Friday, June 29, 2007

Email collection splash screens

When the phone rings in your campaign office do you ask the caller's name, email address and physical location before letting them ask their question or make their comment? Of course not.

Whether it's in person, by phone, or online, people approach your campaign with reasons of their own. Think long and hard before you impede them online with an email harvesting splash screen.

I so strongly dissuade my clients from email collection splash screens that I don't have access to stats on how many folks leave a site when confronted by a splash screen, but if you're using one, your web person can tell you. Ask how many folks never click through and how many decline to give away their info. Then determine whether or not you need to rethink your approach.

Consider getting contact info online much the way you do offline: first meet the needs of the caller/visitor and then make it easy to give you the info you want. Online this translates into an elegant site design with a prominent subscribe button. It may also mean writing a pitch for newsletter subscription in your blog (if you have one). Either way, you'll want to think about what's in it for the visitor before you sell them on handing over their info.

Whatever you do, remember it's easy to change (and to track) your effectiveness online. So try an approach and map how it works. Then change it if you don't like the results.

--Louella Pizzuti

Which matters more: what happened or what people believe happened?

As I watched last night's Democratic debate I saw no clear winner, but comparing candidate web site coverage, I declare Richardson's campaign the hands-down winners.

Candidates with debate coverage on their home page

The good
Bill Richardson, debate photo with caption: "Strong Debate Performance" followed by "Governor Richardson showed once again that he is the candidate with the boldest vision and strongest record to lead America forward." [This was not at all my take on the debate, which makes front paging this an even smarter move; the Richardson campaign clearly understands the value of spin and the reach of the web.] Blog: video clips (no clip transcript or recap).

Dennis Kucinich, excerpts from press release, positive remarks from Donna Brazile, and a link to a transcript (text only). [Excerpts from his blog are the bulk of his home page; not recommended, but it does keep his front page up-to-the-minute.]

Joe Biden, good one-liner overshadowed by photo/spin of previous debate.

The bad
John Edwards and Mike Gravel both refer to the debate as if it hasn't happened yet. Whoops.

[edited 7/2 to add: most of the home pages noted above have changed by now.]

How'd the others do with their blogs?

Chris Dodd was the clear winner. His campaign posted a video (with transcript) of his best answer.

Hillary Clinton: encouraged supporters to chat/cheer during the debate then wisely edited the original post to excerpt positive press quotes.

John Edwards: lively group commenting during debate; no campaign perspective.

Barack Obama: one post buried in fundraising pitches.

The ugly truth
This kind of web coverage is not the best money can buy, but it's the best money is buying. Politcal use of the web has become much more prevalent since 2004, but the message is still mostly lost in a tangle of technology.

--Louella Pizzuti

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Obama campaign exploits technology but obscures message

The Barack Obama 08 campaign is using the technology well. Take a look at how they have both video vignettes and audio clips from donors on their front page--in support of their end-of-quarter fundraising/donor push. The videos are straightforward, edited with a light hand and appear to be unscripted; excellent job. But the page as a whole? Not nearly as impressive. I'm sure the page will change, but right now it's impossible to tell what Barack Obama's message is by going to his home page. Let me say that again:

It's impossible to know Barack Obama's campaign message by looking at his home page.

The page is split in two vertically--and "Be Inspired, Be Counted" (the fundraising pitch) consumes the left side. This includes links to three videos, a rotating audio clip (with text excerpt), a (presumably) new-donor name/location crawl, and updated stats about how many people have donated this quarter.

Sound busy? It is, but it works both visually and in getting the "donate now" message across.

But what about the Obama-curious? What's here for them? Nothing. To get any actual information about Barack Obama and what he stands for, you have to click through at least one page deeper. The people in charge of Obama's home page understand technology but they're losing the casually curious visitor.

Don't make this mistake on your site; technology is important--even imperative--but technology should exist in service to the message, not to obscure it. See also Letting your IT person write your web copy is like letting the phone company write your fundraising scripts.

--Louella Pizzuti

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Should politicians blog? You're asking the wrong question.

The right question is, "should politicians publicize what they're doing?" (Let's assume we're talking about elected officials who honor the public trust.) The answer to that question, I hope you'll agree, is a resounding yes!

So then it's just a matter of deciding how you deliver the message.

Press releases?
Definitely! But sending them to press outlets puts you at the mercy of the publication--if they don't print, your constituents don't know. At the very least, take this material and publish it on your blog as well.

Direct mail?
Possibly. Direct mail's expensive and disposable recyclable, but maybe you have a compelling need to get things directly to the homes of your constituents. You'll still want to make it available on your web site or on your blog for people who discarded your letter without reading it and for anyone who's just curious.

Of course! No distribution costs and a permanent, searchable archive of your accomplishments. And if you do it right, news outlets will learn to come to your site to get information and background for stories they're writing. How much is that worth to you and your future campaigns?

--Louella Pizzuti

Monday, June 25, 2007

Letting your IT person write your web copy is like letting the phone company write your fundraising scripts

The medium is not the message. The message is the message. And putting your campaign's message in the hands of the person who's designing or delivering your web site is a big mistake. What you say and how you say it on the web is at least as important as how you say it in person, in your ads and in direct mail.

Why do I say at least as important? Because your web presence sticks around while people's memories fade and direct mail and ads get recycled.

Your web site can collect and amplify everything you do--from town hall meetings to parades to debates and door-to-door visits. But only if you treat it like a communications investment.

--Louella Pizzuti

Sunday, June 24, 2007

What politicians miss about the web, and how I can help

Most campaigns barely scratch the surface of what the web can do for them. They probably have a web site--which means they definitely have a Donate button--but they generally think of their web site as a technology expense instead of a communications investment. Campaigns almost never invest the resources required to use the Internet as an online campaign office: broadening the reach of their messages, inspiring and informing undecided voters, motivating and empowering volunteers or supplementing/highlighting press coverage.

And, as someone who's been immersed in "new media" since the early days at Apple Computer, I'm most perplexed by campaigns that virtually ignore the people who've taken the time to seek them out on the Web. I suppose it's because they can't see the people they're ignoring (or worse, frustrating), but even Web sites with free stat trackers can count them.

Why withhold information from people who actively seek it out?

After hearing a recent segment on the Jim Lehrer news hour, I think I understand why politicians lag behind the business world in embracing Internet technology. Most politicians simply don't have access to people like me who have over a decade of experience using the Web to build relationships and contribute to the bottom line. (Eleven years ago, when most political folks didn't even have email addresses, I was the editor in chief of Apple's webcast of the Atlanta Olympics. Since then I've continued to help businesses expand their reach by building relationships online and off.)

Along with my long history of using the web to communicate, I have a track record of getting voters to cooperate. I was the campaign manager for a state house race in rural Colorado and the counties that followed my plan for voter outreach boasted 97% active voter turnout. I understand technology but, more importantly, I understand "normal" voters and can get them to act.

I can help make your web presence an online campaign office rather than just a billboard. More importantly, I'm offering something new--a way to build relationships with voters instead of just a way to market to them. (I market to voters as well, but the marketing sticks because the relationship exists.) Twenty years from now, my approaches will be commonplace, but now they can level the playing field and make a real difference for the right candidate. (And twenty years from now we'll mock the web laggards in the same way we laugh at the folks who wrote off tv because "no one will want to sit in one place to see something on a screen.")

Interested in hearing how I can help your campaign succeed? I'm available for everything from one-time consultations to complete campaign immersion.

--Louella Pizzuti

Saturday, June 23, 2007

10 easy things elected officials can do to make their web sites less embarrassing

1. Stop referring to the past as if it’s in the future.
Most sites are not updated frequently (or at all) after the election. At the very minimum, you should give election results and thank your supporters (even if your campaign was unsuccessful). If your campaign was successful, scrub your site of any time-based references so it doesn’t look out of date when you don’t update it. Want extra credit? Tell people how they can find out about what's going on now that you're in office.

2. Respond to your email or get rid of the link.
If you or someone in your office isn’t responding to your email within 48 hours, you need to set expectations on your contact page. If you’re not responding to it at all, you’re losing a great chance to build a relationship with someone who actually cares about what you’re doing; before you tick them off, just remove the email link.

3. Get rid of the calendar.
You’re busy. But an empty calendar on your web site sure doesn’t reflect that. If you’re not going to update your calendar, get rid of it. (The same is true of any area of your site you aren’t updating: if you have an “in the news” area that’s languishing, use it or remove it.)

4. Make sure every person who fills out your volunteer form gets a prompt response.
Do this even if you’re not currently in the middle of a campaign; this is not about you, it’s about them. They found your web site, filled out your form and want to help. Thank them and give them some expectation of when things will heat up. (And heck, while you’re at it, why don’t you recruit them to send emails in response to offers of volunteer help?)

5. Give your press releases a home on the web.
You—or someone in your office—are already doing this work so expose more people to it (and start building a library of your accomplishments) by making them available (preferably not as pdfs) on your site.

6. Make sure your links go to the right place.
Really. You’d be surprised how many political sites include broken links or calendar buttons that link to a volunteer form. Ask a volunteer or a kid to go through and click every single link. And then fix what’s broken.

7. Remove or resize photos that are too small to see whose hand you’re shaking.
The mere presence of photos does not make your site graphically interesting.

8. If you must link to pdf files, warn your readers.
Adobe’s pdf format is a convenient way to distribute materials, but it’s not very web friendly. If possible, include the pdf as html so web searchers will find the info when they surf. And if it really makes most sense to link to a pdf, indicate it as such with a simple (pdf) embedded in the link.

9. Spell check your site, then grammar check it.
Because it's so easy to publish to the web, many folks are tempted to skip the spelling/grammar check; don't fall into this trap.

10. Get someone to update your site so constituents have easy access to news about what you're doing.
Oh wait, that's way beyond making sure your web presence isn't an embarrassment; I'll cover this one (in great detail) later.

--Louella Pizzuti