Socialcam and Facebook Autoposting

June 15th, 2012

Sharing viral videos on Facebook is popular. As a campaign, you probably don’t want to broadcast to the world that you watched “Sh*t [fill in the blank] Girls Say.” However, I have seen several campaigns and candidates do just that. It is because they watched video on a service like Socialcam that automatically posts what you view on your timeline.  The candidates’ followers will get a post in their news feed of something like “Rep. Bob watch a video titles ‘Most Disgusting Video Ever.’” Again, probably not something you want to show off while running for office. Socialcam does this by default to increase the likelihood that new users will get hooked into Socialcam. I have two points on this.

1) It is your fault because these apps clearly tell you that they will be posting to your feed. Pay attention to what you agree to do!

2) If you absolutely must see those videos, you can control who sees that activity. Simply set the visibility to “Only Me”

Controlling what posts to you feed automatically is easy.  In fact it is a whole lot easier then explaining why you felt it was necessary to share “OMG Crazy Girls” with your constituency.

The Art of the Business Card

July 6th, 2010

There you are, standing around with 30 people that could likely be the key to making your business prosper. You have the people skills; you were born with people skills. Your company is on the leading edge of the industry and you have a killer product. You have the salesmanship of a fox. You traverse conversation with precision and only the slightest hint of persuasiveness that will make it seem like business with you was their idea in the first place. The next meeting is set, and they ask you for your card. You awkwardly hesitate; you don’t have a business card. Or even worse, you have a business card you designed in Microsoft Word using Comic Sans and printed on your mom’s inkjet. Simply put, in business, a good business card is your passport to legitimate business interactions. Without one, you’re dead in the water.

I committed a design sin a few weeks back. I sent my general out to war without ammunition. Not only that, I sent him out with blanks. We needed business cards, our first round of stopgap business cards we had printed at Kinko’s were running down to the last handful. Time and time again, the request was made, I shopped around, looking for the best deal I could find for our standout business cards. I was under the gun and no local printers would suffice. They all proved expensive and not even close to the caliber we needed. Out of rage, I bought some cardstock for a few bucks at one of the disappointing printers, storming out with my 10 sheets of 100lb. I knew I could do just as good a job as the local places for a fraction of the cost. I was wrong. My skills as a designer fall right short in the area of paper cutting. The cards that resulted? A ramshackle stack of varying sized, varying aligned, flimsy disposable calling cards. Our customers wouldn’t know, right? I mean, they only get one.

As the following days emerged, we both knew that those dreadful things made us look like idiots. We both knew something had to be done about it. I bit the bullet and found an online print shop, designed the crap out of our cards, and sent them out. The price and quality was spot on. I didn’t even ask for a proof. This time there would be no wavering or stop gap procedures. This time, victory was ours.

It’s all happened to us, even graphic designers who live for business card production. We often get so bogged down in daily business tasks that we fail to consider what the general public thinks of us as a business entity. That’s what identity is all about. Your business needs to have a face and maybe you are the face. But was Superman really a superhero without the cape and the cool logo? We live in a world where authenticity reigns supreme. The whole package has to jive. People notice inconsistencies.

As Republicans, we need to remind ourselves that consistency of both message and appearance are crucial. One without the other leads to incongruities of thought, which can lead to a severe lack of trust with your audience. Each aspect of a campaign, including speeches, debates, online content, news reports, interviews, and social media must fit like a puzzle, each piece tied to each other that forms a cohesive unit. The campaign that ultimately maintains the most unity of message and appearance is often touted as the most successful. That consistency soon breeds repetition, which leads to saturation of thought.

If you find yourself in a situation without the proper documentation, you’ll look like a fast talker, and someone who can’t deliver. Business people hate that. They need assurances. And what is a business card if not an assurance of quality and respect for the craft? Not to mention that cool feeling as you whip out those stylin’ cards and think to yourself, yeah, icing on the cake.

Greg Peterson is a graphic designer @webpyro and fancies himself as an office ninja detective.

Forms and Usability

June 22nd, 2010

Forms are something that should be on every campaign website no matter how big or small the campaign is. These forms might be to collect contact information, request volunteers, or sign up for events. In any case, the first question always asked when drafting a form is “What information do we need to collect?”

The first reaction to that question is always something like “We need x, and y, and z would be nice…oh, and we can’t forget etc, etc” From a campaign stand point, the more information is the better. The more information you have the better you can mine the data for information about your supporters and the more ways you will have to contact your constituents. Before you go creating a hundred form fields…stop. Think about the form from a user perspective. As a user, do you want to answer a hundred questions? Do you want to have to go through pages and pages of text boxes without knowing when it ends? Most likely the answer is going to be “No.” Your die hard fans may spend the time, but they are going to turn up to vote for you on election day no matter what. The simpler your form is, the more likely visitors will actually fill out the form.

A second issue is with trust. In other words, what information does the visitor trust giving over to your website. There are multiple concerns here such as who sees the data? Where is the data stored? How is the data used? And, is the data secure? You will never be able to answer these questions in a way that will satisfy your visitors. The best solution is to only ask for information that people do not mind having floating around in a server.

One thing I notice a lot of forms do not have is form validation. This is to validate the information itself. For example, an email should have an “@” symbol followed by some sort of domain such as “gmail.com”. If you caught a possible typo in the email, how are you going to get it corrected…by emailing them? Also, you should give them an error message telling them specifically what field is broken. If they put letters in the phone field, say “Invalid characters for phone. Please only enter numbers.” It will also deter bots and people who want to fill your form out with junk. It is worth while to collect only the good data.

Finally, consider layout. I could go on and on about layout, but all I am going to say make it easy to navigate and fill out. Your form should be all on one page and form fields should be obvious. Layout also includes the means of navigating to the form. It should be very obvious how to get to the form and what it is. For example, if I want to volunteer, I do not want to spend a bunch of time searching for that form.

Everyone does forms slightly different. The important thing is to make it usable. There is a balance between simplicity and getting the information you want. You don’t want to ask a million questions, but one question is probably not helpful. A good example of a simple and usable form is Kasich’s Sign Up form. It is short and easy to understand. Better yet, he has a short little video at the top that you can play. Bonus: videos are more engaging and easier to watch than reading a bunch of text.

The next post will be July 5th.

Why 404 Errors Matter

June 8th, 2010

We have all seen the “Page Not Found” error while surfing the web. This is commonly called a “404 Error.” All websites, political or not, face this issue. Lost pages come from many sources. They may be old links or the user has a typo in their url address. Either way, it is your responsibility to help the user find the content they are actually looking for. It can be a challenge to figure out where to send the user after the error.

There are several different ways websites handle this problem. Senate hopeful Rand Paul from Kentucky has his error page be the home page. If you go to http://www.randpaul2010.com/not-a-real-page you will not be able to tell that it was an error. The only sign of an error is in the title of the page. If you are using a browser that supports tab browsing, you will see the tab entitled “Nothing found for Not-a-real-page.” While it is unlikely that anyone would be intending to find Rand Paul’s page on “not-a-real-page,” the point is the error could be much more helpful. An average user would think the error was the website’s fault since there was no alert that the intended content is missing.

A second solution is to tell the user that the page was not found with a custom 404 error page. Another Senate hopeful just north of Paul’s state, is Rob Portman of Ohio. If you go to http://www.robportman.com/not-a-real-page you will see that his site explicitly states there was an error. This is helpful because, 1) it helps the user figure out the problem and 2) it’s honest. It even has a link to go back to the home page. I would suggest Portman go a bit farther and have a “Are you looking for…” section with a handful of popular links like “Donate” and “Volunteer.” At the very least you want to give the user enough information to find the solution. As in all web design, the less work you place on the user means the more likely they are to stay and engage your content.

The worst is to do nothing. Take a look at New York’s Republican party’s error at http://www.nygop.org/not-a-real-page. Most visitors would try the url once or twice more and then give up entirely. By doing nothing, you will annoy visitors interested in your campaign and may also lose a volunteer or even a donor.

No one ever wants to plan for having a broken website. That’s not what you pay your webmaster to make. However, users will find ways to make it to non-existent pages. It will happen and the best approach is to capture those lost users. They will appreciate it and in return will engage your content and if you are luck, they will donate.

The next post will be on June 22nd.

Advertising Out of District

May 25th, 2010

I was on Drudge Report the other day and noticed a Hayworth ad at the top of the page. J.D. Hayworth is currently challenging John McCain in the Arizona Republican primary for U.S. Senate. I have seen Hayworth ads before on Drudge, but I realized something that day. I am not in Arizona, nor am I anywhere near Arizona. I currently live in northern Ohio. I cannot vote in the Arizona primary and more than likely I am not going to get around to Arizona to volunteer anytime soon. So why would Hayworth spend time and money advertising out of his district?

There are a several reasons. McCain is known nationally, and there are those living across the country that feel McCain has been letting them down – as a Presidential candidate, Republican, or both. One could write a whole book on his current political situation. The point is, there are those outside his district that would like to replace him with a different type of Republican. So what can an out of district voter do for a candidate?

First is money. Even though I do not live in Arizona, I can still donate to Hayworth’s campaign. Both candidates are raising money in Arizona, but Hayworth is betting he can gain a competitive edge by raising money outside the state. I would be willing to gamble that Hayworth is raising a significant amount of money from ordinary citizens out of state.

Second is publicity. While getting name recognition outside your district may help in future runs that is not the main advantage here for. Hayworth is generating buzz nationally so people nationally are talking about the campaign. This would include not only traditional media sources such as TV and newspapers, but also on blogs, forums, and other social media platforms. In turn, this media reaches voters in Arizona. If voters in Arizona see people outside the state talking about Hayworth, even in a negative context, it will make him look more like a serious challenger since he merits at least mentioning.

While “advertising” can mean a lot of things, I do want to emphasize the power of technology. Candidate could always have advertised out of district with print, radio, or TV ads. However, those are expensive and difficult to gauge their effectiveness. The web makes it easy to scale the management of an ad campaign from your district to the entire world.

Many times advertising out of district only works well for special cases, such as being the party’s last Presidential nominee. However, there are a few cases were candidates launched themselves into national fame first such as Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown. He started off as being completely written off by just about everyone. Furthermore, out of district doesn’t have to mean nationally. It could be the district next to you. Many people live in one district but work in another so they are not only aware of the local politics of both, but also have a tangible stake in the outcome. For example, while living near Cincinnati earlier this year, I frequently saw Rand Paul ads for his Kentucky primary run at the U.S. Senate.

Deciding whether to advertise out of district is more of a general campaign strategy decision. However, candidates should be aware that technology has significantly brought down the cost and effort in doing so. It should be something to at least consider.

The next post will be on June 8th.

The “Anti-Candidate” Site

May 11th, 2010

It is common for political candidates to have a website that advertises the positive aspects of their own candidacy.  However, in some cases a site is created to communicating the negative aspects of a politician.  This is what I mean when I refer to an “anti-candidate” site.

The two that I have had the most interaction with recently revolve around the Ohio gubernatorial race.  The Ohio primary was earlier last week, but both the incumbent Democrat, Gov. Ted Strickland, and the Republican, John Kasich, were unopposed.  Now that the primary has passed, the campaign has begun to heat up.  There is an anti-candidate site for both candidates.  Http://www.TurnAroundTed.com is the anti-Strickland site while http://www.KasichFacts.com is the anti-Kasich.  The disclaimers for both sites claim the respective parties as the owners of the sites, not a specific candidate.  In any case, the approaches taken are different.

To start, I believe TurnAroundTed.com is a better site.  This is more than a political bias.  TurnAroundTed.com clearly has had more work put into it.  This site is rich in content that is updated relatively often.  There are links to articles and statements both independent and created by TurnAroundTed.com.  Just recently they added an interactive map of Ohio where visitors can click on their county to see how their county’s economy has changed since Gov. Strickland first announced he was going to run five years ago.  Please check it out at http://www.turnaroundted.com/map.  All the data there is clearly cited with links.  Even more importantly, there is a place to sign up to volunteer.  Once visitors are convinced that their governor needs to be changed, they can take action.  TurnAroundTed.com is rich in content, personable, and interactive.

KasichFacts.com has none of TurnAroundTed.com’s advantages.  There is very little content and the design looks thrown together.  They have not even bothered to create a favicon (thats the little icon that typically shows up with the site name in the bookmark list.  This blogs is a red “R”).  The one similar feature is that on one page called “Cuts” you can type in your zip code and see how much funding Kasich supposedly wants to cut from services such as schools and fire departments.  The citation is simply “Legislative Service Commission” and a few dates.  There is not even a link for these citations (this is a common theme throughout the site).

What KasichFacts.com has going for it is advertising.  I see Twitter posts that reference KasichFacts.com far more often than TurnAroundTed.com.  Many of these quotes originate from the sites themselves with a “Share This” button which tend to be more common on KasichFacts.com.  Secondly, I see paid ads on Google for KasichFacts.com quite frequently.  This ad recently showed up on my GMail page:

Google, like Bing, Yahoo!, etc, tries to match ads to the context.  The text and keywords set by the ad’s owners is the basis for Google.  The reason I see ads like this is because I have been getting a lot of mail from the Kasich campaign.  This leads me to believe that KasichFacts.com is purposefully targeting Kasich supporters.  A quick Google search for the term “Kasich” yields similar results.  The number two result in my list is KasichFacts.com.  However, their trick is to title their page as “News Alert: John Kasich” which to the casual user will seem like a legitimate neutral site about Kasich.  On a related note, the only ad I see on the left site (where Google typically puts standard ads) is an ad for Strickland’s main site.  A search for “Strickland” will give you pro-Strickland results and of course KasichFacts.com.  In other words, search Kasich and you will get anti-Kasich and pro-Strickland sites.  Search Strickland and you get similar results, anti-Kasich and pro-Strickland sites.

At the end of the day, even though TurnAroundTed.com is a better, more informed site, KasichFacts.com will win because its marketing efforts are currently out maneuvering not only TurnAroundTed.com but Kasich’s campaign in general.  Both sites have strengths and weaknesses, however the strengths are not mutually exclusive.  I hope TurnAroundTed.com can get its marketing efforts ramped up to compete with KasichFacts.com.

The next post will be on May 25th

Monitor Multiple Twitter Feeds

April 27th, 2010

One of my many responsibilities is the eCampaign Co-Chair for Kasich for Ohio Governor in Butler County. My primary focus is on social media for the county. Each county has a different Tweeter account. The one I manage in Butler County is @ButlerForKasich. I have been experimenting with Twitter and have discovered a lot of useful information, not only for Kasich in Butler County but also for Ohio in general. This was done by using a tool I have mentioned before: TweetDeck.

I have many, many feeds that I have created and follow in TweetDeck. TweetDeck allows you to define feeds using various parameters. For example, you could set the parameter to a group of users or anyone who uses certain keywords. The really nice thing is you can set up multiple columns in the TweetDeck application so you can see these feeds simultaneously. In @ButlerForKasich’s case, I have columns for all followers, mentions (Tweets with a specific users name), and a column each for keywords “kasich” and “strickland” (the incumbent Democrat is Gov. Ted Strickland).

This set up has allowed me to track everything that is going on with the governors race in Butler County and Ohio. We have started building up followers since I can quickly and effectively engage local Twitters. And, interestingly enough, I have discovered the Strickland campaign Butler County, specifically @ButlerForKasich. My account is the only county account that gets challenged by Strickland’s anti-Kasich campaign “Kasich Facts.” This typically involves inaccurate information but on one interesting occasion @KasichFacts tried to trick people into thinking we supported the anti-Kasich campaign. Take a look at these two Tweets:

As you can see, my Tweet was promoting Kasich’s statewide website, www.KasichForOhio.com. However, @KasichFacts took that Tweet and substituted in the anti-Kasich site, www.KasichFacts.com, and made it look like a re-tweet. They technically did not misquote us because they did not use the “RT” prefix to signify a re-tweet. I find these types of tricks underhanded, but at least the Strickland campaign’s insecurity towards the @ButlerForKasich account shows that I am doing my job.

The moral of the story in today’s post is you need to monitor multiple Twitter feeds. It will help you find opportunities and identify threats. There is a wealth of information out there, don’t pass it up!

The next post will be May 11th.

Data Driven Decisions

April 13th, 2010

For a long time I have been passively gathering followers, gaining a handful a day. However, recently I noticed my number of Twitter followers plateauing. I was getting new followers, but apparently my new followers were equal to the number of people who unfollow me. I was stuck at 1090 follows. This went on for a week or two before I concluded this was a new trend for my account. I decided to start investigating why this was happening.

My first suspect was an auto-DM (direct message) directing new followers to this blog. An auto-DM is a standard message that is sent out automatically typically after someone follows you. I had set it up a long time ago when I was playing around with different tools and then basically forgot about it. I have heard arguments against auto-DMs but my Twitter followers were growing and hits to my blog was growing (albeit slowly). Since the trend was changing on my Twitter side I began to investigate the relationship more in depth. I dug into the data that my Google Analytics account had gathered on traffic for this blog. Hits were growing but where were they coming from? Search engine traffic was better than what I hoped. Facebook referrals were remaining healthy. Twitter referrals where a different story. In the past month Twitter had sent a whopping 1 hit. My Twitter strategy obviously needed rethinking. It also meant I can get rid of the auto-DM without hurting traffic to my blog. Within a day or two of turning the auto-DM off, my number of Twitter followers clearly broke the resistance level of 1090 and has returned to growth. It is now time for me to start working on improving my Twitter strategy.

This was a process and decision driven by numbers. The problem was identified through numbers (a flat trend of 1090 followers). A possible solution was identified through numbers (no one was clicking on the link in the auto-DM). The solution was confirmed by numbers (follower growth picked up again and surpassed 1090). I do however want to point out that the process was not completely numbers. It took a little bit of intuition and background knowledge to start off the search with the auto-DM. However, the numbers made the difference between a guess and a solution.

This process can be applied to any number of situations. The great thing about the Internet is that it is easy to track numbers. Where are visitors coming from? Where are they going? What are they doing while on your site. Many social media tools are even now providing in depth analytic tools. Make sure you are using these assets and apply the data to your campaigns. You’ll even be able to solve bigger problems than my 1090 ceiling of Twitter followers.

The next post will be April 27th.

The Value of a Responsive Web Team

March 30th, 2010

So your website’s content is dynamic right? If not then you are probably new to this blog. Now, the question is how dynamic is your content? While I am not suggesting that you have someone sitting in front of a computer constantly finding something to update every second, there are times when a quick and radical change is required. As you are probably aware of, in the world of politics things can happen very quickly. However, you must also realize that technology can enable you to act just as quick.

For example, just last week the Democrats finally pushed their version of health care reform through the House. In few days Republicans had to act, the GOP website was literally transformed. Visitors to www.GOP.com were redirected to a special page that just asked for donations to “Fire Pelosi” (at the time of writing this was still true). The concept was to raise money for Republicans to take at least 40 seats in the coming election to force Pelosi out of the Speaker position. This was a temporary campaign with the goal of raising about $400,000 in 40 hours. At the end of the 40 hours, the GOP raised well over $1 million and continued to raise money (currently at $1,551,811). Because the timing was right and the web developers were able to act quickly enough, the campaign was a big success and we may very well hear the theme of “Fire Pelosi” throughout this election cycle.

It is important to note that this tactic should be considered for both taking advantage of opportunities and to stem a coming crisis. Technology is fast and dynamic. It is important to remember to leverage that responsiveness.

The next post will be April 12th.

Twitter Hints

March 16th, 2010

Recently I have been asked a lot about Twitter, mostly how to use it. The concept is simple: you create posts that are 140 characters long and you read your friends posts. However, leveraging the technology for something productive like campaigning is a lot more difficult.

As I wrote over a year ago in my first post about Twitter, http://www.republitech.com/2009/02/twittering-towards-future.html, Republicans are using Twitter much more than Democrats. This means, as a Republican, you are going to inherently have a larger audience than your rivals across the aisle. But, you must use the technology in a way that is helpful and engaging. Below are a collection of helpful hints on how to do that.

Understand the 140 character limit

What ever you want to say must be said in that small number of characters. There are several ways this will impact how you write your post. First, you need to be willing to use abbreviations. In Twitter it is perfectly ok to use “u” instead of “you.” There are also other abbreviations that I only see on Twitter, such as POTUS or President of the United States. Secondly, use a url shortener such as bit.ly or Tiny URL. What these services do is take a link such as http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/17/nyregion/17budget.html?hp and making them shorter such as http://nyti.ms/akrqzv. Go ahead and check, those two links go to the same place, but the second one uses significantly less characters. Finally, an issue many people do not think about is the effect of the length of their own Twitter name. Mine is “boyerbl” so that is 7 characters long. If someone wants to re-tweet (see re-tweeting below) my post, they must use all of the characters from my original post plus give me credit with “RT @boyerbl: ” or use an additional 13 characters (spaces count!). This means if my post is 130 characters long, it must be edited before being able to re-tweeted by another user.

Remember to re-tweet

Re-tweeting is a great way to interact with other Twitter users. If you find a post interesting and want to share it with your follows then you just copy the post and use the “RT @…” format. Just substitute the “…” for the user’s name. So if you liked something I posted, such as “Obama is the most dangerous thing to your healthcare” then you could post “RT @boyerbl: Obama is the most dangerous thing to your healthcare.” People really appreciate the credit and exposure that you will give them. It also is a great way to show that you are listening to what people have to say.

Actually have conversations on Twitter

Twitter is not just for posting how you feel, you can actually engage individuals with ongoing conversation. There are two ways to do this. A private way is to send a direct message (DM) to a person. The individual will be the only one who can read your DM. A public way is to refer to the individual in a post. If you wanted to talk to Karl Rove for example you would post “@karlrove How are you doing?” Karl Rove then could respond in the same way with “@yourusername Great, how about you?” This could go back and forth indefinitely.

Use hash tags when you can

A hash tag is a simple way of tagging posts. For example, you may see the hash tag “#tcot” a lot in conservative posts. #tcot is short for “top conservatives on Twitter.” It is a great way for individuals to find conversations on Twitter that they want to be a part of. If you want to rant about healthcare reform, post about it and add “#hcr” to the end. Or, do a quick search for “#hcr”. Either way, you will find people interested in the same issues that you are.

Get a Twitter application for your desktop

The application I use most is TweetDeck. I could write a whole post on this piece of software but let me just sum up its advantages. TweetDeck not only allows you to see your Twitter feed, it lets you customize multiple feeds that you can see at the same time side by side in columns. For example, I am currently one of the co-eCampaign chairs for Kasich’s Butler County campaign. One of the columns I have set to show me any posts that contain the word “Kasich” Another example: I also have a column that is set to the Ohio House GOP list. Any post from an Ohio House GOP member with a Twitter account gets put in that column. The ways to organize your columns are almost endless. This can become a powerful tool to manage your Twitter account (You can also link TweetDeck to multiple Twitter accounts and your Facebook, LinkedIn, and MySpace to help synchronize all of your social media).

Search for other users

While you may have followers find you on their own, a great way to attract attention and interest is to go out and find followers yourself. Do searches for certain keywords or hash tags to find people posting about issues you want to talk about. You can also search for individuals who are in your district. A service such as Twellow can help you greatly. Go to their website and look under “Twellowhood.” This is where you can find individuals from certain areas such as your constituency. In many cases these individuals that you follow will end up following you back and participating in conversation with you.

The next post will be March 30th.