Thursday, April 10, 2008

Why does Starbucks have a web site?

I was recently listening to some otherwise well informed people discussing online campaigning. All three of them were more or less skeptical of the usefulness of investing in a campaign web site for much more than fundraising. I, of course, wanted to scream.

Instead of screaming, let's take a look at a business that's using the web. And hey, just for grins, let's make it a low-tech business with locations all across the nation--on almost every street corner, in fact. Let's make it Starbucks. A glance at the Starbucks home page tells us they use the web site to:

--direct people to Starbucks locations
--deeply explain nutritional and flavor info baristas may or may not know/have time to explain
--promote coffee tasting events
--recruit new Starbucks employees
--sell coffee

I'm sure you see the parallels in a campaign:

--giving directions to the campaign office and other locations
--detailing positions on issues, background information and press
--promoting campaign events
--recruiting volunteers
--gathering donations

Let's think about this for a minute... clearly Starbucks sees value in creating, maintaining, and updating a web presence--even though you can hardly swing a dead cat without hitting a Starbucks. And (perhaps most importantly), they're accountable to shareholders--if the web site didn't deliver, it would be discontinued. That's how public companies work.

When you're thinking about your web investment, think about whether you want to follow in the footsteps of successful multi-million dollar companies or in the footsteps of politicians who don't yet understand the value of the web.

--Louella Pizzuti

Friday, February 29, 2008

It's not about the technology, it's about communications, field, fundraising and gotv

In a recent conversation with a Congressman's campaign team, I realized we were talking about two very different things when we discussed technology. This (old-school and very effective) campaign manager saw his candidate's web site as another campaign check-off item--on the same list as yard signs, direct mail, walk pieces, etc. If the campaign was a car, he saw technology as a windshield wiper--important, but not integral.

I see the campaign web site as a way to make (almost) every campaign effort less expensive, more effective, and more widely available.

In the car analogy, I'd see technology as more like fuel injectors -- something that improves overall performance. (Did I just reveal my mechanical ignorance? Even if fuel injectors don't do what I think they do, I trust you understand the underlying point.) It's a song I've been singing for decades: back in the late 80's I started volunteering at elementary schools to help integrate computers into their curricula--to use the computer as a way to quiz second graders on their spelling words rather than just as a way to teach them how to use a mouse. I believed then (and now) that the computer was a means to an end, rather than an end in itself--and that having a computer teacher was like having a pencil teacher. Now, it's certainly true that a computer is much more complicated and powerful than a pencil--and that there's great value in combining the struggles and objectives of the teacher with the understanding and solutions of someone who knows how to use the computer to make teaching easier.

So too with campaign web sites. You can certainly hire a director of Internet outreach (or whatever you want to call it), but if you put this person in charge of your web site without integrating the web site into all facets of your campaign, you're more or less hiring yourself a pencil teacher.

If you really want to exploit the knowledge and understanding of your internet/technology person, make sure they understand (and can communicate) how to harness technology to make all campaign efforts better, cheaper and more visible.

--Louella Pizzuti

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Treating your web site as an ATM is like using your computer as a typewriter

Let me say that again: Treating your web site as an ATM is like using your computer as a typewriter. Sure, your computer makes an excellent replacement for yesterday's typewriter, but you're missing more than you're getting. Think video, audio, email, spreadsheets, databases... and of course the list goes on and on. So too the possibilities for your campaign web site.

Is your walk piece on the web? Ready for supporters to email to friends? Prepped to print and distribute to their neighbors? Complete with room for their personal endorsement?

Can supporters easily add their names to your endorsers list? Upload their photos and a line or two about why they're voting for you?

Do you have a way to manage and track letter to the editor campaigns?

Are you creating and posting video clips of your candidate's compelling appearances and pithy quotes?

Are you engaging and inspiring visitors? Giving them ways to support you with more than just cash?

Some political web sites are nothing more than static billboards with a donate button or robust collections of online tools. But the very best use the web as a campaign controlled multi-media publication--complete with an editorial focus and peppered with ways to engage and inspire supporters--both online and off.

Typewriter or computer? ATM or robust web presence? Your choice may be the margin between winning and losing.

--Louella Pizzuti

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Using your site to reach voters who are more interested in issues than candidates

I know I'm not going to burst any bubbles when I say not all Americans care about who's running for what; voter turnout stats make that clear.

But if you use your web site well--filling it with detailed information and updating it frequently so it shows up high in search results--people who are searching for information about renewable energy in California (for example) will find your site when they search. Just ask Jerry McNerney, who used the web exceptionally well and upset a seven-term incumbent in California's 11th CD.

In fact, nearly half of the people who find Colorado Speaker of the House Andrew Romanoff's blog find it by searching for topics like energy independence, Colorado schools, and health care concerns. That means his blog not only educates and informs people who come by specifically to see what the Speaker is up to, but it also lets people who are interested in specific issues know that he's on the job and getting things done.

Among the many beauties of the web is the fact that you've got virtually unlimited space; you don't have to choose whether to include detailed policy papers, you just need to think carefully about organization and packaging.

Details shouldn't drown out your top-line messages, they should illustrate it. And sound bites should not stand alone; they should be a nicely packaged entry point to richer information.

--Louella Pizzuti

Choose your web site's Editor in Chief with care

If we're to judge based on their use of the web, most politicians learned the wrong lesson from the Dean campaign's use of the web. Just like it's not the reply envelope in your fundraising letter that nets a donation, it was not the donate button that made people donate to Dean on his web site.

A Dean staffer told me the issues pages got more hits than any other part of Dean's web site. I'm not surprised, but I'm guessing candidates with info-light web sites would be.

Your web site is a publication--even if you're only using it as a virtual campaign brochure. (Of course, if your site is nothing more than an electronic brochure, it's not a particularly good publication, but it's a publication just the same.)

Your site's Editor in Chief can mean the difference between a static, stale site that discusses the past as if it's in the future and a lively, informative, inspirational site that collects and packages the great things you've done, the best quips and quotes from stump speeches and supporters, and transforms inquisitive researchers into vocal supporters.

Choose wisely.

--Louella Pizzuti

Friday, December 14, 2007

Marketing Matters

If a tree falls in the forest and no one hears it, does it make a sound?

If a candidate is stupendous but no one knows it, does it matter that they're wonderful?

I'll leave answering the first question to the philosophical types and pounce on the second: no. If voters don't know who a candidate is and how they'll make things better, they will not get elected.

This is where marketing comes in.

And, although you may not call it marketing, it's what campaigns are all about: crafting and delivering stump speeches, writing op-eds, sending direct mail, calling voters, running ads, etc. So how does this relate to online campaigning? Well, campaigns with meaningful web strategies use the web to extend the reach and amplify the message of everything they do offline.

The really good campaigns make sure their online offerings not only repackage offline experiences, but also make them easy for supporters to share. In fact, the December issue of the Journal of Advertising Research says that common word-of-mouth advertising by regular folks is more powerful than “key influencers.” (Article summary here.) If you're not making it easy and compelling for people to tell each other about your candidate or campaign, you're making your job harder.

--Louella Pizzuti

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Who should be in charge of your web presence?

Who you hire to drive your web presence depends entirely on what you want/need to accomplish.

If you are in the camp of campaign managers who see your web site as akin to a yard sign: "something that doesn't do much good but you have to have because the other side does," you'll probably want someone with strong design skills who you can keep busy on higher priority campaign tasks.

If you understand your web presence can be an online campaign office:

  • a place where supporters come to get information and inspiration
  • a place where undecided voters see info and endorsements that help them decide
  • and a place for meaningful two-way communication
you'll search for someone who understands how to weave threads of every part of your campaign strategy into your online presence.

Most down-ticket races probably need nothing more than mostly-static content that collects all your campaign info in one (well organized) place, that lets visitors subscribe to your newsletter, and provides a donate button. This type of presence leverages the message work you put into your other campaign materials and probably requires no more than a chunk of time for initial setup and bits and pieces of time to update with press mentions and anything else you want to give broader visibility to.

So think hard about what you want your web presence to accomplish before you decide who to hire.

--Louella Pizzuti