online press kit for journalists to access.
Through your campaign website you can grow email subscribers, recruit volunteers and raise donations.
The Internet is not a substitute for ‘traditional’ campaigning. Use online efforts to promote offline events. You can also encourage online participation in many ways. For example, you can post ‘live’ during your campaign events. Attendees can be asked for their email addresses when they arrive. Encourage them to follow the campaign through social media for future updates.
Start early to build the pillars of your online campaign. Together they will provide powerful leverage in turning out Election Day support.