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While preparing a recent training for prospective candidates, I had the "pleasure" of going through a bunch of campaign websites to look for examples of good and bad practices. The latter were unfortunately easy to find: far too many sites made mistakes that were basic and avoidable.
The most common fatal error: Making it hard for people who visit a site to actually help the campaign. Many sites lacked basic necessities like email signup forms and social media follow buttons. Others hid them away on sub-pages or lost them in visual clutter. Some even skipped a donate button or used one that was hard to spot at a glance.
Every one of these practices is likely to result in the site missing chances to turn a visitor into a long-term supporter — and that means it's failing at its most important task.
Other major mistakes: bad stock photography, busy layouts that were hard to navigate (or to even read), and policy positions that were either skimpy or (once again) hidden away. Some sites simply looked terrible, usually in an amateurish way. Initial impressions matter: don't forget that your website may be a potential voter's first encounter with your campaign.
Campaign sites often get neglected in a social media-obsessed communications environment, but a website is one of the few online properties that a candidate can control top to bottom. With 2016 on the horizon, it's high time to look at your own site or those of your clients to make sure you're not wasting one of your highest-profile online assets.
Is Scott Walker the Most Tech-Savvy GOP 2016er?
Scott Walker jumped into the top tier of Republican presidential hopefuls early in 2015, but not without hitting some bumps along the way. One of those bumps came in the form of Liz Mair who had to resign after a single day as digital director of his nascent political campaign when her tweets criticizing Iowa's all-important role in Republican politics drew fire. Sacrilege!
The rest of the Wisconsin governor's digital ducks may actually be in a solid row, though, regardless of that initial public stumble. That’s judging from a recent presentation by Matt Oczkowski, digital director for “Friends of Scott Walker.” If Walker runs, according to Oczkowski, the campaign will be backed by a sophisticated voter outreach effort that's been built up over three elections in the past five years.
As Oczkowski described it in a panel hosted by The George Washington’s GSPM, Walker's team has created a grassroots contact program based on data and experimentation that would impress poli-tech experts of any stripe. The organization's outreach work starts with data.
During his presentation, Oczkowski discussed the use of poll-informed data models as well as an Obama 2012-style voter scoring system to prioritize outreach via channels like door-knocking, phone-banking and advertising.
Oczkowski also talked about testing various targeting options with science-inspired experimental methods to identify the most effective means to change minds and mobilize supporters. Moreover, he described their creation of the kind of "voter data feedback loop" we saw Democrats using to elect Terry McAuliffe governor of Virginia in 2013, with voter-response data acquired via field outreach feeding back into the modeling and targeting systems to improve the accuracy of the entire exercise.
The operation Oczkowski discussed is a generation ahead of what John McCain or Mitt Romney deployed. If it turns out to be as effective in Republican primary states as it has been in Wisconsin, Walker's opponents may spend their time staring at his rear bumper on the road to the nomination.
Bush Campaigner's Epic Social Media #Fail
Walker's not the only presidential potential haunted by the ghost of social media past: Jeb Bush won points for announcing the January launch of his new Right To Rise PAC via cellphone videos posted to Instagram, but the digital shine didn't last long. Within weeks, his PAC's new chief technology officer had to resign because of a series of past tweets on his personal account widely seen as sexist or homophobic. Not exactly an ideal start to a presidential campaign, official or not.
Ethan Czahor’s sudden departure came just days after an advisor to Aaron Schock, who announced his resignation from Congress amid questions about financial improprieties, had to quit after Facebook posts surfaced in which he compared black people to zoo animals.
These moves left many in the digital campaigning world stunned — not at the fact that these two were dismissed, but that they'd posted those thoughts in the first place. Folks, social media is public, and a direct line from brain to Twitter is a terrible idea for almost anyone. Your beliefs are your own business, however ugly or beautiful they are. But if you wouldn't want to see them on the front page of the New York Times, don't publish them. Period.
Turmoil at the New Organizing Institute
Democratic digital organizers were startled mid-February by news of trouble at the New Organizing Institute, which trains Internet, field and data staff for liberal campaigns and advocacy groups. NOI apparently ran into the kind of funding difficulties that afflict many nonprofits, and the resulting uncertainty sparked what amounted to a revolt by senior staff against Executive Director (and Obama campaign data guru) Ethan Roeder.
NOI's board ultimately chose to accept the staffers' resignations while also parting ways with other employees, not a reassuring moment for those depending on NOI for talent in the upcoming election cycle. By late February, NOI was publicly committed both to making internal improvements and to carrying out its agenda of 2015 trainings and conferences, including the yearly RootsCamps that have been a source of so much good information in past Tech Bytes columns. But it was a reminder that digital staffers don't appear out of nowhere — someone has to train them. And for many on the left, NOI has been that "someone."
Colin Delany is founder and editor of the award-winning Epolitics.com and a 15-year veteran of online politics.