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Tuesday, February 26

Ten online campaigning tips for Ken Livingstone

I may have mentioned my lack of impress with Ken Livingstone's online campaign for the London mayoralty. The first efforts out the gate broke numerous web norms with the biggest hole being leaving supporters without fightback material against the rapidly building anti-Ken campaign and unexplained requests for money from Labour after it's fundraising scandals.

To be a wee bit more positive, here are ten tips culled from the US Primaries experience. They'll be applicable to both Boris and Brian and Siân as well but both of Ken's main challengers are miles ahead already.

I am not including the very, very basics such as not relying on images in email to convey information or testing your site for its usability — if you don't get that sort of thing everything here is waaaay too sophisticated.

1. Email.

  • This is still a prime first contact point, resource appropriately
  • Keep them short and punchy (Ken's waffle on)
  • Keep them task orientated for supporters
  • Lob them out immediately when attacks hit
2. Connect Online to Offline
  • Obama supporters can fill in a simple form and get a free bumper sticker
  • MeetUp and other massive event/organising sites are the prime focus for local campaigning - see Edwards campaign. Use them even before your own site
  • Only Obama has done this properly: tying microtargeting to participation such as online phone banks and text
  • Obama is running ads using web 2.0 to show where to vote
3. Your site won't do everything, don't rely on it
  • Most US Voters don't visit candidate websites
  • Extending your web presence is therefore essential to repeat your talking points
  • What Americans say they want from candidate websites are; their voting records; less spin; less reliance on video clips (for people dependent on dial-up); clearer statements on the issues
4. Viral is always about funny
5. Rebuttal is what the web's for
  • All the meme's against Obama have been far more effectively fought in an online than previous offline campaigns — the Karl Rove's are losing power as the wizard's behind the curtain
  • The web's depth allows you to go to town
  • Your supporters will be desperate for rebuttal talking points
6. Multimedia and video rule, obviously most of all with young people
  • I haven't seen clips circulating of Ken knocking back the booze — that's luck not strategy
  • Encourage and feed your supporters to create their own MM like Flash cartoons — see Mark Fiore
  • Mitt Romney ran a very successful 'create your own ad' effort through Jumpcut
  • You could start with a send-up of 'drunk Ken' — attack is the best defence
7. Expose and therefore normalise yourself
  • Not for nothing have US commentators praised 'Web Cameron' for craftily displaying a 'normal, family guy'
  • Unless you're a stand-up comic or Obama, talking straight-to-camera is boring
  • Brave trumps timid
8. Ditch blatant spin, bottom-up not top-down
  • Supporters, especially a blatantly multicultural selection, praising you - this interests who?
  • Better to seed communities of interest who support you to do their own specific, tailoured spin with your talking points
  • Hillary had to learn that playing safe and top-down command-control doesn't work online and looks awful
9. Bloggers rule Search
  • Google results will generally give masses of blog links
  • For both Ken and Brian this is a major problem given the Tory-leaning UK political blogosphere — although Guido is no Drudge
  • So invite Labour bloggers in and get them to piss inside the tent: encourage them
  • US candidates rank well in search (for their name) only Obama & Hillary for campaign issues keywords (e.g. 'Strengthen middle class')
  • Edwards had 43x more web pages indexed than Obama
10. Sometimes TV still beats Web
  • On Super Tuesday when California was declared for Hillary - the key moment - it took at least ten minutes before it showed up online.
  • On Super Tuesday everyone was 'live blogging' the same results everyone else was waiting for - from the news channels
  • Not so much here yet, but in the US TV is migrating online (I was watching MSNBC on Super Tuesday, they had numerous streams) so candidates feed that context with tailoured landing pages 'for more info'
  • Source referral from TV web pages needs gardening
... and 11. Listen to online politicking critics (like me). The Republicans didn't and look where that's got them.

And if you - cynical politician - still need some sort of convincing see Pew Research nailing the numbers on the Web's political influence in the Primaries.

Any other ideas? I'll expand this post as more ideas pop into my head.


12: What is a 'political' website? Don't restrict your web presence
  • Don't play to the crowd who either never will or already are voting for you (except for mobilisation)
  • The Kenyan Crisis is one example when all types (literally) of bloggers and commentators on all types of sites have participated in politics
  • A London example might be the politics on Arsenal's discussion sites surrounding the attempted Usmanov take-over
  • Match and tailor talking points to communities of real or potential interest, e.g. bus safety to women - and gays - and *fill in the blanks*
13: Use Geo-targeting
  • Obama's campaign used this to present Texas specific content to users from Texas
  • It is now possible to target down to the town level in the UK
  • For elections this means you can tailor messages much more precisely for website visitors as well as searchers so you waste less online ad money


On the numbers:
  • Pew's is the first US detailed research but OFCOM, amongst others is tracking the change in media use in the UK
  • You can see it also in the papers ranking up their sites - they see and are anticipating the move for info/news sourcing to online
  • 'Occams razor' (past experience) suggests that we are maybe 1-2 years behind the US
  • See the impact of YouTube already in the UK - e.g one of my local councillors was shown remonstrating in a street through a video shot on mobile and posted online, then the papers picked it up


  1. Essential reading for all SpAds in government and opposition! Hope they take note..

  2. oh jeez jezza! i'm showing my non-london knickers! what are SpAds? I've seen it on Guido and I still 'aven't a clue - enlighten moi. google no help.

  3. SpAds are Special Advisers - political appointees to a minister's civil service team.

    Fantastic article, Paul. I hope you won't mind me putting some of this into action on Siân Berry's campaign.

  4. Gary

    of 'course not. I should have mentioned Siân alongside the two Bs.