16 principles for successful e-campaigning

We are not talking about recipes. There is none, each campaign is different, and the technology is moving so fast. I just tried to resume the experience of 13 years of e-politics and e-campaigning in a few strategic and operational principles, that you should apply whatever the context of your campaign.

A lot of these principles apply also for marketing campaigns. Political campaigns are so intense and fast that they allow innovations that brands and companies would mostly hesitate to risk. It is the best school for marketing. Nobody would disagree that the Obama Campaign changed politics but also marketing forever.

1. TIME : anticipation, planification, preparation

It takes time to develop your platform, grow your supporters’ database, implement your contents on the first page of google, test and learn… Obama was on line more than 18 months before Election Day. In the last months of the campaign, if you are still coding or teaching your supporters, you are dead.

2. Technology is a tactic, not a strategy

If you think the biggest stake of your e-campaign is building a web site and a mobile application, you just did not get it. Internet is not about technology, it is about people (like politics). If you consider that your e-campaign is mostly done when you put your web site online, it is like thinking your campaign is mostly done when you open your HQ. The real work comes after this.

3. Internet strategy = ((electoral strategy  + internet local context) * (contents + technologies)) /constraints

You should better have an e-campaign strategy, because you will not be able to do everything you could. Your budget, your team, your time are not infinite. So you should focus on the goals that Internet is the best for. My personal recommendation is to focus on activism, because it is there that Internet can make a difference.

You have to adapt your e-strategy to the local context. What are the messages that you want to promote, to which population (electoral strategy)? It will tell you the devices and e-marketing tools that you should use, according to your budget.

4. Be focused and systematic

Focus on one goal and try to get a breakthrough content that will touch a significant part of the population. For this, do not sprinkle your budget and energy trying to do a lot of different actions (trying to do everything Obama did). If you have an e-strategy, stick to it entirely until the end of the campaign. Do not sprinkle your precious time and money between different options, or you will stay inside the internet black hole (the second page of google and beyond). It is better to focus on a not-so-good strategy that to change it in the middle of the campaign, because, anyway, it is too late to implement a new one. And the time you need to have it started, the campaign will be over and your energy lost for nothing.

5. Be data driven

You need to verify that your actions are efficient, and try to understand how to improve them and achieve your goals (you e-campaign must meet certain numbers to be effective). If your traffic and supporters database are not growing every day until the end of the campaign, you have a problem. If you send e-mails that nobody read or click on, you are in trouble. If the bounce rate of your e-marketing is high, you should worry. So you better look at the analytics.

Data are so much important, that you must not hesitate to ask to your supporters to spend a part of their precious time to do reporting of their actions.

6. Inform / consult / involve / engage

  • Inform your electors
  • consult them about your (and their) propositions (by the way, it is the best way to catch their e-mails ;-)),
  • give them opportunities to make an easy first step inside the campaign (put “call to actions” buttons everywhere !),
  • offer them effective tools to contribute to your campaign, on line but also and mostly off line…

7. Go back to basics

Internet is just a new way to do old things. When you think about your e-campaign, just think about it like it is a traditional campaign:

  • Internauts = electors and supporters
  • Portals = medias
  • Forums = markets
  • Chats = meetings
  • Google adwords and banners = billboards
  • e-mails = tracts
  • Blogs, twittos = influent citizens
  • Social networks = communities, markets, places where people meet and speak…

8. Be user centric

The e-campaign is not about the candidate, it is about the people. Stop considering your web site as another place where you can do the “I am the best, look at my nice pictures and program” stuff. If people can only look at your propaganda, and not participate to your program and actions, they will go away and never come back to your web pages.

Think about the different populations that will come to your hubs, and how you can give them what they are looking for. Do not talk only about you. Talk about the people, give them opportunities to speak out, show your supporters in action and telling why they believe in you, etc… It is the best way to interest, touch and motivate them.

9. Empower your supporters (mostly for grassroots)

Internet is not only a media. It is the power of modern technologies in your hands, and in the hands of your supporters. Give them the power to help you with great tools. For politics, Internet is not a media revolution; it is a revolution for activism.

Your e-campaign really scores when it impacts real people, on the ground. Human-to-human relations in real life are so much more efficient that virtual relations in forums or social networks. One of the most difficult things, and most important goal, is to stimulate your off line grassroots with your on line platform. For this, you need to establish a very strong human network of local managers, connected to the internet system. Internet must become the backbone of your grassroots operations.

10. Web is (almost) dead : think « platforms » (fish where the fishes are)

Your need your web site to be your hub, for traffic and contents, but people are not there. Be sure your campaign is active on facebook, youtube, etc… and your contents are on the first page of google on every local issue.

11. It is the contents, stupid!

The goal is not to put on line as much texts and videos as you can. If it is just boring propaganda, it will have no political impact, and nobody will promote and share it. Focus your energy and budget on few contents, but contents that will have a strong impact, emotional or rational. Become a professional of video and dataviz production. There are so many contents on the Net. If you want your content to go out from the black hole and reach people; it has to be strong; and it has to be promoted with large e-mailing and e-marketing.

11.1 Be quick or be dead

The best political contents are often related to news. So you should be quick to react to the news with the good content, because most of the political controversies will not last more than a few days.

11.2 Don’t be evil

Do not waste your time and budget on negative contents. People don’t like it. And if you are taken with your hands in the mud, you will get a shit storm. If you have some piece of valuable political information (avoid personal stuff) against your opponent, tell it with humor, be funny; and let your supporters carry the stuff. It will be much more efficient.

12. It’s the database, stupid!

If you do not have a large database of supporters and sympathizers, you will not get far. Not trafic, no buzz, no grassroots, nothing. Most of your nice contents will stay unknown and your grassroots actions will stay limited. So, one of the most important thing is caring about growing your database. It takes time and money. So you should care about this issue a (very) long time before Election Day, and save at least 50 % of your e-campaign budget for e-marketing (google and facebook ads mostly). 

13. Transparency is not an option

Do not lie, do not fake it. With Internet, most of the times, people will know. So don’t take the risk.

Do not hesitate to share your strategy and tactics with your supporters. It is the best way to include and motivate them to get into action. If they feel it is their campaign, as much as yours, then you will get an army of Davids.

14. Put your web people in the heart of your campaign headquarters & direction committee

Internet is more than a communication tool. It is the nervous system of your organization. It has to be very reactive on news. If you want your strategy and actions to enjoy the added value of the Internet, you have to have a web boy inside the war room. And he is not reporting to the communication director, but to the general manager of the campaign. If not, it will just be another tool that you think about when everything else is done. It will just be another useless gadget.  

15. Avoid shiny gadgets

An e-campaign must be mainstream. Most of the times, it means to be “low tech”. Remember, the geeks are not your main electoral target. They will not vote for you anyway (except if you are libertarian or anarchist ;-)). I know: having an iPhone app is so cooool. And the journalists just love to do articles about the use of the latest technology in politics. But it will note give you any more vote. And it will surely reduce your e-marketing or grassroots budget.

16. Involve your candidate

If you want to give momentum to your e-campaign, your supporters must see that the candidate and top executives of the campaign strongly rely on the Internet and engagement of their supporters. The candidate must address to the supporters, with videos and e-mails, to encourage them to get into action. If not, the momentum will be much weaker.


If you follow these principles, whatever the context, and if you care enough about the execution (the best strategy is nothing without a good execution), you should do good. Of course, an efficient e-campaign will never compensate a poor candidate or a wrong political strategy. But in a tight race, it may create a momentum that will make a difference and build your victory. So you should better be at your best in that field, because those who will neglect their e-campaign will soon have no chance to win.


PS: This is work in progress. I may have forgotten important principles. I will be very happy to receive new ideas from readers. And also, corrections of my rusty French English. Thanks for your indulgence.

Credits: I thank AMP Summit (especially Jonah Seiger), Bruno Walther and David Plouffe (« The audacity to win« ) for inspiration

5 Responses to 16 principles for successful e-campaigning

  1. Avoir un crédits avec AMP summit + David Plouffe c’est hyper classe

  2. Ping: links for 2010-10-28 | KevinBondelli.com: Youth Vote, Technology, Politics

  3. Ping: Links and Comments 16/11 | politicaldot.com

  4. e-bouli says:

    Super Article, exactement ce que je cherchais pour ma prochaine campagne. merci

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