In real estate, "location, location, location" matters. But locations aren't merely physical. "Location, location, location" applies to the digital world as well. And early on, candidates should establish and cultivate a presence online in these four desirable locations:
- on a candidate's website
- on social media platforms
- on third party sites
- in search engine results
TIP: Adding tracking values to shared links will help you better understand your marketing efforts. When possible, share a link with tracking parameters. There is no cost to add tracking. Online tools and spreadsheets can help generate and document tracking values. The values do make the links "ugly," but there are ways to hide Google UTM Parameters using Google Tag Manager.
Candidate's Campaign Website
The only place a candidate can "own" online is his/ her own website. All other places are "rented." Despite best efforts to appear in potential voter news feeds on social media or in search results, an algorithm change could "evict" a candidate, thus impacting a candidate's overall visibility. NOTE: A candidate's website should include ways for interested parties to sign up for campaign emails and / or text messages. Since emails and texts are communication channels and not "places" that a voter can visit, they were not included in this guide.
Social Media Platforms
Voters are on social media. A candidate should be too in order to share his / her message and to engage with voters. Social media platforms extend two-way conversations beyond campaign events into the online public square. Which platforms are appropriate for a candidate varies. Questions to answer:
- Who is the candidate trying to reach? Where are they?
- Which platform(s) is the candidate comfortable using?
- Which platforms are campaign volunteers and staff comfortable and effective using?
- What social media channels are being used by the candidate's political party locally?
- What is the opponent doing?
While a candidate may not be on all social media platforms, creating profiles on all major platforms may be appropriate, especially if it is possible to use the same "username" across all channels. It minimizes the chances of someone else creating the an account for his / her own purposes to impersonate or embarrass the candidate. When creating profiles, also consider what the candidate may want to do after the election. Is running for another office a possibility? On December 29, 2018, the Twitter account Changes of Congress reported that Senator Elizabeth Warren changed her account from "elizabethforma" to "ewarren." She subsequently announced the launch of a presidential exploratory committee.
Third Party Sites
A voter's first -- and sometimes only -- candidate contact may be through a site unaffiliated with the campaign, such as a voter guide. Positive third party profiles from quality sites help a campaign not only by providing additional information to voters, but also by their "link equity" or "link juice." Search engines, like Google, incorporate data about how sites link to one another in its search engine algorithms and rankings. Quality links from reputable sites to a campaign site are perceived as votes of support by search engines. (Note the use of the adjectives "quality" and "reputable." Links from disreputable sites impact sites negatively, so never EVER purchase links to one's site.)While links to a candidate's site may happen randomly, campaigns can be proactive in obtaining links.
- Submit bios to directories: Ballotpedia is one example of an online directory aggregating candidate information for voters.
- Respond to requests for information: The League of Women Voters is known for providing candidate profiles through their chapter sites and / or Vote411.org.
- Request links: Upon receiving endorsements from groups or organizations, find out if they include links in online endorsement materials. Find out if media organizations will include contact information as part of reporting. Local political parties should be approached if they are not already listing and linking to candidates.
TIP: Don't solely promote the main page of the website. If an environmental organization endorses a candidate, consider sharing a link to an interior page focused on a relevant issue instead.
A candidate's website should appear near the top of search results when searching for the candidate's name ("First Name" "Last Name") and candidate's name coupled with a word or phrase related to the race ("First Name" "Last Name" "Mayor Anytown"). Whether or not a candidate desires to dominate all the initial search results depends and may not be within a candidate's control. If results only return pages from a candidate's domain, that could be interpreted as a lack of coverage elsewhere.Appearing in search results is a mix of art and science. There are steps that a candidate can take that may make it harder to appear in results.