Political campaigns tend to be stressful and even frenetic endeavors as candidates struggle to fill out surveys, attend forums and debates, answer constituent questions, and keep up with advertising and social media. If a candidate is fortunate, they are able to outsource some of these items to paid staff or to volunteers. In small or low-budget races, candidates may have to do all or most of the work themselves. Either way, it can certainly be exhausting.
We know that political campaigns require a significant investment of both time and money and, far too often, once Election Day wraps up, the brakes are applied to these efforts and campaigns come to a full and complete stop. This is an understandable impulse, but it is usually the wrong decision.
The investment made in a campaign is not just an investment in winning a single race.
Win or lose, candidates will often try their efforts again. Winners will likely seek reelection and losers will likely seek additional opportunities to run for office. Even a discouraged candidate who swears off future campaigns will likely reconsider once the sting of defeat has subsided.
Allowing campaign websites and social media accounts to go silent after an election is a common error made by both winning and losing candidates. The investment made in increasing name recognition can easily evaporate in the years between campaigns. The efforts to build and grow a personal brand can fade away as a once ubiquitous presence disappears from people’s consciousness.
The following is some advice for both the winning and losing candidates in an election cycle. Please consider how these ideas apply to you and feel free to contact me with any questions or if you would like assistance with your campaign’s digital presence.
Don’t let your domain names expire.
This might seem obvious, but I have had more than one former candidate who allowed their campaign website domain name to expire between campaigns. This can result in a great deal of avoidable stress, expense, and embarrassment. Set up your domain names to auto-renew, confirm that you have a credit card or other payment method configured that won’t expire before the next renewal, and make sure your registrar has an email address on file that you check regularly. On a similar subject, don’t let your other paid digital services such as web hosting or email list management expire either.
Don’t let your campaign website grow stale.
This is a common mistake made by candidates. Websites with no new content and few visitors will lose positive search engine rankings built up through the campaign and can even make a winning candidate appear to have lost. Update your campaign website with a thank you message to your supporters and an announcement of how your campaign fared in the election. Include some pictures of you on the campaign trail. Use your website to create a personal connection with people. If they are visiting your site, you already have their interest.
Ideally, you should update your website regularly (weekly is best, but once a month is the bare minimum) with fresh content. Write blogs about your time in office or, if you lost, about your life and political issues relevant to the race you ran. Talk about your efforts to improve your community and to help your friends and neighbors. Establish yourself as an expert with good communication skills and, when campaign season comes around again, you will already have a leg up on your competition.
Don’t let your Social Media become a ghost town.
Have you ever been to a ghost town? The structures are there, but the lack of residents and activity is eerie. For far too many candidates, their social media accounts turn into virtual ghost towns between campaigns. Don’t make this mistake! Not only will it negatively affect your organic reach (the number of people who see your content without you paying for the exposure) but it can also make candidates appear aloof and disconnected from their constituents. Engage with your supporters. Win or lose, they put in time and effort for you. Don’t abandon them just because the election is over.
Use your social media accounts to promote the blog posts from your website. This will keep your social media presence alive and drive traffic to your website. Post topical articles and ask questions. This can increase your engagement and help you gauge the mood of your supporters and constituents. Such information can become increasingly valuable as the next campaign season approaches. Post pictures. While the value of a picture may have dropped below a thousand words in the age of smart phones, photos still tend to perform quite well on social media. A picture of you with a cute puppy could be the difference between winning and losing in a close race.
Don’t be afraid to advertise during the off-season.
What?! Spend money when you’re not campaigning? To some, this may seem counterintuitive, but digital campaigns are a bit like driving in that it takes significantly more time and energy to get from 0-60 mph than from 10-60 mph. Restarting a cold campaign will cost more in the long run than will ramping up a slow simmering campaign that still has some activity and engagement taking place. Spending a few dollars each week to grow your audience and to spread your most engaging content can pay real dividends when it comes time to get a campaign up to speed.
Use email sparingly but don’t abandon your lists.
With email lists, frivolous or unnecessary emails will work against you, so it is typically best to send a single thank you email after the election and then to refrain from sending additional emails unless there is a good reason. For winning candidates, quarterly newsletters are a good way to maintain positive communication with constituents without annoying them. Candidates who lose might do best to wait until they have a new campaign to announce, as this will help them avoid too many people unsubscribing. If you wish to send out regular emails containing links to your blog posts, consider creating a separate mailing list so that those who unsubscribe from your blog will still receive your future campaign emails.
If you made it through the last thousand words, good for you. Maybe I should have just posted a picture! The TL;DR (short for “too long; didn’t read”) version of this article is that letting campaign websites and social media accounts go dark after an election is an ultimately costly temptation for which you do not want to fall. If you do, you’ll likely regret it. Either put in the effort to keep your website and social media accounts up and running or outsource that job to someone with the experience and capability to do it for you. Someone like me.