Blogging, Not “Content Marketing”

When it comes to writing on the internet, I’m a pretty old guy. I likely published my first “weblog” in late 2003 or early 2004 — immediately on the heels of my introduction to “blogs” via the Howard Dean for President campaign. Back there and back then, the internet was new and exciting. Blogging felt revolutionary, and it was.

But somewhere during the Obama Administration era, the internet grew up. People learned that consistent writing cultivated the attention of others, and that attention could lead to sales (and money). More and more, we stopped “blogging” and started doing “content marketing:” niche writing designed to tee up a sales pitch. And you know what? It worked.

Content Marketing is an effective lead generation strategy because it strategically leverages the fundamentals of human psychology. But it has a dark side, as well: as more and more writers became marketers, the internet lost its authenticity and originality.

More and more, websites started to feel the same. Every article seemed to be a list of tips or an in-depth how-to guide. Search engine optimization overtook personality, and we traded the loyalty we earned by cultivating authentic relationships for the page views we gained by gaming the system.

Now, as I approach my mid-thirties, I find myself wanting to get back to the old internet. I want to be myself online, authentically share my thoughts and opinions, and do great work. And, I suspect, the market will reward that authenticity with opportunities (as it did before). At least I hope it will.

That means that, as I write this blog, I’m going to write whatever comes to mind within the umbrella of campaigning, digital, technology, and work. Frankly, I’m less concerned about whether you’ll find a blog post useful or whether it’ll boost my SEO than I am interested in writing about what’s on my mind. If other people enjoy what I’m writing, I consider that a bonus.

Learn Test Optimize

I want to take a moment to highlight my friend Eric Wilson’s excellent website and newsletter, Learn Test Optimize.

Like me, Eric’s obsessed with the intersection of digital & politics — and he’s genuinely an expert in the field. I read his newsletter, top-to-bottom, every week. You should read it, too. 

For 2020 candidates, Bitcoin donations are simply not worth the effort

No serious campaign needs to put forth the considerable effort required to accept Bitcoin contributions. The juice isn’t worth the squeeze.

Here’s what Fast Company has to say on the matter:

Fear aside, for the candidates not vying for Yang’s particular niche demographic, or even specifically for the younger vote, it’s a question of efficacy of fundraising. “Campaign fundraising is a volume business,” Weiner says. “Does the hassle exceed the benefit?” The resounding answer is, yes.

I worked on Missouri Republican Austin Petersen’s 2018 campaign for United States Senate, which accepted Bitcoin contributions. For Austin, it was a statement of principle: he believes in cryptocurrency, and it was important to him that he walked the walk by accepting it as equal with United States Dollars. 

But, while we did receive Bitcoin donations, my memory was that it was a not significant amount — and that setting up our digital infrastructure to receive them was a hassle. I argued against it at the time, and with the benefit of experience, I would do so again.

There may come a day when cryptocurrency is a common way to donate to campaigns, but today is not that day. My instinct would be to let the payment processors (e.g., ActBlue & Anedot) lead the way on that front: when they offer Bitcoin support, you should start allowing people to donate that way, too.

Best Practices & Current Trends in Political Website Design

Today, I had the opportunity to speak with Shane Greer from Campaigns & Elections Magazine about best practices and current trends in political website design.

Here are some key takeaways:

  1. Don’t re-invent the wheel: Smart campaigns are using more off-the-shelf tools (like ActBlue or Anedot) rather than try to create a custom design for every aspect of their website.
  2. Keep it simple: Down-ballot campaigns should resist the urge to model their websites of their presidential counterparts. Instead, think of your website more like a digital door hanger. 
  3. Cover the basics: Every website should have — at a minimum — a Facebook Pixel and Google Analytics installed so that you can track conversions and run basic remarketing ads. Both should be loaded through Google Tag Manager so that you can easily update them without editing your website’s code.

Don’t worry about keeping up with the presidential campaigns’ websites. They’re doing and testing a lot of things that will only make a meaningful difference at scale.

If you’re running for a down-ballot office (congressional and below in the United States), you’ll be well served by sticking with a tried-and-true approach.

Gut-Reactions to Democrat Logos

Designing the branding for a national candidate is hard work, and everyone’s a critic. Still, these quick-takes on the 2020 Democrats’ logos are good for a quick chuckle (and, honestly, not wrong).

Tom Steyer has already spent $1 million on ads one day into 2020 bid

Democrat Billionaire Tom Steyer is officially running for president, and his Day One expenditures are absolutely eye-popping.

Here’s the low-down from The New York Post

Tom Steyer spent about $1 million on political ads in the first four primary and caucus states on Tuesday – the same day he launched his bid for the 2020 Democratic nomination, according to a report.

The California billionaire, who’s been waging a national campaign to impeach President Trump, bought $1.05 million worth of broadcast ads in the biggest cities in Iowa, Nevada, and South Carolina, as well as Boston, which covers New Hampshire, NBC News reported, citing data provided by Advertising Analytics.

It will be interesting to see whether he maintains that pace (or anything close to it) as the campaign progresses. 

Read More: Tom Steyer’s 5.1 million person anti-Trump email list will reshape the Democratic campaign field

Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act

Today is the first I’ve heard of “Section 230,” a little-known provision in the 1996 Communications Decency Act that underpins the modern internet.

Today, POLITICO breaks it down:

The tech industry is turning to its supporters in Washington to defend its long-standing legal immunity for offensive and defamatory online content, in the face of growing attacks from politicians fed up with hate speech, fake news and alleged ideological bias.

The provision, known as Section 230, has helped Silicon Valley’s giants become some of the wealthiest companies on Earth. But its supporters say it’s also crucial to the online freedoms ordinary Americans enjoy — and that if Congress insists on tinkering with it, the resulting wave of potential lawsuits facing social media platforms, customer review sites, blogs and message boards could bring to a halt the user-driven internet as people have known it for decades.

Hate speech is a serious matter, but the conservative in me is wary of tinkering with regulations that underpin the entire digital economy.

My gut reaction: leave Section 230 as it is.

The devil you know is better than the devil you don’t.

Tom Steyer, and his digital team, reconsidering plans to run for President of the United States

POLITICO is out with a story today that billionaire political activity Tom Steyer, who, in January 2019, declined to run for President of the United States, is reconsidering his decision.

Tom Steyer, the billionaire environmental activist who toyed with a 2020 presidential run before deciding against it, has told people he plans to announce that he’s entering the race for the Democratic nomination, according to three people familiar with his plans. Steyer had said in January that he was passing on a 2020 run.

Steyer held a private conference call last week to announce to people who work for Need to Impeach, NextGen America and Steyer's Sacramento office that he was planning to run, according to one of the people.

Mr. Steyer is one of the savviest political entrepreneurs I have ever seen. The way he architected the independent-but-integrated financial, legal, and technology infrastructure underpinning his network of political & civic organizations is genius. He has independently built a lasting campaign infrastructure to rival any of the world’s major political parties.

In March 2018, The Daily Beast profiled Steyer’s growing “Death Star” digital and political operation:

What Steyer is doing is acquiring the equivalent of prime political real estate. Through his self-funded Need to Impeach campaign, he has now built an email list of more than 5.1 million members, a total that one former presidential campaign manager called “staggering” and a top digital adviser called “one of the biggest Democratic lists out there.”

Note: That 5.1 million person email list figure does not include the email lists of NextGen Climate Action, a Steyer-controlled political action committee focused on addressing the climate crisis that raised more than $16 million in the 2018 Election Cycle.

In a POLITICO story from January 2019, the Maggie Severns laid out the staggering scale and reach of Steyer’s effort:

Steyer spent $120 million between his political organizations during the 2018 midterms, and had close to 1,000 staff members during the peak of the election cycle. During the government shutdown, the group was adding 25,000 new names a day to its pro-impeachment email list.

What Steyer is doing on the digital front is nothing short of game-changing. The magnitude of his investment, the consistency of his messaging & engagement, and the longevity of his commitment are simply unparalleled in the political space. If today’s POLITICO story is accurate (and it feels truthy), I would expect him to immediately vault to the top of the 2020 Democratic field. 

The Next Frontier In Political Social Media: Facebook Groups

Key takeaway:

As Facebook continues to prioritize [Facebook Groups], this mechanism for outreach and this way of engaging with one another, your political candidate or cause will have never-before-seen access to the people who will organize on your behalf willingly. If you’re not utilizing Facebook Groups RIGHT NOW – before you’ve publicly announced or before your C4 is fully formed – you ought to be.

The folks at Nativ3 make a compelling argument that Facebook Groups — not email — is the best way to maximize engagement with your community online.

The Future of Your NationBuilder Control Panel

Jesse Haff, NationBuilder Co-Founder & VP of Design:

Starting August 5th, the new control panel will be your default experience, and on September 3rd, we will deprecate the Classic control panel.

The new control panel is the future of NationBuilder. It’s the foundation we’ll build upon as we continue to innovate, make usability improvements, and take evolutionary leaps in the product.

September 3rd will mark the end of an era for old school nation builders like me. But that’s okay: things change. I’m a massive fan of the new control panel, and I’m excited about what the advent of NationBuilder Radius means for the future of the product.