Leveraging Website Statistics

March 30, 2011

It is always difficult to measure the effectiveness of media campaigns.  Traditionally, staffs have counted media clips or calculated cable news ratings when a Member of Congress partakes in an interview.  While these methods produce a snapshot of exposure for a particular initiative, they do not present the whole picture and are not entirely quantifiable.  Fortunately, the Web offers a host of new methods for communications professionals to evaluate messaging efficacy.

Congressional websites are in many ways the first impression Members of Congress display toward constituents.  In addition, they can be a calculator to gauge the strength of communications campaigns.  Staffers can measure daily website unique visitors and analyze changes when new initiatives are introduced.

For instance, if the communications director decides to emphasize online and television appearances as opposed to radio and newspapers, he or she can measure the new campaign’s success by quantifying website visitors.  Other online measurement tools include Member Wikipedia page views, Facebook impressions, and Twitter retweets.

If a Member introduces a new bill or a scandal erupts, citizens will invariably scour the Internet for more information.  For instance, Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO) came under scrutiny recently for admitting she failed to pay property taxes on her private plane.  On March 22, the day the story broke, Senator McCaskill’s Wikipedia page received ten times more visitors than an average day, according to http://stats.grok.se/en/201103/Claire%20McCaskill.  In addition, she had an exponential increase in her Twitter following, which now contains more than 50,000 followers.

Web tools give Members of Congress more avenues to measure the effectiveness of legislative and communications campaigns.  These statistics can then be leveraged to make decisions on what legislative initiatives to pursue, what media outlets pitch, and how best to allocate a Member’s limited time – optimizing office operational efficiency.

 

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Showcase Recess Activities

October 2, 2010

Members of Congress use recess to return to their districts and interact with constituents through town hall meetings and local events. But how many constituents are politicians actually reaching? According to an August Rasmussen Poll, only 35 percent of people have ever attended a political town hall meeting, proving a vast majority of constituents will not interact with their Congressman or Senator. This places the onus on Members to promote their recess activities through their Website and other digital means.

During August recess, Senator Mark Warner (D-VA) travelled throughout Virginia meeting with constituent groups. The Senator attended 40 events and logged more than 1,600 miles on his odometer.  In order to promote his travels, the Senator’s staff created a 90 second video highlighting events and towns the Senator visited throughout the Commonwealth.

Congressman Zack Space (D-OH), in his second term representing central and southeast Ohio, posted a series of videos on his Facebook and Youtube pages through the month of August. Speaking in front of southeast Ohio landmarks, the Congressman discussed issues affecting his district and the ways in which his actions in Congress have positively affected the lives of his constituents.

While not using video, Congressman Jerry Moran (R-KS) – who is currently running for Senate in Kansas – continuously updates his Congressional Facebook page with pictures of him meeting with constituents in his district. The Congressman also posts the photos on his official Congressional Website.

Rep. Jerry Moran meeting with constituents

As long as it is not one month before an election, recess is an opportunity for Members of Congress to reconnect with their constituents. But it is impossible to meet with all voters directly, and Members need to do a better of job of selling their connection to the community. With anti-Washington attitudes enveloping the country, Members that use digital channels to showcase their connection with their district, will be best positioned to weather the anti-establishment storm. As former Speaker Tip O’Neil said, “all politics is local”, and now opportunities are available to showoff how local you are.


Party Website Wars (Part Two)

September 26, 2010

After reviewing the DNC’s new Website last week, it is time to fixate our eyes on the RNC’s revamped www.gop.com.

As the minority party, the site takes a very aggressive tone. When opening the home page, there are two images with rotating messages – these messages include:

  • Where’s the Bus? – redirects visitors to www.firepelosibus.com
  • Deficit of Hope – opens a negative video regarding the President, stimulus and budget deficit
  • Stop Obama, Start Volunteering – redirects visitors to volunteer.gop.com, which presents upcoming volunteer opportunities and a video message from Congressman Mike Pence (R-IN)
  • Get Your Fire Pelosi Gear Now – redirects visitors to the GOP store
  • Volunteer from Home – redirects visitors to volunteer.gop.com
  • Show your Support – presents GOP donation opportunities

Of the six rotating messages, four are negative. This is an example of the Republican strategy heading into the midterms. Somewhat surprisingly, the new House Republican agenda unveiled by Congressman John Boehner (R-OH) on Thursday is no where to be seen on the Website – minimizing its significance during the campaign season.

Scrolling down the page, there are three subsets with the headers “Steps to Victory”, “Trending” and “New & Noteworthy.” Further down the page there are imbedded campaign videos from Republican candidates throughout the country. This is something the Democratic Party lacks on its home page. The videos are effective in highlighting top-tier candidates and top-level Republican messages.

An innovative feature of gop.com is RNC Women. Just as the DNC has a Spanish option specifically to connect with Hispanic constituents, the RNC has a specific site dedicated for outreach to women. RNC Women spotlights female Republican candidates, contains RNC Women social media links, and has female-specific resources such as videos, training manuals, groups and polling.

The RNC’s Website also contains a customization option for the home page. Visitors can change the color of the page, enter their zip code and highlight issues that are most important to them.  This tool – despite its prominent positioning on the page – is not very effective. Allowing users to control the look of gop.com eliminates the Republican Party’s ability to brand itself. In addition, the zip code and issue elements do not appear to have any redeeming value. After entering those into the system, the home page does not change and it lacks the local flare of the DNC’s site.

Objectively, the site could use more social media interaction. While the DNC directed supporters to individual candidates’ Facebook and Twitter pages, the RNC only directs visitors to official RNC social media sites.  In addition, gop.com lacks interactive elements such as the iPhone canvassing app and localized content. These differences are indicative of party strategies for November with the Democrats trying to localize races while the Republicans are working toward a national referendum.

The RNC does a great job of incorporating video on its Website and those videos coupled with attack-oriented merchandise and alternative Websites – such as www.firepelosibus.com – will go a long way toward driving the Republican base to voting booths on November 2.


Party Website Wars (Part One)

September 21, 2010

Last week the DNC released its redesigned Website, www.democrats.org. This follows the RNC’s unveiling of www.gop.com earlier in the summer. A close inspection of both Websites highlights the parties’ differing strategies as they compete for votes in November. Today, we will begin examining the party Website wars with the Democrats.

Opening democrats.org, it is easy to be struck but its simplicity. The top prominently displays the party’s new slogan – “Change that Matters” – and a new logo with ambitions of building upon the successes of President Obama’s logo which was prominently displayed on merchandise throughout the summer of 2008. In the top right corner the site offers a Spanish version – something the Republicans lack – demonstrating the Democrat’s outreach to that important constituency.

The new DNC logo

The most eye catching element of the site’s home page is its large banner with four rotating messages:

  • “The history of the Democrats is the history of America” (with a picture of President Roosevelt)
  • “A new identity that captures the spirit that unites us all” (exploring the new look and image of the party)
  • Join an organizing rally with President Obama
  • Pledge a commitment to vote in November

Democrats.org main banner

Remaining above the fold, the most innovative aspect of democrats.org is the “find a local candidate” feature. Users can type in their zip code and the site will highlight all Democratic candidates running for Senate, Governor or House of Representatives in that state or district. When users click on the candidate’s profile, a quote from the candidate is displayed along with their primary Website, Facebook page, local event information and volunteer information.

Scrolling down the home page, visitors will find the main DNC social media links – including Facebook, Twitter, Youtube and Flickr – and streaming Democratic Twitter updates from the party, a candidate and a state party. In addition, as Website users scroll to the bottom of the page they find a group of nine boxes with links to such features as the Democratic store, an iPhone canvassing app and a video from David Plouffe.

OFA iPhone Canvassing App

When a user signs in, they are presented with a personalized Dashboard. The Dashboard includes options such as signing up for events, finding Democratic groups in an area, writing a blog and updating a profile. Users can also enter their cell phone number to receive campaign messages via text.

For me, the most effective tool of the Website is the local candidate feature, which not only informs voters of their local candidates, but highlights upcoming events and connects voters to their candidates via social media. The Spanish option for the Website is very important and the site does a good job of incorporating the party’s new logo and inspirational leaders (Obama and Roosevelt).

Objectively, it would be great to incorporate video more prominently on the home page. Democrats.org has minimal embedded video and does very little on its home page to incite passion among the Democratic base. The Website does a tremendous job of delivering local information to supporters but lacks the fervor to rally people to volunteer and vote.

And when it comes to passion and inciting fervor, it is tough to compete with the GOP – and we will examine their Website in our next installment.