In the early 2000s, only the most online-savvy political candidates put much focus on the web. Sure, presidential campaign websites had been around since the mid-90s, but for local candidates the web was not an investment worth spending much time or money on.

How things changed. By 2008, Barack Obama’s presidential campaign had raised half a billion dollars online. In 2012, he raised $690 million digitally. By the end of his failed 2016 presidential primary, Bernie Sanders raised $218 million, mostly from small $27 donations. Today, the internet is considered as influential a medium as television and radio.

Until recently, online campaigning consisted of creating a website of text and images. It was little more than an online brochure. Bandwidth was not widely available for video advertising. Social media was too small and fragmented to be of much use in building support.

Today, even local candidates accept online donations. They promote themselves through online advertising and social media. They are even starting to target individual donors in ways that were unheard of a decade ago.

While a campaign website remains the hub of a candidate’s online presence, the work begins on a much more personal level.

The value of social networks

The internet allows candidates to make personal connections with voters – quickly, easily, and inexpensively. Through social networking, you will get to know many people, and even more people will get to know you. You can reach more people online than you can through a dozen campaign events.

The value in building an online network is that you can begin slowly and go as deep as you want. You can start by putting basic information about yourself on the web. Then begin connecting with others you know. As your network develops, these connections help build relationships and start a conversation. The purpose of engaging others online is to get people to know, like and trust you.

Building a strong base of supporters before a campaign is important. Successful candidates start an online presence long before they announce their intention to run for office.

Ultimately, you will ask others to act on your behalf. The individuals with whom you have built a relationship will be called upon to give money, donate time, spread the word and, in the end, vote for you.

Next, we’ll discuss your online reputation and how to influence what people find about your online. Learn what free resources are available and how you can use them to create an online identity.