So you're a candidate running for office. And you now know that most close campaigns will be won or lost on the web. But effectively using the web is much more than having a website, blog, and a twitter feed. Providing the tools with the knowledge of how to use them effectively is like giving a kid his first rifle and telling him to go out in the woods and get the family dinner. In both those cases the lack of training means the most likely outcome is shooting yourself in the foot.
The fundamental concept you need to understand about the web is that it runs on credibility. And credibility comes from persuasive argument backed up by links to credible sources with supporting documentation. This is the polar opposite of TV where the fundamental message is the sound bite. Long answers are death on TV. Sound bites are death on the web. To succeed, you must tailor your message for the medium.
This is key, to succeed on the web requires detailed credible statements.
So what to do? First, read What Would Google Do. It is fundamentally a discussion about how to market in today's world. And that includes how to market a political candidate. The world has turned upside down and this book details that change.
Second, there is tremendous opportunity here for those that make use of this. Short posts by the candidate on a topic, written in a way that Google will rank it well (SEO) and placed where others will tend to find it and/or link to it, means that when people are looking for information on that topic, they will find that post. If someone cares about water policy in Colorado and is reading several posts about it, and comes across one that they think shows a really good grasp of all the issues and how to address them – and they see it signed by a candidate – they've just won their vote.
Candidates & their campaigns also need to do it appropriately (not too much, not too little). But generally that means don't over-blast on a subject and don't over-blast in a given venue. But spread out over different topics in different blogs/forums/sites, there is pretty much no limit to that.
And it has to be from the candidate. No they don't have to write it themselves and no they don't have to post it themselves. But it has to sound like they wrote and posted it. It has to be in their voice, first person, and without the marketing verbiage that festoons most candidate PR pieces. Because if it's viewed as marketing fluff it is discounted by most readers. (Congressman Jared Polis is superb at this – he writes his own stuff.)
Candidates will be defined in the blogosphere and this definition will be based on a lot of data. This tends to be a definition that is virtually impossible to change because of the strength of that data. Everyone has their own conclusion from all that data, but it's amazing how much agreement there is across the spectrum. (I had conversations with numerous Udall & Schaffer supporters where we basically agreed on what both Udall and Schaffer would do in the Senate – we just disagreed on which of those was better.)
I believe if this is done effectively a candidate may have won over enough people a year from now that they'll start the campaigns with a significant advantage. And as the campaign progresses, they'll own the web for the campaign because of the large amount of your content that is already highly rated – that advantage cannot be countered over a short period.
Associated with the above is the concept of transparency.
Voters want to know what you are thinking and why. To a degree that occurs with the above. But it is important to focus on this because again, if people view you as being fully forthcoming, that buys you both credibility and support. I have seen numerous responses to politicians who lay out why they voted a certain way in the vein of "I disagree with your reasoning on this but I appreciate you explaining it to us and you have my vote." Got that? You can get the votes of people who disagree with your vote if you're up front with them. Not always, but some.
For officeholders, when they decide how they are going to vote on a contentious issue, they should announce it via an email blast followed immediately by posts to the main blogs. And it has to go into detail as to why. However they vote some groups are going to be pissed, but this way you create the initial frame of the discussion. And then being involved in the follow-on discussion brings the arguments of the candidate into the discussion. The alternative is that the discussion occurs, but with the candidate's view being framed by others.
To pick on a Democrat this time, let's use the example of Senator Bennet's vote on the cram-down legislation awhile ago (he voted against it). Every time Senator Bennet comes up for discussion and the discussion touches on the economy, this is brought up. It is there in blog after blog, comment after comment. But what greatly harms him in this is that he never spoke to the specifics of why he voted as he did. So his position is being defined by others. The lack of transparency continues to hurt him on this issue.
Success on the web means transparency. Transparency means tell people why.
Finally, the key issue is not hiring people to do your web response, it's what that response will be. Don't confuse getting an infrastructure in place with determining an effective response. Those are two very different things. Don't overanalyze what you will do, who should do what, etc. Just start writing. There is no "correct" way to get your message out. There are many ways and the trick is to try and see what works best for you.
Next: Damage Control