After reviewing the web presence of the five Democratic Vermont Gubernatorial candidates it became clear pretty fast that they are all struggling with a fundamental building block of online content.
Of all the candidates only Susan Bartlett has a blog that even comes close to being a blog. It got me thinking as to WHY so many of our candidates who are trying so hard to differentiate themselves from the others are NOT blogging.
I got some insight from candidate Matt Dunne who exchanged emails with me after my initial review of his web presence when he highlighted the real challenges of time that candidates face — constantly on the go, engaging face to face at parades and cookouts and fundraisers and debates and meetings all over our state, while at the same time holding down a job and taking care of family. It is no small challenge to be sure. My sense from each of the campaigns is that the candidates themselves along with their staff are struggling to find the right balance.
And yet, I can’t help but wonder that what is missing here for the campaigns is the understanding that social media tools are changing the fundamental way we market ourselves (and for politicians that is the focus, isn’t it? Marketing themselves.)
It used to be so much easier really.
Print brochures and yard signs and stickers, create TV/Print/Radio Ads, hold some events and go around shaking everyone’s hands. Hobnob with the influential people and get the newspapers to endorse you. Simple (ok, maybe not really, but it was a formula at least and predictable). Easy. Push your content. Push your message. Send out your news release and then hope when you do your even that the media portrays your point of view in the way you want. Spend the cash on the TV campaign and then sit back and watch the donations come in and the votes stack up.
But now, we have all these tools. These somewhat “free” tools that allow us to become content creators easily. And suddenly the watch word is ENGAGE. And you are told to have CONVERSATIONS. And people like me are telling you that you are doing it all wrong and that now PUSH is bad. You have to give up CONTROL. And you have to figure out how your campaign will get found in SEARCH, and if you have enough TWITTER followers and how many VIEWS your YOUTUBE Video got and if you have enough FRIENDS on FACEBOOK who LIKE you…..
What’s a political candidate to do?
At a time when there are so many resources it is easy to get overwhelmed. BUT…I would like to point out that if your goal as a politician is to let people know how you stand on the issues (whatever those issues are) and you want to be sure that people have an opportunity to read about your point of view…WHY wouldn’t you blog?
If your only con is “I don’t have enough time” then that is not enough when you compare it to the pros:
- It’s free. Really. Anyone can set up a blog for free using any number of sites from Blogger to WordPress to Tumblr to Posterous.
- It’s easy. You have a point of view, you type it out and you click “publish” and your message is on the Internet ready for people to read.
- It’s fast. It doesn’t take long to type out your point of view or reaction on something. We are talking a half hour to 45 minutes.
- It compliments your traditional media messaging. Create an ad campaign, and direct people to your website for your “issue paper” and use your blog to expand on the issue.
- It helps your SEO. Go beyond the named “ego search” and have people get your content as a result when they search on issues.
- It makes it really really easy for your volunteers and supporters to SHARE your content. Write a good post about your point of view and people will like it, share it, retweet it, all for free, increasing YOUR visibility online.
Ok, so now that I’ve convinced you that you need to blog (grin), here’s HOW a politician should be blogging. It’s my dream really. Something I haven’t really seen yet (even though State Senate Candidate Philip Baruth is doing a pretty solid job — but, he is an ENGLISH Prof AND he’s been blogging now for a really long time — about politics no less, so you can’t really compare).
So here it goes…Elaine’s “Ten Step Blogging Guide for Politicians”
- Start with a GOAL. You want EVERY post you write to be shared, liked and retweeted. That’s your goal.
- Write with your GOAL in mind. What can you write that will move people to share, like and retweet your post?
- Always ADD VALUE. What is the current issue of the day? How will your post explain your position more, add clarity, offer a new option, differentiate yourself from the other candidates?
- Be AUTHENTIC. This is the time to write the way you talk and to show me, the voter, the person behind all the campaign rhetoric. Avoid having staffers and volunteers do the writing for you.
- Keep it SHORT. You aren’t writing a treatise here. Stay focused and clear and to the point.
- Keep it FRESH. As in, not stale. Post often — you don’t have to do it EVERY day, but two – three times a week is a great schedule.
- LINK Strategically. Don’t be afraid to link out to different sites in your post. When you mention a town, link to the town’s website. When you mention a person, see if they have a blog. When you mention an issue, link to the legislation you produced. Yes, they click the link and leave…but they’ll be back. Don’t worry about that. You just provided information that is helpful and adds value.
- TAG Intentionally. Tags are simple keywords that should be issue-based. When I visit your blog I can look for all your posts about a specific issue. Don’t make up 100 different tags, make it a short list.
- TWEET each post with a powerful “call to action”. My students found last semester that when they blogged and then tweeted with a link to that post, their readership went up. Politicians should do that as well. Use Twitter wisely and in that Tweet tell me the main point of your post with the link. That will make me take the desired action — click on the link, read it, and then retweet it.
- Use COMMENTS to your advantage. When you get comments on your blog, or Tweets about your post, or questions on your Facebook Wall, don’t ignore them. Respond back. Respond to the positive ones AND the negative ones and engage with people online just the way you would at that chicken pie supper.
Finally, a few words about VALUE.
Value means I find what you wrote useful in some way. Many of our candidates are big into telling us where they are going or where they have just been. Sorry to be harsh but a little tough love never hurt anyone. We don’t care that you are going to the parade or to the chicken pie supper or that you were just at the car race. What we do care about is what you LEARNED when you were there. We care where you are if you are giving away something cool OR if you have decided to create a flash mob experiment in the middle of a parade. Stop reporting and start providing VALUE and comments will happen. People will “like” you and followers will “retweet” you and supporters will “share” your content.