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 online donations.

2020 changed everything. Health concerns and a deteriorating economy caused by the COVID-19 pandemic reshaped the old political campaign playbook.

Social distancing presented a unique problem for political candidates who spent much of their time interacting with others at campaign events, shaking hands and meeting people face to face.

Candidates were forced to campaign while acknowledging the unprecedented social and economic conditions. Campaign staffers were being ordered to work from home. Field organizing shifted to texting and phone banking. Almost overnight, digital campaigning and advertising replaced door-to-door canvassing.

It was a seismic shift that would permanently alter digital campaigning.

Today, almost all political candidates accept online donations in one form or another. They promote themselves with online advertising and interact through social media. Even local candidates target individual voters 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 can get to know many people, and even more people will get to know you. You can reach more voters 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 you can begin connecting with people 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.