Phillip Smith

If you were the Mayor, what would your blog strategy be?

An interesting phone conversation with a colleague working on the David Miller campaign for Mayor of Toronto left me pondering the question: If I were the Mayor of Toronto, what would my blog strategy be? It’s an interesting question for our current Mayor — David Miller — who ran as the “underdog” in the last election and now runs again almost unchallenged. Aside from the obvious implications that this has for Miller’s fundraising strategy, it also occurred to me that it would impact his campaign’s initiatives around blogging and mobilizing the “netroots.” In short, it seems that the key questions are:

  • Who will pen and post the entries? Will they be presented as Miller’s own? I suspect that most readers would assume that Mayor Miller has very little time for blogging, and therefor would question the authorship if presented that way.
  • Who will the audience of this blog be? Who is this initiative aimed at? Is it just a “recent news” bucket? If it is, I suspect that the real bloggers will be unimpressed. If it isn’t, then I suspect the audience for the content will need to be well thought out.
  • Why blog? What are the campaign outcomes that a blog will facilitate? How can that be measured? In a (mostly) unchallenged race, many of the de-facto advantages of having a blog — Google rankings, authenticity, convening a conversation with potential supporters, the appearance of being “hip,” etc. — may not fit with a strong incumbent-oriented strategy.
  • And, of course, the ever-tricky (for politics) question: comments. What’s the strategy here: on or off?

I had a few ideas on that call — inspired by my colleagues David Crow and Eli Singer (and many, many, others) — and, with a couple weeks to noodle it further, here are some quick thoughts:

  • Authorship: for many positions (e.g., city councillor), I feel that the posts should almost always be authored by (or appear to be authored by) the person running for office. However, for a top-dog position, like Mayor or Premier, or Prime Minister, I feel that it would be more honest to have official campaign bloggers, that are not the person running, as the author(s) of the posts. A great example (that I probably reference too often) was the personality of the Howard Dean campaign that many of us got to know via e-mail: Joe Trippi. There are many other examples like this. Also, another approach entirely, is the guest blogger or “embedded blogger,” which would give a number of people the privileged position of posting on the Mayor’s blog, either reporting on events or waxing poetic about City-focused issues. Either way, unless Miller’s going to write it himself — and it can be short if he does choose to! (hint-hint, wink-wink) — I don’t feel posts should be marked as “Submitted by David Miller.”
  • Audience: Trickier question here… because it is widely known that, as popular as they are, there are probably only a small number of people that actually care about blogs in any given campaign’s audience (potential or otherwise). So, given the complexity around the 2-way conversation that blogs often create and the political need for “containment” of certain information, it seems only sensible to ask: Who are we writing this damn blog for anyway? If it is, at its simplest, a way of providing a view into the campaign tent (so to speak) by journalling events, appearances, and other tidbits, then I think there’s real value in defining the audience broadly and writing the posts in a way that is targeted to their interests. If it is, instead, an effort to compel support from the “netroots” — the growing number of popular Toronto-based bloggers and online publishers — then I feel that the content will need to be quite different. Both are worthy of consideration: but what is the strategy? Is is about extending the reach of announcements to non-traditional media? Or is it about giving supporters that warm-and-fuzzy feeling?
  • Goals and outcomes: The strategy should have some clear outcomes and measurements (as any strategy should) that make it possible to evaluate the effort(s) and re-orient or re-jig as necessary. Quickly, I would think that keys for Miller might be:
    • Extending the campaign’s reach into the non-traditional media market
    • Finding new pockets of supporters, volunteers, and endorsements from influencers
    • And demonstrating a level of media savvy that younger voters might be expect or be impressed by
  • Each of these goals is measurable. And, if any resources are going to be invested here, measurements should be decided on from day one, to ensure that appropriate interventions are set-up to track this data. For example, special donation links in blog posts that provide simple tracking of donation by source; or signing up for an alerts service to track online media hits the same way you would for traditional media.

  • Comments: As I said plainly on the phone in that first conversation: if there are no comments, it’s not a blog. Blogs are probably the biggest campaign idea of the last year or so and, at the same time, they are the campaign manager and communication director’s worst nightmare. It’s added work and there’s potential for big, often innocent, faux pas. But, turning comments off is not the answer! My suggestion: a clear, simple, and firmly stated set of comment guidelines and, if necessary, a statement of editorial policy about the how, when, and why of comment approval. For example, make the rules of commentary clear and then put it plainly:
    We’re a volunteer-driven campaign and, as such, we have limited resources to post every comment that comes in, given the approvals that are required. However, we will review every comment and make an effort to publish the most insightful ones publicly.
    Fellow bloggers: am I wrong here? There are many examples of sites (usually large publishers) that apply similar filters to comments and I personally feel that’s fine, as long as it’s clearly stated.

Okay, so just to wrap-up, here are a few other ideas for the pile for candidates that want to reach out to the influential blogging community in Toronto:

  • Invite the key bloggers to your important campaign events. Or, better yet, have an event for bloggers.
  • My suggestion if you need advise on a blog strategy: hold an event for bloggers and ask them what your strategy should be.
  • This one’s from some US campaigns: invite bloggers — along with the traditional media — to your media announcement events or conference calls. Even better: offer them one-on-one interviews.
  • Provide a framework and then offer “guest blogger” status on your blog. As long as the intentions and editorial policy are upfront, it might just work.

So I leave you with the question: what would your blog strategy for Mayor Miller be?

About

Hi, I'm Phillip Smith, a veteran digital publishing consultant, online advocacy specialist, and strategic convener. If you enjoyed reading this, find me on Twitter and I'll keep you updated.

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