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The Worst Thing a Campaign Web Site Can Be Is …

…outdated. The same could be said for most Websites, political or not. But when I do a campaign Web site, I want people to come away with the impression that there’s a lot going on with the campaign, momentum is building, this is a campaign worth getting involved with or supporting financially.

Conversely, if you’re not careful, you can present the impression that there’s not much going on with this campaign and it’s not worth paying attention to. If a visitor to your Web site clicks on a link that says “News” and sees only a few press releases that are several months old, what kind of message are you sending? Better not to have a News page if you can’t commit to keeping it current.

That’s why I always include a feature for listing current campaign events, and I have the events automatically expire off the Web site when the event date is past. I don’t want people coming to the Web site and seeing an invitation for a fundraiser from two months ago. I want them to see something new.

Often, Web sites become outdated because it’s too difficult to get new information posted. Typically, the bottleneck is a webmaster who maintains the site manually and is the only one who has access to the software and the password to make updates. But it shouldn’t be that hard!

A good Webmaster ought to be able to provide a way for other members of the campaign to post routine updates, such as press releases and event notices themselves. And they shouldn’t have to be technical geniuses to do it — anyone with the right password should be able to update the campaign Web site, and doing it should be no harder than sending an email.

So make sure it’s easy to update your Web site, and then keep it up to date.

Recruiting Candidates and Volunteers

I attended a Hollywood Democratic Club meeting last night, which is unusual for me because I live at the other corner of the county, in Coral Springs. But I had some other business down there and asked to have a minute in their program to talk about BlueBroward.org.

My basic pitch was that BlueBroward.org is set up to connect candidates with volunteers who can elect them, and in order to do that, I need to have both candidates and volunteers be aware of the site and, ideally, register with it.

Signing up for our campaign listings ought to be a simple decision for candidates, I’d think, because I’m offering them free advertising. But trying to give something away for free can be tough, maybe because it makes people suspicious. I keep trying.

I ran into Christian Chiari, a Democrat who is running for Florida House District 91, who told me he had hesitated to post a listing because he felt his own campaign Web site wasn’t very polished yet.

So maybe there’s some confusion about this — candidates don’t necessarily have to have a fancy Web site to take advantage of the BlueBroward.org campaign listings. If you provide a link to your own Web site, great, people can go there to find out more about you. If not, you can still post a few paragraphs about your candidacy and some contact information to BlueBroward.org, and hopefully we can steer some help your way. With luck, we’ll get a few people to click on that red-white-and-blue Join Campaign button and send you their BlueBroward.org profile (which is how the system is supposed to work).

It’s meant to be a no-lose proposition.

Since I mentioned Mr. Chiari, let me put in a plug for him as a hard working candidate whom I’ve seen at every Democratic event I’ve attended lately. He’s also working hard for Ron Klein, one of our great Congressional candidates.

Christian can be reached at (954)803-4844 or chiari06@att.net

Tell a Friend feature

Something new I’ve added to help members make better use of the events and candidates listings on this Web site, and maybe make BlueBroward.org a little more widely known in the process.

You can now use the Tell a Friend page to easily email any of this info to up to 100 of your closest friends. You must be logged in to use this feature. Once you enter your password “Tell a Friend” should appear as the last of the red-white-and-blue buttons on the left hand side of the page.

Try it and let me know whether you think it’s ready for prime time before I promote it more widely.

Campaign Sign Up feature – New & Improved

One of the original goals of BlueBroward.org was to allow members to create volunteer profiles that they could share with campaigns they wanted to support. This feature has never been used as much as I’d like, but I still have high hopes that it could be useful as we go into the Fall elections and gear up for 2008.

The idea is that your profile is supposed to be a sort of volunteer resume, with the essential information about how to contact you as well as a summary of your skills and the issues that matter to you (your selection of the checkboxes in the issues section of the profile also feed the “Top Issues” section on the home page). So in this respect, BlueBroward is supposed to function sort of like one of those career Web sites where you prepare an electronic resume that you can submit to multiple employers.

The “New & Improved” part is that I’ve worked on making the system easier to understand and easier to use.

The new Campaign Listings page features a bright red white-and-blue “Join Campaign” button.

Campaigns Screen Shot

Clicking on that takes you to the sign up screen —

Campaign Sign Up Screen

— and I’ve added an opportunity to add a message to the campaign up top. If you’re already a BlueBroward.org member, I ask you to login first. Once you’ve entered your password, you’ll be returned to the campaign signup screen with your profile filled in:

Campaign Sign Up Screen

So at that point you would make any updates, maybe add a message to the campaign (like, “The next couple of weeks would be good if you’d like me to go door-to-door or do phone banking, but after that I’ll be on vacation”) and click Submit.

The campaign will then get your information via email, with a cheery “Here’s someone who wants to be part of your campaign!” at the top.

So that’s the big idea here. It was inspired partly by the experience I had (and I know I wasn’t alone) finding it much harder than it should have been to volunteer for the 2004 Kerry-Edwards campaign. I got the impression that the campaign, or the party, or maybe both, weren’t very organized. So with the encouragement of some other grassroots workers, I set up BlueBroward.org as a way for the volunteers to organize themselves.

Now, I don’t mean to reopen arguments about what went wrong in 2004 and whose fault it was. Maybe there were just too many votes aligned against us, and nothing anyone did in Broward County would have made a difference. Let’s just make sure we’re as organized as we possibly can be going into these next rounds of elections. I’m doing my part to help the best way I know how.

I’m happy to report that we now have a listing for Sen. Bill Nelson’s reelection campaign, something I’ve been trying to get for months.

I ask the campaigns to submit a short blurb, as well as some contact info, so I need their cooperation to do it right.

Why does Bill Nelson need a listing here, when he has his own Web site? Well, to help you find his campaign Web site, for one thing. Directories are one of the things the Web is really good for (that’s where Yahoo! got its start) and even in the age of Google they have something to recommend them.

This is also supposed to make it easier for you to submit your BlueBroward profile to the candidates who are listed here. (On my to-do list: making that easier).

Even Big Campaigns Screw Up Email

This is a perfect example of how even big campaigns sometimes miss on the basics of email communication. So I’m scanning through my email on a busy day, and it contains a mix of spam and commercial promotions. I make my living as a tech magazine writer, so some of the promotions are legit, such as press releases from companies I maybe should be paying attention to. There are also a couple of political emails in this batch. Can you spot them?

Davis subject line

The one that jumps out more is Martin Kiar’s (good job, Martin), because it includes little details like the name of the candidate. But the other is from a much more high profile campaign, Jim Davis for Governor. Except I don’t know that until I actually open the message.

This is what I see then:

A little better

OK, up until now the only way I’d know this was from the Jim Davis campaign is if I recognized the name Jennifer O’Malley. No disrespect intended, as I assume she’s an important person in the campaign. But sorry, no name recognition here. And that subject line, “And we’re off!” could be anything. In my world, could definitely be a publicity person writing about the launch of a new product. Could be one of those messages telling me that some stock is about to take off and wouldn’t I like to get in on the ground floor? In other words, it’s a message I’d be inclined to ignore and maybe even delete unread.

Now that I have the email open, I can see that the email is from jimdavis2006.com, and the candidate’s name is in the first sentence, so now I know why I’m supposed to pay attention to this. Still not as eye catching as it’s supposed to be because by default my email program doesn’t display images (a defense against certain spam and hacker techniques).

So it’s not until I tell the software I trust jimdavis.com that I see the message in all it’s glory:

In its full glory

Having the images displayed wasn’t critical in this case, which is good. The worse thing that I’ve seen campaigns do is send out something like an event information where all of the information is embedded in an image file. Often this is done because someone has come up with a cute graphical treatment that they’re proud of, but the consequence is that if image display is turned off, all recipients see is a blank message. There are technical ways to work around this (alternative text that can be displayed if the image isn’t), but you really have to work at making sure that, no matter what, your message gets through.

In case it wasn’t clear, the point of this critique was not to say anything bad about the Davis campaign, just to emphasize how important it is to identify campaign emails clearly enough that email recipients can see at a glance why they should open your message.