Winning elections on-line

The US elections are continuing to demonstrate how the internet is playing an increasingly important role in engaging with voters. Research in the US has shown that 7% of on-line searchers may change their votes. In a close election what political parties do on-line could make the difference between winning and losing.

Democrat Barrack Obama has been heralded as changing the future of political campaigning. Michael Cheney, from the University of Illinois Institute of Government and Public Affairs, who studies online campaigning says that Barack Obama elevated the Internet’s social reach from novelty to necessity after Obama used it to build online grassroots support that helped fuel his rapid rise. Cheney believes that the use of social media has to be part of campaigns in the future and that candidates who don’t use this model aren’t going to be as succesful.

Google recognises this and has appointed a ‘head of elections and issues advocacy’ as sales of sponsored links go through the roof. For Google this is a huge opportunity to make money, for politicians looking for votes pay-per-click advertising is an easy way to reach potential voters.

It is no longer sufficient to build a website and upload press releases about how good you are and how terrible the opposition is. Messages have to cross multiple platforms in multiple formats. Supporters need to monitor and respond to discussions on-line. Candidates need to be taught not to be phased by the on-line chatter which could be disproportionally influenced by opponents who utilise the power of social networks such as Facebook and the many elections forums that grow in the run up to polling day.

Campaign strategist, plotting the progress of their campaign, need to use services such as Hitwise, to monitor traffic and searches for political websites which can give an indication of who is gaining ground in a campaign and the subject matters that the electorate are most interested in.

In the UK by the next general elections, and london local government elections in 2010, the internet will play a bigger part than ever before. And especially where the vote is close an election really could be won (or lost) on-line.

Advertisements

Now anyone* can blog with Posterous

When talking to politicians and business people about improving their presence on-line the most often response I receive is ‘I do not have the time’. With Posterous they no longer have an excuse.

Many are put off by long sign up forms, email authentication, resizing of images and general complication with getting to know how a blog that they sign up to works. The needing to be at their PC to write their post and upload the pictures can feel like another job on the endless list of to-dos where everything else seems to take a priority.

Now with Posterous all of these barriers have been removed. If you can use email you can use Posterous. Within minutes you can quickly and easily be posting photographs, messages and just about anything else you want to your own page on the site.

To start you simply email anything you want to appear to post@posterous.com (words, photos, mp3s and files) putting in the subject line what you want to call the post.

You will receive an email back straight away with links to view your post, edit your post and the ability to set up a username and password. Here you can either just carry on with the automatic website address that was generated following your email or change to something you prefer. It really couldn’t be easier.

When you are ready you can add a profile photo and some information about yourself, but everything you do is so quick and simple to use.

If you already have a blog with blogger or WordPress, twitter, flickr and other social media sites you can synchronise these so that when you email Posterous the appropriate content will be uploaded to your other sites. If you don’t then whatever you send will be added to your Posterous page.

You could in effect never ever visit your own blog on Posterous, though after just one visit to customise you could never come back again by simply emailing your content. Now even the busiest, and technophobic, business people and politicians can do that!

For a while I had been wondering if I could manage a fifth blog for more personal stuff – I guess I will now at Wellbelove’s Posterous.

* with email

Five Social Media must do for politicians

There are thousands of social media sites, which for someone who hasn’t even got a Facebook profile must be overwhelming. Whilst I have written about creating a profile network I realise that to start with many politicians will need to take a few ‘baby’ steps into the realm of social media and enabling their constituents to find information about them and their work on-line.

The reasons for doing this is to both ensure that when users of a particular social network search for you they find content that you have produced and control. Additionally search engines will crawl these sites frequently so when a constituent searches for you they will be offered several options to gain access to your content.

I take for granted that you already have a website. If you do not I no longer think this is as essential as it once was and a well formed blog can actually do the same if not better job than any website.

Five Social Media must do for politicians

If you do nothing else, you should do the following now:

1) Write your social profile, this will be invaluable when you add your details to any social networking site as all you will need to do is copy and paste the same details into the description or about me box. Think about how you would sell yourself in a couple of hundred words. Remember to ensure that anything you write is as non-time specific as possible as you may not revisit the content for a long time if at all.

2) Set up a blog, use the social profile that you have created to create an about page. Include a contact page with details of how constituents can reach you. Don’t write ‘Welcome to my blog I will update this frequently’ and then don’t. Pointless introductions are a waste of both yours and the readers time – get straight in there with the content and add periodically.

3) Set up a YouTube page, recording at least three short videos about key local issues. A good example of this would be the Val Shawcross YouTube Channel. Enter details from your social profile into the description section.

4) If you have not already create a Facebook profile that is publicly viewable. If you already have a profile and wish to use it for both personal and professionals reasons ensure that you utilise the Facebook privacy features. Whilst you are at it create a Bebo profile as well. Bebo is bigger among younger people and if you are not in this environment you will miss this key audience. Bebo also often performs better on Google for search results with the whole of your profile visible to the search engine where Facebook only provides full details when you are signed in and therefore not seen by the engines crawler.

5) Start Twittering. Twitter is a microblog which is quick and easy to update with messages about
you. This is a very effective and easily manageable method of keeping constituents informed about the work you are doing.

Fake profiles on Facebook, is someone pretending to be you?

One of the greatest compliments is to be copied, however if you are a famous person someone pretending to be you is full of hazards especially if they use your photograph, name, location and age to try and persuade people they are you then write as you saying things you may not want to be associated with.

Facebook has always been a haven for false personalities, how on earth Benny Hill has a profile page when he died long before Facebook was even thought off, whilst his profile has clearly been created by a fan other profiles have a far more sinister motive.

Whilst I guess it may be funny to have Gordon Brown coming out with ridiculous things on the false profile page on Facebook, for others it could be extremely confusing when trying to find the real person.

Fake Gordon Brown profile

You can report a fake profile by clicking the ‘Report this person’ link at the bottom of the page. This is only available currently if privacy settings set by the person who created the page allow you to view the profile. If you can only view after becoming their friend you cannot report this way as you cannot report your ‘friends’ or unless you are in a profile. If this is the case visit the report someone form.

Fake profiles also expose the importance of having a real profile. If you do not have a real Facebook profile then it is even easier for someone to pass themselves off as you and if they initially act in a sensible way could build a legitimate group of friends who may be unaware they are not friends with the real person.

The benefits of having of a profile are many but the primary one being that if someone searches for you within Facebook they find content you have control over and allowing you to share with a wider audience all the hard work that you do for your constituents.

Will the real Gordon Brown please get a real Facebook profile

Not all fake profiles are negative, some are just set up by supporters frustration with the politicians lack of ability to keep up with the every changing social media environment. However if they cannot keep up their advisers and communications staff must.

Another dodgy Facebook profile for Gordon Brown

Should I get LinkedIn?

Whilst many business professionals have been getting LinkedIn for many years, the site has over 20 million profiles based in over 150 countries, it is not always been seen as a priority for politicians – which is an opportunity missed.

A LinkedIn profile that has been made public will be found by search engines and form part of your profile network. Being a professional network LinkedIn carries a great deal of authority, especially to those who use it, and is an opportunity for you to focus on your professional skills and experience.

There are many useful articles on how to create a LinkedIn profile available. Essentially this is an on-line CV with the added benefits of linking with other professionals and gaining recommendations which adds authority to the experience you describe in your profile.

Having your LinkedIn profile updated could also be useful should you not get elected and need to find yourself a new job.

YouTubing made easy for politicians

There are many benefits for politicians using YouTube. Videos are quick and easy to create, many digital still cameras include video recording facility, and with millions of YouTube users of all ages and backgrounds your messages will reach a whole new group of people and possible voters.

Benefits for search
You already have a website, you may have a Facebook page, both of which will help the public find you on search engines such as Google and Yahoo! However without content on YouTube, YouTubers using the YouTube search box will either find no content about you – or possibly worse – only content created about you by your opponents. Once you have created your YouTube Channel you should link to it from your website which will help ensure it will be picked up by search engines and very soon could result in your videos appearing in the main search results on the key search engines.

Where do I start?
To start adding video’s to YouTube you need to create a channel. To create a channel you simply sign up to YouTube. When doing this it is important to note your YouTube username cannot be changed after it has been created. It will appear on your channel so think carefully about what you use as a username.

Do my videos have to be high qualitiy?
The most important issue with creating YouTube video’s is ensuring the viewer can hear the message. Beware of background noise when recording the videos. The quality is not a major priority – in fact if your video is too polished it would look out of place in the YouTube environment. There is a limit to the size of your videos on YouTube which is a maximum of 10 minutes in length and a file size of 1024 MB (if you keep you video to 2 – 3 minutes you will not have to be concerned about file size, you will need to use the multi video uploader for videos over 100MB ). You could customise your video’s using video editing software, adding titles etc. this could be something you go on to at a later date and should not be a barrier to starting your channel.

Adding videos to YouTube
After you record your videos, select ‘upload videos’ then enter a title, description and ‘tags’. The content of these fields are important as this will help influence where you appear in YouTube searches. It is essential that you set up the ‘sharing options’ selecting for comments and video comments to be allowed after you approve them. Whilst you want to get responses from viewers you will want to filter any messages that are purely abusive without any substance.

For step by step guide to uploading a video to YouTube visit their how to pages.

How many videos should I add?
There is no limit to the number of videos, I would start with at least three video’s. Keep your video’s short, creating separate video’s for each video.

What next?
You will be able to monitor how many times your video’s are viewed, see who is linking to your video or make it a favourite on their YouTube account. YouTubers can subscribe to your channel, where any new video’s you add will appear when they log into their homepage.

You can help visitors to your YouTube Channel find related content by finding related content on YouTube and selecting these as your favourites and subscribing to other channels.

Making the most of your content: Social Media Optimisation

Many politicians and businesses have barely begun to get a grip with Search Engine Optimisation, but do need to learn about Social Media Optimisation if they wish to stay ahead of the game.

Social Media Optimisation is about utilising the social media environments to promote your messages and content. In some cases this involves taking your content into the environment where your audience is comfortable and already visiting on a frequent basis. This could be by simply copy and pasting your content into these different environments, however if you want to make the most or truly optimise you need to think about where the content is going and adjusting it to be more applicable for the audience and the type of site.

With a majority of the social media environments do not be tempted to simply signpost to your main site. A consumer of your content should be able to choose to stay where they are to get information, feel free to highlight your main site but do not expect them to always go there. Remember what is important is not just the number of visits to your website but to get across those messages.

A good example of the use of Social Media Optimisation is the Barack Obama Facebook page which at the time of writing has over 718,000 supporters. Here visitors can watch video’s, catch up with the news via a feed, view pictures and enter debates via the Facebook Wall. The huge number of fans will not just be evidence of his popularity but because this page is updated on a regular basis Facebook users will want to have a ‘supporter’ link on their page as a quick way back to this page.

The rules are different with micro blogging services such as Twitter, with a limit to the number of characters you message has to be short, sharp and to the point including a link to the full story either on yours or another website. A good example of the use of this is the unofficial Twitter for the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Gordon Brown.

Once set up these additional environments should not take a huge amount of time to maintain. When you create any new content it should, where appropriate, be produced in a variety of formats for the different environments. With video this would mean limiting the length and file size for YouTube, topping and tailing with a promo for your site. For Google video you do not have the same limits on size of the video so you could add a promo to the end.

When entering Social Media environments it is important to be respectful of its users. Spamming will not be tolerated and will be damaging. Don’t expect everything to go your way, where visitors can leave messages they can leave both good and bad ones. That is not a reason not to go there though – if someone wants to attack you or your brand they can set up their own groups to do this. At least by you owning this page you can monitor and respond where appropriate, though often your fans or supporters will do that for you – and the debate could drive interest.

Social Media Optimisation is a useful addition to your campaign. Done properly, as many – if not more, people will view your content. For the small investment in time uploading your content to several different sites you can – and will – reach new audiences, customers and voters.