Elements of Political Communication: Digital media guidelines – Websites
In many ways, campaign and organization websites function as an intermediary between older forms of online communication (like email) and new media tools (like social media). The conventional view of political websites is that people visit them to learn basic information about a campaign or organization. To some extent, they do; however, visitors have no reason to return to your site unless it contains new content. Posting regular, topical updates connects your organization to a network of people with similar interests and increases your visibility to news outlets. Therefore, you should regularly post pertinent news and information about your cause.
Quite a bit has been written about the basic structure and function of informational websites elsewhere; therefore, this chapter should only be considered as a brief overview of political websites. More information on this subject can be found in the websites section of the "Further reading" chapter.
Generally speaking, posts on candidates' websites more often focus on acclaims for the candidate; negative accusations for the other side are more likely to be released through the website of a political organization. When writing basic site information (such as an "About Us" page) or new entries, use the general writing and opinion guidelines. Ask supporters to use the information and opinions you post in their own entries. Even if the supporter's blog is typically nonpolitical in nature, these "stealth" messages can be an effective tool to incorporate your message into a larger network.
Website content management systems (CMS) vary considerably in their interfaces, and will take time and dedication to master, but there are some general formatting points to note for any political website:
- Whenever appropriate and possible, considering providing inline links to your sources for more controversial claims. Your reader may not visit your source to see if your statement is factual or to learn more, but the presence of a link to a reliable source can boost his or her trust in your organization. When linking to an external source, use a link that will open a new browser tab.
- Though detailed statistics may not be appropriate in a letter or op-ed, a clear and accurate chart or graph can aid your argument on a website post.
- Consider writing and editing new posts as a group with a cloud-based office suite like Google Docs. This avoids the confusion that often surrounds the editing process when writers send attachments through email or hard copy.
- When writing blog posts with a What You See is What You Get (WYSIWYG) web editor, using copy and paste (Ctrl+C and Ctrl+V, or ⌘+C and ⌘+V on a Mac) sometimes results in awkward formatting. Work around this issue by using Google Chrome as a browser and pressing Ctrl+Shift+V (⌘+Shift+Option+V on a Mac) to perform an unformatted paste.
- One of the major benefits of using digital media formats correctly is that many services allow an organization to learn specific demographic information about its supporters. Use a website tracking tool such as Open Web Analytics to measure website traffic and visitor habits. Review this information carefully to see which posts and pages your readers are visiting more often.