You can learn a lot about a candidate from their presence on the web—and what you learn isn’t always good.
Motivated Democrats all over the country are stepping up to challenge GOP incumbents. Part of our mission here at the Democratic Candidates Conference is to uncover new candidates and help them to get off on the right foot. So we’ve been scouring the internet getting to know the early crop of candidates.
Sometimes you run across a candidate with an impressive internet presence that immediately makes you sit up and take notice.
Kyle Horton, challenging David Rouzer in North Carolina’s 7th congressional district, is one such candidate. She has a terrific website where you can get to know the candidate and her story. There’s a clear statement of why she’s running and where she stands on issues. Her Facebook and Twitter pages are consistent with the website and are updated frequently with fresh and relevant content. In fact the streams from both social media sites appear right on the campaign website.
Screenshot from Dr. Kyle Horton's congressional campaign website.
Clearly this is a a candidate to be reckoned with. She has obviously put a lot of thought, time and effort into her candidacy. She means business.
Unfortunately, Kyle Horton is the exception rather than the rule. More often we see some variation a one-page website featuring a heroic photo of the candidate, a huge DONATE button, and an invitation join the candidate’s “movement.” And that’s it. Essentially, the message to the visitor is, “I’m a person you don’t know who’s running for office and you should love me.”
This is not a knock on those candidates. If you’re a Democrat up against a Republican, you’re our kind of people. We’re all in this together and we want you to be successful. So now is the time—now, while your campaign is in its infancy, when prospective supporters are getting to know you primarily through your online presence—right now is the time for you to look for problems and fix them.
Here are eight of the most glaring issues we have found. Some are easier to deal with than others. But they are all non-negotiable. If any of them applies to you, don’t expect to be taken seriously as a candidate until they’re addressed:
1 - No campaign URL or official email address
I’m sorry, but email@example.com is not an official campaign email address. Go to Godaddy.com and spend fifteen bucks on your own URL. Use it for your website, for your email address, and eventually for the addresses of your staff.
2 - No campaign website
Believe it or not, we occasionally run across candidates whose only online presence is through Facebook. You should not pretend to call yourself a candidate until you have a campaign website.
3 - No contact info on website
Virtually every candidate website features prominent buttons for making donations and signing up to volunteer, but precious few make it easy for visitors comment, email or call. In our research of Democratic congressional campaigns, we have found fewer than 1 in 4 offer both an email address and phone number. In fact an amazing 28% of sites offered neither an email address nor phone number.
Campaigns are about communication. What does it say to your prospective constituents when you want them to give you money but don’t want them to talk to you? (And in case you’re wondering, an impersonal “contact” form is better than nothing, but it’s a poor substitute for a phone number and email address.)
4 - Missing social streams
In 21st Century politics, every campaign must have an active Facebook page and Twitter account. LinkedIn and Instagram, if well executed, will boost your credibility. But you’ve got to have Facebook and Twitter.
5 - Broken links on website
If a visitor clicks a link on your site and gets an error message or is sent to a dead end, you the candidate look bad. Check every link on your website and make sure they work.
6 - Not mentioning the district you’re running for
I estimate that in 2018 there will be 300 or more Democratic candidates for U.S. House of Representatives alone, and that’s not counting incumbents. Don’t leave your visitors wondering what seat you’re seeking. Tell them clearly on your website and social pages.
7 - No favicon (or worse, one belonging to someone else)
This is a little thing, but little things are important. A favicon is a tiny icon that appears on the tab of your web browser. It identifies the site you’re on. When I ran for congress, my favicon was a simple red “A” for my first name. Every website provider allows you to upload a favicon; it’s easy and free.
Here’s why it’s important: If you don’t upload your own favicon, your website host (Wordpress, Weebly, NationBuilder, etc.) will use theirs in its place, which makes you look like an amateur.
8 - No website footer
Every professional campaign website should have a footer at the bottom of each page. It should include: phone number, an email address, mailing address, and “Paid for by [name of campaign committee].” (A good footer to emulate is at MartyWalters.com.) If you don’t use your own footer, your website host is likely to use their own, and it will say “Powered by Wordpress” or “Powered by Weebly,” etc., which means you’re using your precious web real estate to advertise for them.
Visit us at www.DemCanCon.com for more helpful advice, and register now to attend the Democratic Candidates Conference January 11 - 13, 2018 at the Tommy Douglas Conference Center in Silver Spring, MD.
Andy Millard is the conference organizer for the Democratic candidates conference. His eclectic background includes roles as an educator, small business owner, financial planner, author, event planner and congressional candidate.