Updated January, 2011
Okay, I’m sold — let’s get started. So what ARE the essential tools of online politics, and are they the same for every campaign? I’d argue that the answer to the second question is pretty close to yes: regardless of their ultimate goals, most campaigns will end up needing three basic online components:
- A central online hub, usually a conventional website but sometimes (and particularly for citizen activists) a Facebook page, YouTube channel or blog.
- Some way to keep in touch with supporters, usually via email list but also including Facebook and other social networking websites, RSS feed, Twitter or text messaging.
- Online outreach, to connect with potential supporters and to influence the online discussion in your space, often meaning blogger relations but also including traditional media relations, social networking outreach, RSS, participation in back-channel email/IM discussions, online advertising, the production of podcasts and video pieces, etc.
(By the way, I’m indebted to Josh McConaha, formerly of the Democratic National Committee, for that division: when asked on a panel in the winter of 2007-8 to name the three essential tools for online politics, he listed a website, email and blogger relations or some other way to influence the discussion. My list just expands on his.)
The exact mix of tools you use depends on the goals you’re trying to reach and on actual means you have available to reach them. If you’re trying to organize high school and college students to speak out about human rights issues, you’re likely to use Facebook and (if it ever comes back from the grave) MySpace. If you’re a think tank or policy-heavy nonprofit, or if you’re just a good writer with something to say, a blog or family of blogs may be the right answer. If you’re raising money for a candidate for office, you’re likely to use email and a website that takes credit cards, with Google Ads helping to build the donor list over time.
The chapters that follow will look at the major tools available to political communicators as of January, 2011, along with tactics for specific applications like fundraising and influencing legislation or the media.