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Tips for Candidates re Weblogs

Tuesday, September 2, 2003 by Dave Winer.

New Hampshire Permalink to New Hampshire

Earlier this year I wrote an op-ed piece for the Harvard Crimson explaining the next step in democracy, voters with their own publications, everyone with an op-ed page, citizens with weblogs, a revolution in politics.

Now, later in the year, I've been to New Hampshire twice, visited the Edwards, Dean and Graham campaigns. I'll go again this week. A handful of other bloggers have traveled with the candidates, mostly with Dean, and there are strong signs that the candidates are starting to understand that there's more to the blogosphere than another channel for political advertising.

It's not surprising to me, in a way, that weblogs have become such an important part of the early 2004 presidential campaign. I expect this campaign will take place more on the Web than it does on TV networks. That's why I think candidates who use the Web to raise money for TV ads aren't making enough of a bet on the Web, and are leaving the door open for those who do. But it must be hard to let go of a way of life. Politics has "always" worked that way, right? Anyway, it's surprising when a vision comes true, no matter how strongly you felt it would.

In this piece I outline advice for people running campaigns in a world with weblogs. In the spirit of the Web, the advice is available to all. These are just my opinions. Your mileage may vary, and the advice may change as the campaign goes forward.

1. Run a real weblog Permalink to 1. Run a real weblog

Embrace the key feature of the Web, linking -- which means you must link to all articles about your candidate, not just favorable ones. You should also link to articles about your opponents.

When deciding what to link to ask yourself this question: "Would an informed person want to consider this information or point of view?" If the answer is yes, link to it. This way you attract informed people and can help shape their opinion, even if they don't support your candidate. That's how you're going to win the election, btw, by converting the other guys' voters. You don't get anywhere by preaching only to the choir (but you have to do that too).

2. Get a pied piper Permalink to 2. Get a pied piper

A pied piper is someone who your advocates can learn from by example. Don't delay. Get an experienced blogger with a large community to write your main weblog. You don't have time to learn. Enlist as many of these bloggers as you can. Any of them could turn out to be the killer app for the other guy.

3. Include independent bloggers Permalink to 3. Include independent bloggers

On the press bus, include people who are gathering information because they're interested in the election, people who are making their minds up, people who will ask challenging questions -- you know -- like reporters.

It's insulting to bloggers when a candidate has people with weblogs on the press bus who are advocates for the candidate. Bloggers are people who do it for love, not money. Hobbyists. Amateurs. But otherwise the rules of journalism apply.

Sure you can have PR people on the press bus, but you can't only have PR people.

4. Publish advocacy guidelines Permalink to 4. Publish advocacy guidelines

I suggest studying the Linux Advocacy MiniHowto. It's a gem. Teach the people who represent you on the Web to do so with respect for others, respect for the candidate and the campaign, but most important, self-respect. To be part of the Web, your campaign must communicate with the values of the Web. For a bonus point, encourage your opponents to adopt your guidelines for online advocacy.

5. Publish your schedule Permalink to 5. Publish your schedule

Make sure your candidate's schedule is on your website and it's current.

Also, keep track of where your competition is, and consider publishing that as well.

Your interest (as with linking) should be aligned with an informed electorate. The more people know, the more likely they'll vote for your guy. Candidates should compete to be the authoritative source of information about the campaign.

6. Choice in tools Permalink to 6. Choice in tools

The Dean campaign made a big mistake, imho, by getting into the software business. Now it looks like the Edwards campaign is following them. Software and the candidates should be separate. A blogging tool can just as easily be used to advocate for a Republican or a Democrat.

Build on what the weblog development community has accomplished, and will continue to accomplish through November next year. Be open to users of all platforms. You can get the leading weblog tools vendors to help your candidacy and to help the election, but not if you exclude them from participating in your campaign!

Users of software tools don't generally want to switch, so don't try to make them do it just to support your campaign. Again, think about bringing more bloggers into your tent, not creating a tent that excludes existing bloggers. Let weblogs grow independently of your campaign, no matter how big you are, they will anyway.

7. Speak about democracy Permalink to 7. Speak about democracy

Advocate the benefits of citizens participating in government. Use some of your campaign money to buy Internet presence for voters. It will be money well spent even if they advocate for other candidates. Talk about Jefferson, the First Amendment, etc etc. Ralph Waldo Emerson. How great is America? Very. Blogs are a very American thing.

Dave Winer

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