During the Online Fundraising panel at the June 16th AAPC conference a pretty interesting discussion took place mainly between Andrew Rasiej and Benjamim Katz. If you didn't know Andrew is of Personal Democracy-techPresident fame and Benjamins runs CompleteCampaign which provides technology solutions to political campaigns (he's also a competitor of Campaign Solutions). Their discussion was along the lines of how very local races (public advocate, school board) should or should not use the internet to engage voters. Benjamin decided to take the side that these campaigns aren't using internet tools other than website-donations while Andrew took him to task basically saying that there is a change occurring as more campaigns and governments become more open source.
At one point, a woman in the audience stood up and described a situation she had where she used the web to get voters to help pass a school funding bill that failed the two previous (non-web) attempts. Ben's argument was lost (it kind of was in the beginning), but it got me thinking back to my own Board of Education race in Washington Township. Sure I didn't win, but I can point to a lot of great things.
Why I Almost Got A Seat On My Board
- I had a simple message which was to recall the Everyday Math curriculum in our school. This led into a conversation about curriculum that had all the candidates speaking about it.
- I knew that there was a large group of parents that had concerns about the curriculum and by speaking out against it, they gravitated towards me.
- I provided as much information some with my commentary and others without it on my campaign website that was really a blog. This allowed me to respond immediately and provide information in the form of videos, charts, and links. I generated an enormous amount of traffic for a local campaign that really had nothing hot in it except what I generated on the math issue.
- I used internet communications in the forms of email, display ads zipcode targeted in Yahoo, and zipcode targeted Google search ads to drive traffic and messaging. It was so dominant that the Board President was relieved that she no longer had to see my face in her Yahoo mail everyday.
- People passed my message and links around virally.
- I pounded my message home about the math so much that the local newspaper generated earned media exposure for me. I also had fans write letters to the editor and I put out a bunch of signs and made robo calls to voters.
Why I Lost By About 100 Votes
- People were motivated to prevent me from getting on the board, specifically the local Democrats.
- I didn't start early enough. My first post on my website was 3/21 which was 25 days before election day. I relied on an internet campaign that spread virally in town but I needed about another week or two to close the deal.
- I should have consulted more people in NJ before deciding to run. I did it on a whim based on my son's math homework. I should have received more support from key Republicans in town and insist that I should have been linked to one of my other friends running.
- There was a bit of a whisper campaign running that erroneously claimed I was friends with someone disliked in town by quite a number of people. Plus there was talk of my sparse Board of Education voting pattern. Neither one of these was unfair in politics, but if I would have started earlier and received more base support it would not have mattered.
- I started with a low base of support and low name recognition.
Basically if you are someone running for an office and using strategies that Ben Katz described that most of you use, you can probably still win. You can overcome not using modern internet techniques to push your message and get support. Riding someone else's coattails can still bring you to the top. However, if you have a message and you have a strategy, you can bring the power of the internet to your campaign and become more open sourced. You can use video, social networking, blogging, paid advertising, and etc to market yourself.
Why not let people spread your message for you? Why not let them do what is most convenient for themselves and forward an email on or link to a video? Stop using the same old tactics and run a well rounded campaign. If you have enough old school support melded with modern techniques, you actually might surprise yourself and win.