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Don’t Let Your Campaign Get Off-Message Online

There is significant value to be had from creating a strong, well-funded online strategy as part of your political campaign.  However, your online strategy should not be viewed as a mere add-on that can be haphazardly attached to an existing campaign.

Digital marketing is huge, online advertising spend grew to an astonishing $32.03 billion in 2011 and is poised to overtake print advertising in 2012.  Political campaigning is only just getting in on the action.  Private sector marketers are able to dedicate larger portions of their budgets to risky new mediums and wait for the payoff.  With a campaign, the tried and true is more often relied upon, since in a relatively short election cycle there isn’t much room for risk.  That said, after 2008, I would argue that digital marketing is tried and true.

People are spending more and more time online.  If your campaign isn’t online you aren’t reaching them.  And if you want to reach younger voters, you absolutely must be online.  So how do you ensure you’re creating a winning online strategy?

Devote Adequate Resources

In order to see significant results from your online efforts, you will need to devote significant resources to it.  Josh Koster and Tyler Davis, partners at digital strategy firm Chong & Koster, suggest that spending 15-20% of your paid media budget online is appropriate.

Endorse Liberty, a Super PAC supporting Ron Paul, has already spent $2.58 million on ads, virtually all online.  Recognizing that many Ron Paul supporters are young voters, they’ve wisely taken their ads online, where their constituency is.  They’ve employed Google search ads, Facebook ads, paid StumbleUpon placements and are only just entering into television advertising in anticipation of the Florida primary.

It’s working.  In Iowa, 48% of the under-thirty crowd went with Ron Paul, putting winner Rick Santorum’s 23% to shame.  In New Hampshire, 47% of young people voted Paul (versus Romney’s 26%) and in South Carolina he beat out all other candidates by taking 31% of the youth vote.

Don’t Go Off-Message

It is crucial that your online messaging is consistent with the rest of your campaign.  Don’t just think of your online strategy as a way to court voters who aren’t exposed to your campaign elsewhere, think of it as a way to court the same voters who see you on television and in print when they’re online.  You don’t want to confuse or alienate voters by showing conflicting or inconsistent messages on different channels.

According to a study by Topix and Equation Research, 68% of Americans turn to the internet as one of their primary sources for information about candidates.  You want to control as much of that information as possible—which means building a useful, navigable website with valuable information about your candidate, building a strong social media presence, and creating as much online content as possible.

Social media, which many consider unimportant, is not a job to be handed off to some intern without a further thought.  This type of communication is powerful and when executed well it can provide an incredible boost, but when executed poorly it can have terrible repercussions.  A gaffe on twitter can be as powerful and can generate as much negative press as a gaffe during a televised debate.

Remember That It’s All Connected

Take the same principles that apply offline, online.  Increasingly, people are having more conversations online, about work, fashion, technology, and of course, politics.  Political debate occurs online now more than ever—in a recent voter survey, 27% of respondents said they actively participate in online debates about politics.  Being able to reach them online, when and where they’re talking, is an incredible opportunity.  This is the time to ask them to take action, by evangelizing, volunteering, or donating.  Not only is taking online action offline possible, it’s the whole point!  A successful digital strategy will translate online buzz into offline action and eventually, to votes.

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