Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Internet Campaigning - Schauer Leads Pack

Given the fact that I started this website and am active in the Michigan and national blogosphere, I'm assuming that its pretty obvious that I think internet-based political campaigning is both important and an exciting development in politics. You can reach potential voters more cheaply than traditional mailings, you can do it without bothering people with "robocalls," and you can target voting groups that might not ordinarily be recipients of the standard direct mail and door-to-door campaigns (especially young people). It's simply too good of an opportunity to pass up.

Back in October of 2007, I wrote up an overview of the internet operations of Mark Schauer, Sharon Renier, and Tim Walberg. That piece was in the context of something Jerome Armstrong wrote last year for the New Politics Institute, a memo which still serves as a strong set of guidelines for any campaign that wants to use the internet. While the whole thing is worth reading, I will share here only the six recommendations I mentioned last time:
Six Things You Can Do Now

Bloggers will be your frontline of defense against attacks. Having them as allies is an important focus for any organization. Here are six things that any progressive organization can do today:

1. Take the first step with outreach to local bloggers:

This is something that should already have been done, but it’s never too late start. If the relationship doesn’t exist, reach out today. Rather than focusing on national bloggers, focus on those within your state first, as many of the national bloggers look to the state-based blogs for identifying which races to target as highly competitive. Have the leaders of your organization or campaign touch base with local bloggers,. Set up a conference call with local bloggers asking for feedback, encouraging coordination, and providing updates.

2. Have a daily-updated website to engage and empower the bloggers:

If you are not putting out timely everyday information, then people who want to get involved are coming to the website and leaving empty-handed. The format is not as important as the information. Email your entire list, tell them to visit the website everyday for the latest news and ways that they can help. Event information, the latest news, resources to counter the opposition, all of this is important information to your supporters and bloggers. It keeps them stay engaged and fired up, willing to go the extra step in their volunteer activities. Your website should be an open door for volunteers and the blogs to engage with you.

3. Be on the blogs and advertise on the blogs:

Organizations and campaigns often have news, such as a poll or new campaign material, that will be of interest to your supporters. But it’s not enough to just put it on your website. You should also get it on the blogs. You can buy advertising on smaller local blogs for $100 or less per month, so there is no reason not to take advantage of this valuable resource. Having an ad on the blogs is also a good way to make your cause or campaign known to the blogger community. You can change any ads on blogads with your latest push too. Go to blogads.com and you will be able to search by state to find the blogs near you.

4. Get your opposition research onto the blogs:

Still got that dirt on your opponent that nobody knows? It’s useless if you don’t get it out to the people who make news. You probably have something a local blogger could use, but you’ll never know if you don’t get that info out of its manila folder and onto the web. By now, you ought to have local online allies that you can trust enough to give the scoop. Got a story that has a good hook? Feed it to the bloggers. Short stories that are personalized have the best chance at being posted. If the blogs cover it, then go to the more traditional news outlets, and press them to cover the story as well.

5. Use YouTube:

It is best if you are creating video for the web instead of re-produced television ads, but your TV commercials can also be put to good use on the web too. YouTube.com allows you to easily upload your commercials for free and then put them on your website, email them to bloggers, and send them out to voters. Chances are, your local bloggers will link to your ad or put it on their website, giving you broader coverage.

5. Create a web presence on Facebook, MySpace and other social networking sites:

The most recent addition to netroots outreach is on the websites that have been used as social networking websites that have extended into activist networking around candidates and organizations. Having a presence on these websites is something that an organization should do, but maintaining one through the usage of the platform is what will engage the users of these platforms. Facebook and MySpace are two of the early movers in this space, and for those looking to do outreach into youth organizations and colleges, these sites are very important.

(Yes, he numbered them wrong. I'm sure that Jerome will proof-read more closely next time.)

Last time around, I went through and offered my thoughts on each candidate in the context of each recommendation. I'm not going to do that again, but it's important to have these recommendations in mind. This time, I'd just like to share the state of the internet race as it stands now, and offer some thoughts.

Ken Proctor - Libertarian Nominee

I'm starting with Ken Proctor because he has, by far, the worst website of the bunch. Why is that? For starters, it's still got the "thank you" message from his last run for office, when he ran against Bart Stupak in the 1st Congressional District. Unlike Ron Paul, whose supporters managed to tap into the strong libertarian leanings of many on the internet, Ken Proctor has done little to take advantage of that energy. Frankly, I'm not surprised. I just didn't want to leave anyone out.

Tim Walberg - Republican Incumbent (Presumptive nominee)

I can't figure Tim Walberg out. On the one hand, he's been quick to embrace all of the appearances of taking internet-based campaigning seriously. He has his own blog on his official House website, he's reached out to RightMichigan.com, Townhall.com, and uses The Hill's congressional blog. Now, he even has a Facebook page, which currently has 283 supporters. From all of this, it looks like he's taking the internet seriously.

... Then there's his campaign website. Honestly, it's horrible. It's not just the low-resolution .jpg images in the top sidebar, though that always bugs me. The design is counter-intuitive, the front page is kind of empty, and the content is lacking. (Only four issues, and each with less than two paragraphs of text? Only one press release? No photos?)

Really, Congressman? Is that the best you can come up with?

But it's worse than that. The campaign website has nothing of the "Web 2.0" innovations that have made online activism so interesting. There is no video, even though his press office has made an effort to put some videos on YouTube. There's no blog and there's nothing to allow any user or voter feedback. Every so often, they update their "Upcoming Events," but usually, that section is empty. There's nothing dynamic or interesting about it, and every page is static and, frankly, boring.

The purpose of the Walberg for Congress website is not to engage voters. Instead, it's designed to serve as a repository for press releases-- except that they haven't bothered to put any up yet.

Sharon Renier - Democratic Candidate

Sadly, as disappointing as Walberg's website was, Sharon Renier's is a step lower. Although she has written a great deal about the issues, she lacks the same features I mention above. Her "News/Press" page only has one story and her "Events" page is still a .pdf flyer for "Votestock," which is now over. Even Walberg updates his "Upcoming Events" some of the time!

For Renier, whose campaign doesn't have a lot of money to work with, a strong internet presence would be a valuable investment. Not only is it cheap, but it has the potential of bringing in more contributions. I just don't get why Proctor, Walberg, and Renier haven't put more time into this.

Mark Schauer - Democratic Candidate

Mark Schauer, on the other hand, has been doing it right. His website, though a little cluttered, is aesthetically pleasing and has plenty of pages linked from it. But it's not just content in the form of issue positions and press releases. There are numerous features that keep a casual viewer on the page-- video, action items, and even a form for you to share your thoughts on issues. This is in addition to the Facebook page (with 403 supporters as of today).

Simply put, Schauer's website isn't boring, and it'll keep people interested and on it. It sounds superficial, but the longer a regular voter stays on your page, the more likely they are to absorb the information you want to convey.

But it also doesn't have to be a one-way conversation. Today, the Schauer for Congress campaign announced the new campaign blog, which the senator promises to update regularly. Now, part of it is just that I'm a big fan of blogs, but it's not just that. In addition to creating and quickly updating content, it allows readers to give immediate feedback. While Senator Schauer himself might not see it right away, someone from his campaign certainly will, and can (hopefully) address concerns.

Now, there are still things Schauer could do. When Senator Chris Dodd was running for president, he and adviser Tim Tagaris experimented with live webcasts of campaign events and the senator backstage. The Obama campaign has merchandise that can be purchased and counts as a campaign contribution, and has the "MyBarackObama" section, so that supporters can have their own corner of the website. Innovations like that would be incredible.

Even so, MarkSchauer.com is light-years ahead of the other campaign websites. Politics has changed dramatically in even the last five years, thanks in large part to new technology. The Schauer campaign seems to get that fact, but the others haven't caught up.

As with the previous post on the subject, this is just an overview, but it's an important aspect of the campaign that deserves more attention. Will a pretty website win an election? No, probably not. But it's a smart investment, and it really doesn't cost that much.

As of July 09, 2008, I have been working with the Schauer for Congress campaign in Lenawee County. My thoughts and writings are my own opinions, and I do not speak for Senator Schauer or anyone else in his organization.

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