The political Internet has been the subject of much hype and disappointment for local candidates and campaigns.  Often, disappointments arise because candidates and political staff have the wrong expectations for their campaign’s website and e-mail campaigns.  It’s time to set the record straight – the Internet can be a valuable resource for any political campaign, so long as you know why you’re using it.

The Wrong Reasons to Use the Internet:

I’ll get lots of donations from all over the county – No, unfortunately you won’t.  Unless your name is John McCain or Barack Obama, or you have a pre-existing donor base or national name recognition; you won’t be able to raise large numbers of donations through the Internet.  You’ll be better off doing it the “old-fashioned way,” making calls and holding events.

Everyone will be talking about my great flashy graphics – The reality is, your website won’t be getting millions of hits, and most of the people who do find your site will be there for a reason – and it’s not to see the coolest candidate site on the web.

With a website, I won’t even have to campaign, my site will do the campaigning for me – This is the most damaging myth of all.  Candidates who simply put up websites and then sit back and expect to win, or who do only minimal campaigning and rely on their website to do the rest, will be shocked come Election Day.  There is no substitute for old fashioned campaigning, not even the Internet.

The Right Reasons to Use the Internet:

To get information out quickly and cheaply – The Internet is a great way to get press releases, issue papers, articles, and even campaign posters out to the public in a short amount of time.  Of course, no one will know the information is there unless you tell them about your website (we’ll discuss promotion later), but the web is still a great way to make campaign materials available to your organization and the voters at large.

To provide extra information for those who want it – Your campaign website is a great place to post your issue papers, reports, responses to your opponents’ attacks, etc.  In your political mail pieces, you can talk about an issue, then direct those who want more information to your website.  Similarly, you can let reporters know that additional research items for a story are available on your website.

To supplement your other campaign activities – While the web won’t take the place of campaigning, it is a great way to supplement your other campaign activities.  Almost every area of your campaign can feature a web component.  For example, you could offer a “special” web section in conjunction with your major donor program that has “members only” information and is accessible only by that donor group.

To stay connected with supporters – Phone calls and mailings take time and money.  By using an e-mail list to stay in touch with your supporters, you can quickly respond to attacks, mobilize them for an event, remind them to go to the polls, and keep your political campaign in their minds, all for a fraction of the cost of direct mail or phone banks.

For more great information on using the Internet and E-mail in your political campaign, read How to Find Political Success on the Internet.