Online Politics 101: Introduction to Online Politics

Updated January, 2011

Download Online Politics 101
Let’s change the world! But how? Robot/kung fu army? Too expensive. Zombies? Too messy. Online politics? A wise choice: the internet gives ANYONE — candidates, advocacy organizations, corporate interests and everyday citizens alike — powerful tools to mold policy, influence elections and shift the direction of public discourse.

But where to start? Online advocacy evolves just as fast as any other part of the wired world — the technology changes and so do its users and their expectations. As a result, techniques that worked brilliantly six months ago might yield eyeball-melting failure today.

That’s where Online Politics 101 and come in. We’ll look at every method of doing online advocacy we can think of and help figure out what’s likely to work in a given situation. What should a candidate’s website contain? What mistakes should it avoid? What are blogs good for? How can you use use Facebook, Twitter or YouTube as promotional or organizing tools? How do viral campaigns catch on, and how can we get people to open their wallets to help fund our organization or campaign? In a sea of mass emails, what ways of reaching Congress actually work? Let’s go through all of these questions and many others and see what answers we can turn up.

A Brief Word About Terms

I’m going to use the word “campaign” a lot, so let’s all get in the same boat real quick. In this context, a “campaign” is any organized or directed attempt to influence politics or policy, from a lone blogger howling in the dark to a multi-gazillion-dollar public policy juggernaut.

Some campaigns are purely educational (“we’re going to tell you where blue fizzies come from”), though most “educational” campaigns in the political sphere have an agenda (“blue fizzies come from some place you really don’t like”). More often, campaigns are about advocacy (“you should oppose the spread of blue fizzies and make sure your elected officials do too”). Finally, a specialized kind of campaign is designed to elect a particular candidate (“Rep. Bilbo stands firmly against the blue fizzie lobby and deserves your vote”).

The tactics we’ll discuss below are relevant to all three kinds of campaigns, though not always equally.

Next: The Internet as a Political Tool

Written by
Colin Delany
View all articles