Geolocation provides more context to the story of a campaign, whether the candidate is visiting a small-town diner or criss-crossing the country. Candidates can put special moments on a map and share them with local communities. It’s a great way to make all politics local again in a digital age where 1 percent of the vote can be the difference between election and defeat.


Last year you said that traditional websites are obsolete — how should websites change to be relevant and useful?

Candidates have to think mobile-first all the time. Their websites need to be built with mobile viewing in mind because the days of voters going home from an event or rally to look up a website that is a shrine to the candidate are gone.

Campaigns have to get information to voters where they are — on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Pinterest and Instagram — and utilize those networks every day. They also need to be able to raise money on the spot using mobile payment tools like PayPal Here and Square.

What are the keys to online engagement and website socialization?

Effective storytelling is the nucleus of everything. Campaigns need communicators who think like journalists and know how to reach citizens directly without passing content through the media filter. They need to distribute the messages through as many channels as is reasonable — everything from live tweets to long-form stories of Facebook video tabs or on their Facebook timelines.

Campaigns have to stop tasking interns with managing social channels and posting inane messages like “Happy Friday!” That kind of irrelevant content is counterproductive for campaigns that are speaking to well informed constituencies online. There should be no more check-the-box strategies in social and mobile media.

Curation also is a key element of any good content strategy. After using social platforms to create a flag around which supporters gather, campaigns need to showcase the best voices because fans and the ideas they bring to the political discussion are part of the story.

You call yourself a “brand activist.” What does that mean and how should political candidates use technology to leverage that way of thinking?  

In the political realm, anyone with a cause has brand activists. They are the people who believe so strongly in a candidate or an issue that they work passionately to win others to the cause. These people have always existed, but social networks make it easier to identify them, connect them with each other and empower them to fight when warranted.

Once candidates recognize these activists exist, they need to think strategically about how to get the most from their energy. Identify people who can help five minutes a day or one to two days a week versus joining the campaign, and develop a plan around their availability. Reward them for their efforts, and promote their work.

Every campaign should have an “insiders group” on Facebook to keep their most trusted activists interested and informed and to share best practices. Leaders within this group will lead it; organizers will organize; and followers will follow.

We’ve heard that YouTube is the No. 2 search engine behind Google, how are candidates adopting that and other forms of informal communication?

Effective campaigns think outside the TV hanging on the wall. They don’t just repurpose their TV ads on YouTube. They go longer than 30 seconds because the audience will tolerate it. The “Kony 2012” video is an excellent example of long-form storytelling, and candidates should be doing productions like it.

Campaigns also need to appreciate how YouTube works — how to get the most value out of tags; how to write appealing video descriptions; how to build calls to action within their videos; how to organize playlists that attract eyeballs; when to create different channels for different audiences; and how the videos will display on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest. YouTube is not a television, and it requires a thoughtful and authentic approach.

But YouTube isn’t the only search tool that warrants campaign attention. Wikipedia is typically the first or second entry found on Google, and six out of 10 journalists see these articles. Candidates need to know what their Wikipedia pages say about them and work with the Wikipedia community to ensure that the reports are fair, accurate and objective.

How do you use social media and informal forms of communication while protecting clients since little comments that once would have flown under the radar now can go viral?

Flood the zone. Be part of the conversation. Candidates can’t be modern ostriches, sticking their heads in the sand and pretending that communities don’t exist or aren’t talking about them. They need playbooks for empowering others to tell their stories.

Candidates must embrace moments of interest, whether they are positive or negative. Using social media, it’s possible for candidates and their allies to turn any situation into a huge positive opportunity that completely changes the game over a weekend or even overnight.

Matt Williams Matt Williams  |  Contributing Writer

Matt Williams was previously the news editor of, and is now a contributor to Government Technology and Public CIO magazines. He also previously served as the managing editor of TechWire, a sister publication to Government Technology.2

Elaine Pittman Elaine Pittman  |  Former Managing Editor

Elaine Pittman worked for Government Technology from 2008 to 2017.