Online campaigning - winning votes with a campaign blog

Most campaigners and candidates know by now that online campaigning is becoming a more and more important aspect of election campaigns, and can give you a tool to reach your electorate and put your message across. But many candidates don't really know how to get the most from their campaign website, and in particular their campaign blog. Here I'll look at some of the reasons it's important to have a blog (or news section, if you prefer to call it that) in your campaign website, then provide some tips on getting the most from your campaign blog.

Four reasons why a blog is important

It's a great way to get your personality across. Blog articles are more informal than press releases or campaign leaflets, and give you an opportunity to show your more human side - and everyone likes a politican with a human side, yes?

You can use it to reinforce your policies and your message. Blog posts can explore the policy areas you are interested in and the things you promise to do if you get elected.

Blog posts can spark debate. If you allow comments after your posts, it can encourage people to ask questions and spark debate around the issues affecting your campaign (although there are risks - see below).

It boosts your search engine rankings. Updating your site with new blog articles on a regular basis shows the search engines that your site is alive and kicking, and will help you get found by google and other search engines.

So, hopefully you're convinced that a blog or news section on your site is a good idea, but how do you go about getting the most from it?

Making your blog an effective campaign tool

Identify what you want your blog to achieve. Do you want to rally your supporters? Expose your opponents' flaws? Encourage floating voters to vote for you? Attract media attention? Or simply communicate your record in office? Identifying this will influence what you write about, and will depend on your audience and who's visiting your site.

Do some analysis of your blog's target audience. Who your target audience is will depend on your objectives, content and tone - although understanding who's actually visiting your site may influence your objectives (I never said this was easy!).

Update your blog reguarly. The frequency with which you write will depend on the stage in your election campaign, with updates increasing in frequency as the election day draws nearer. A sensible guideline to follow is:

    year round - weekly update

    in the two months before an election - twice weekly update

    in the two weeks before an election - 3-4 updates a week

    in the last week of a campaign - daily update.

This sounds like a lot, and means that a lot of the updates need to be posted when you're at your most busy with the doorstep campaign. But you can make this easier. Find a member of your campaign team who you trust to write short factual updates and upload photos of the campaign, and write some longer articles in advance, either saving them to upload or using your website's content management system or CMS to publish them at a later date. A system like WordPress, which is what we use at campaignbus.co.uk, lets you publish posts at any date in the future.

Consider the tone of your writing. It should be friendly and accessible, while also giving the impression of capability and professionalism. Tips for your writing style:

    make sure you use the spellchecker and check your grammar. You don't want careless writing errors to reflect badly on your reputation for communication.

    use 'I' - talk about yourself in the first person and don't be afraid to make your blog about you, your experiences and responses to issues - as long as those issues are relevant to your campaign.

    if you feel angry about something (and as a campaigner, you may well do), articulate this through your words rather than your tone. Explain why something makes you angry instead if just venting online.

    you're more likely to convince others that way.

    don't be afraid to say what you think though, and how you react to things, especially to issues relevant to your campaign - people like their politicians human and not robotic.

    try to inject some humour - although be careful not to be offensive or inappropriate.

Decide if you want to encourage discussion through the use of comments. Allowing interaction through the use of comments will give voters or supporters the chance to communicate with you and join in the debate, but you will have to consider how you will deal with unwanted comments, which you will receive. Consider the practicalities such as whether comments have to be approved by a moderator before publication, whether that will just apply to people who haven't commented before,a nd who that moderator will be - it could take quite a lot of time.

Use social media and other websites to link to your posts. Use your twitter account and Facebook Page, if you have one, to post links to your articles as soon as they're published. You can automate this using a tool such as hootsuite. Encourage members of your team to link to your blog from their website and post links on twitter and as individuals on Facebook too.

Summary - putting it into practice

Considering these points will help you get started with a campaign blog, but how it works for you and your campaign is something you can only learn through experience. Take stock of how your blog is doing from time to time, analyse your visitor stats using a tool like google analytics, review whether it's meeting its objectives or indeed if you need new ones, and identify if you need to make changes to the content, the tone, or the frequency of your posts.

Running an effective campiagn blog isn't an easy or a quick task, but if done well, it can make a huge positive difference to your campaign.

Happy blogging!