What Politics Reminds Us About Communicating on the Web

The last thing I want to do is start spouting off about politics on this blog. The recent Mass. US Senate special election did inspire me, however, to think about how the political foibles of unsuccessful candidates can remind us of some important web communication principles. I think I can do that without straying into partisan territory 🙂

Don’t Isolate Your Base – Consider your core audience(s). What do they want? What do they need? If you stick to an internally-focused, out-of-touch agenda, you’ll quickly lose support and interest. Similarly, you need to know when to broadcast and when to go niche. Just because red and blue make purple doesn’t mean your communications should be one shade of purple. Different audiences have different needs.

Be Authentic and Genuine; Don’t Pander or Equivocate – If you misrepresent yourself as a politician, the press and an increasingly savvy general public will sniff you out. The same goes for any other individual or organization. Also, by being yourself and being real, it will make it easier to connect, engage and build support. Be who you are. Your audience will respect you for it. You won’t win everyone’s support, but those who do support you will truly believe in you.

Own Your Story – Time and time again, politicians lie when caught in the act of one transgression or another. I’ve never understood why they always fall into this cycle, whether it’s Bill Clinton or John Edwards or Mark Sanford. It’s like they haven’t learned from each other’s mistakes. To apply this more broadly, there will always be one backlash or another. But the quicker you step out from behind the partition of denial and silence to address the matter head-on, the better.

Press the Flesh –  I saw lots of people post questions — some tough, some simply asking “Why should I vote for you?”, all real — to the Twitter accounts for Martha Coakley and Scott Brown. And whether you think it’s a fair or not, people judged the candidates by their responsiveness (or lack thereof). Presence, as always, is critical. If you’re there, you’re there, rain or shine. Being there brings expectations, so if you’re there but not present, you will not be living up to people’s expectations. A social media presence should be as real as a handshake meet-and-greet at North Station.

Be Charismatic – In politics, for better or for worse, personality matters. You could have an intuitive understanding of complex policy and brilliant ideas about how to enact reform of one stripe or another, but if you can’t communicate to and connect with the masses, your ideas will likely languish. When it comes to the web, political charisma translates to design and, more importantly, usability. People need a clean, functional interface and a clear path to the information they desire. Accessibility helps, as well. And the whole package needs to be nice to look at, to boot.

The web may have the advantage of lacking term limits — no one can vote your website off the internet — but it is still a democracy. And if we’re not doing our jobs right, the people will, one way or another, let us know.

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