I exchanged a few emails with Mark Glaser from Mediashift a while back when he put together a story on our campaign study. One of the questions he asked is how I advise candidates and campaigns who are thinking about blogging. It’s a question I’m asked pretty often and something I address in the pitches I put together. So here is my somewhat convoluted answer.

First off, I’m a big believer in political blogging. Frankly, most campaign websites are dreadfully boring and don’t give supporters a reason to visit more than once. They consist of brochure content and press releases and volunteer forms and bios and contribution pages. And that’s really it. They cover the basics and don’t really establish a real relationship between the candidate and his/her supporters. In my opinion that is the entire point of a campaign website. Blogs are a great way to forge this kind of relationship. I believe that if you truly engage supporters in your campaign, they will be more likely to give you money, perform actions on your behalf and volunteer for your campaign offline. Telling a supporter to give you money or write a letter without context doesn’t cut it – you’ve got to give them a compelling reason to do so. Blogs have a role to play here.

I also believe that most campaign blogs are horrible. They consist of recycled press releases and op eds that read like they’ve been reviewed by an army of lawyers. For a blog to really be successful, it needs some personality. It has to read like it’s been written by real, live, living, breathing human beings. This is harder to do than it sounds. It is against everything candidates and campaigns have been taught about staying on message. It is counter to the lessons they’ve been taught by direct mail and TV and radio advertising.

Ultimately, it’s better to have no blog than a really bad one. People see through this stuff.

So, after all that throat clearing, here are the questions I think campaigns should contemplate when they think about whether they should blog.

(1) What is the candidate like?

Are they interested in blogging and do they have the time or interest to blog themselves periodically (or at least spend the time with a staffer so that ghost writing is somewhat effective)? Frankly, lots of politicians are a bit older and don’t even really use the Internet or email. It’s important to define the candidate’s level of engagement right away and develop (or not develop) a strategy based on the answer to this question. If the candidate doesn’t really believe in the importance of blogging, it’s hard for the staff to believe in it and for it to be truly successful.

(2) What is the campaign culture like?

This is related to point #1. Many campaigns have an almost militarist structure and simply won’t give up control of message. They won’t allow open commenting on the blog and won’t give staffers who might blog on the campaign’s behalf the freedom to move quickly and write engaging content. Campaigns with this kind of culture are often very effective, but they don’t usually produce effective blogs. A political blog isn’t going to work if it sounds like it was written by a politician and if it doesn’t allow real conversations to occur. Things have changed since 2004 and blog readers are more critical than they were back then.

(3) Who is going to write the content?

This is related to point #1 and #2. Will the candidate blog themselves? Will family members? Would you consider bringing a known blogger on as a consultant? Do you have folks on staff who will blog? Blogs are most effective when they are consistently updated. Readership and traction grow over time. If you aren’t willing to devote around an hour a day to blogging, it’s probably not worth it.

(4) How do you want to use your blog? How can the blog complement your other activities?

The ways a blog can be used by a campaign are pretty much limitless. Rapid response to the daily news cycle. Behind the scenes looks at the campaign. Fundraising pitches. Calling out opponents. Establishing the candidate as a real person. Recruiting volunteers. Soliciting feedback on issues and strategy. Before starting a blog it is important to set goals and come up with a strategy designed to meet them. Lots of the campaign blogs I’ve seen pretty clearly don’t have a strategy behind them. They read like they were started on a whim by a staffer that read about the Dean blog strategy in the NYT.

(5) Are you prepared to reach out to blogosphere beyond simply producing your own blog?

The best political blogs succeed because they build a network of bloggers in support of the candidate. Is your campaign prepared to hold conference calls with allies in the blogosphere? Are you willing to write guest entries for popular blog networks like DailyKos and RedState? Does the staff have the time to monitor what is being said in the blogosphere about the candidate and act on what they learn? A blog strategy isn’t going to be successful if it operates in a vacuum. The blogosphere is interconnected, and you are going to be most successful if you engage fully in the greater world. Its also important to remember that you can have a blog outreach strategy without having your own blog.

In summary, I think a blog is only going to be truly successful if a campaign is willing to invest the time needed to create a good strategy that leads to compelling content and smart outreach to the greater blogosphere. And is willing to give up a bit of control. If they can’t do that, it is probably best to not create a blog and focus on other tactics.

About the Author
Todd Zeigler
Todd Zeigler serves as the Brick Factory’s chief strategist and oversees the operations of the firm. In his sixteen year career in digital, he has planned and implemented campaigns for clients including the Pickens Plan, International Youth Foundation, Panthera, Edison Electric Institute, and the American Chemistry Council. Todd develops ambitious online advocacy programs, manages crises, implements online marketing strategies, and develops custom applications and software. He is bad at golf though.