Politics and Grassroots, Tech

Two lessons from last week about online campaigning

With Memorial Day weekend coming up, Campaign Season 2010 is about to hit high gear.  With that, candidates who hadn’t built out their web presence are going to put the foot on the gas.  At this point, that probably applies more to local and state candidates than candidates for most state or federal offices – campaigns where it can be intimidating to put together a robust online campaign.  I recently spoke with a consultant for a state candidate who had just launched a Facebook page.  The campaign was somewhat nervous about the launch for two reasons: 1) the page was still a bit light on content and 2) by its nature, the page would allow the campaign’s organized opponents to post negative comments.

These are both legitimate concerns, but they have legitimate answers.  Some high profile stories from the last week illustrate how to deal with them:

1. When it comes to content, don’t make the perfect the enemy of the good.

As the Mark Critz campaign made clear, websites and other online presences aren’t static media.  Just as a simple website can expand to include more sections and content, a Facebook page can expand with more wall posts, pictures, videos, or other pieces.

In fact, a phased strategy has an important benefit: with each addition, the campaign can reach out to supporters again with a fresh, relevant message.  On Facebook, this is even more pronounced.  If you join a Facebook page that already has all the content it’s going to have, it becomes easier to forget.  If you join a Facebook page that constantly adds content, you are more likely to see it in your news feed, and possibly visit the site and take some sort of action.  (Which would, in turn, show up in your friends’ feed, and give the campaign further exposure.)

Too many online campaigns fail to understand that a website or social network profile isn’t like a television or radio advertisement – while some seed content is important, adding more content later can actually work to their advantage.

2.  Censoring negative comments gives them more legitimacy than answering them.

Back in good old Pennsylvania, gubernatorial candidate Tom Corbett got into a bit of a row with some anonymous Twitterers and issued a subpoena to Twitter calling for their identities.  In doing so, he appeared to be legitimizing his critics through a ham-fisted attempt at censorship.

On any campaign’s Facebook page, there will be detractors who put their mark on every single post.  By smartly building an active and engaged base, a campaign can create a community which will answer this criticism with supportive speech.  There are also opportunities to directly engage the folks who make these comments in a public square – they don’t get to post to your campaign’s wall in a vacuum, after all.

If your campaign is not effective at answering critics directly, Facebook may be the wrong place to be.  But then again, if your campaign can’t answer legitimate questions, electoral politics may also be a bad choice.

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