Perhaps the most misunderstood medium in all of politics is the Internet. Partly because it is (relatively) new, and partly because it is “technical,” consultants, candidates and volunteers often overestimate the power of the Internet, and fail to see the real ways it can help their campaigns.
Despite what you may have heard, the Internet will not magically bring in fundraising dollars without effort or take the place of television advertising. Used right, however, the Internet can and will be a great benefit to your campaign.
Design Your Website Right
When designing your campaign’s website, steer clear of flashy graphics, animations, bright color schemes and large pages. People who visit your site are probably using slow browsers, and will not wait around while your pages load. Similarly, the people who visit your site are not there for the latest web-techniques, they are there for information about your candidate. Give it to them in a simple, quick loading format.
Remember that consistency counts, even on the web. Design your website using the same color scheme as your campaign’s other media: direct mail, signs, bumper stickers, etc. If your mail and signs are blue and white, your website should be as well.
Fill it to the Brim
Most candidate websites waste people’s time. People go to your site for one of two reasons: (1) They want to know more about your candidate, or (2) they are interested in politics and campaigns. Give both types of readers the information they want, including information on the candidate and the local political scene. Fill your site to the brim. Post everything your campaign releases on your website, including press releases, speeches, and policy papers. Make sure to design “web exclusives” that readers won’t find anywhere else.
The Purpose of Your Site
Unless you are a candidate for national office or a nationally known personality, the primary purpose of your website is not to raise money. Even national campaigns have a hard time convincing first-time viewers to contribute. The task is monumental for local campaigns. The real purpose of your campaign website is to gather e-mail addresses. The site should ask visitors for their e-mail, so that the campaign has a way of contacting them in the future. By asking for e-mail addresses and permission to re-contact your readers, you can e-mail them again and again, delivering your message, rallying volunteers, and yes, eventually raising money. Offer your visitors something in return for their e-mail addresses so that they will give them to you more readily: special insider reports, a bumper sticker, etc.
Once you have an e-mail list, use it! Be sure to contact the supporters who gave you permission. When the campaign needs help with literature drops, let your e-mail list know. When you are prospecting for fundraising dollars, contact your list. When Election Day comes, use the e-mail lists to get out the vote.
No, the internet won’t solve your campaign’s fundraising woes, or allow a local candidate to forget about door-to-door and campaign from the comfort of his or her own home. The Internet and e-mail can, however, help you contact your supporters and provide information to the voters twenty-four hours a day.