Candidates and the Net

The internet has affected how we communicate, work, shop and, in this election year, how we run for office.

Wilmington NC – [Click the Listen button to hear Wally's commentary.]

Well, it's that's time of year again. It's the start of the serious election season.

In this Postcard from the Digital Age we're going to talk about how candidates for office can use the Net effectively so we all benefit.

All across this great land, candidates for office are filling and emptying their war chests. They're combing back through their biography to put everything they have ever done in the best possible light. And they're doing everything they can to present their opponent and potential opponents as the very personification of everything that is wrong in the world today.

Those candidates have a daunting task. They've got to organize a campaign, raise money, and actually share information with the voters about their life and position. They can learn from what others have done in the past.

Serious political fund raising from big donors began when Marc Hanna raised money for William McKinley in 1896. Slick media campaigns have been here since Calvin Coolidge, of all people, put advertising legend Bruce Barton on his campaign team.

In 1972, George McGovern proved you could raise a lot of money from small donors, too. His tool was direct mail.

Then, in 1998, former Navy SEAL combat vet, pro-wrestler, talk show host, and mayor Jesse Ventura made great use of the Net to help organize campaign events. Two years later Senator John McKain raised $2 million dollars on the Net in just two days. Then, in 2003, came Howard Dean.

Dean proved that the Net had reached critical mass for political campaigns. He also proved that smart use of a combination of Net tools could turbocharge even an under-funded campaign. So, how should you candidates out there use the Net to do a better job with voters like me and help yourself get elected?

Use the Net to communicate. You really can't do enough of that. Communication is the key to everything else that goes on in the campaign. Get the word out, using email and blogs. Use Web sites for lots of in-depth information and links.

Tell your story, but be effective about it. Use the kind of language that people like to read, and make the story interesting. Use links to information sources that allow folks to explore issues in depth.

Tell the truth. Sometimes, you know, telling an embarrassing truth yourself is a really effective campaign tactic.

Use the interactive tools of the Net to answer questions. The Net gives you the ability to really involve people in the dialogue of your campaign. That's good for everyone.

Use the Net to bring people together. Use a Net tool like Meet-ups the way Howard Dean did to get folks together locally and build excitement, commitment and involvement. That's the key to all kinds of support.

Support is more than dollar contributions. And that means you have to do more to build support than just have a way for people to use your Web site to give you money.

Use the Net to help engage potential donors. Not everyone is going to be ready to make a contribution when they show up on your Web site for the first time. If you involve people in other ways, like attending events, signing up for your newsletter, putting your sign in their window or yard, or just about anything else, they will not only tell their friends about you, they're more likely to give you money, too.

When folks give you money, they become very important people called "donors." Donors are people you need to care for, because their money is your key to being able to buy that expensive advertising time to tell your story. Use the Net to stay in touch with them and to treat them special.

The choice is yours, dear candidates. The Net gives you tools to run better campaigns. You can use them to communicate more effectively with voters like me and to get us involved and excited. Or you can let your opponent do it.