You get one chance to make a first virtual impression. Here’s help for creating a dynamic presence online

Any political website is both a persuasion and a fulfillment tool. It should make the case for why people should give money, volunteer and vote for the candidate, and have easy-to-use tools to register for email newsletters, volunteer for the campaign and make donations. Once website viewers have been persuaded to support the candidate, the website should make it easy to act on those impulses.

Convincing voters to support a Green candidate rather than a Democratic or Republican candidate is more difficult because the two major parties have created electoral and conceptual barriers to third-party participation in American politics. Electoral barriers include registration, signature-gathering and money requirements for new party recognition. The main conceptual barrier is the idea that our current two-party, winner-take-all form of democracy is “normal.”

Best democracy of the 18th century

The reality is that the voting system in the United States represents the best innovations of the late 18th century, when bowing to the whims of a monarch was the only alternative. Most other democracies today, however, are using instant-runoff voting, proportional representation, publicly financed elections, shorter campaign seasons, direct voting (no Electoral College), publicly-funded television time, and other innovations to make one-person-one-vote a reality (see

Today’s voters often forget that the Republican Party itself was a third party that catapulted to the presidency with Abraham Lincoln in 1860 because of its condemnation of slavery. Other third parties have challenged the status quo with ideas, such as voting rights for women and minorities and the 8-hour work day, that either led to election of their candidates or the adoption of their ideas by the larger parties.

Persuading voters  

Unlike Democratic and Republic candidates, who can start with a presumption of “competence” and “normalcy” because their party affiliations are known quantities to most voters, Greens and other third-party candidates start with a presumption that they are unelectable “outsiders” and “spoilers.” Even the judicial system recognizes majority opinions, dissenting opinions and concurring opinions that are somewhere in-between.

In short, Green candidates have a two-tier job of persuading voters. They must make a case for themselves personally, and sell the idea that the voter can step outside the comforts of the two-party system. The first part is relatively straightforward, but the second requires more ingenuity. Any marketer will tell you that introducing a new product requires time, money, planning, innovation and lots of energy.

Strategic plan  

Like websites for any political candidate or cause, Green Party candidate websites must start with a strategic plan. The first step is to think about questions such as:

* What are the strengths and weaknesses of the candidate?
* What are the key issues that are affecting the community that this candidate can fix if elected?
* What experiences, skills and training does the candidate have that can be used to address these issues?
* What are the unique characteristics of this community that must be taken into consideration? How does this candidate meet the requirements of a successful office-holder in this community?

Implementing the plan

There is no one-size-fits-all way to implement a strategic plan. Your campaign should be rooted in your community, so the images and issues should be derived from that place. But the need to overcome the conceptual roadblock that Greens are “unelectable” and “outsiders” means that part of the site must be devoted to things Republicans and Democrats don’t usually have to deal with.

Some Greens might want to minimize their mention of the party label, and instead focus on the strong credentials of the candidate. Others might want to include features such as “Why a Vote for Joe Smith Makes A Difference” or “How Voting for Third Parties Has Shaped America.”

Here are the top ten things to keep in mind as you build your campaign website:  

1. Be aware of both form and content. People read pictures before they read text. Make sure the candidate looks like she already is holding the office to which she aspires. Candidates should not change their hopes, dreams and convictions, but should be prepared to adapt their appearance to more closely conform to what voters expect when they think “council chair” or “senator.”

2. Find out what works in your area. Go online and look at a few local campaign websites. How do the candidates present themselves? Without reading a word on the Home page, ask yourself what message that candidate is sending to you, the anonymous visitor. Is that a message you would embrace? How can you make your candidate a good salesperson for her candidacy in this district?

3. Use the Home page wisely. Over half of visitors never get past the Home page. Keep it updated and comprehensive, but don’t make it so slow that it takes a long time to load.

4. Accessibility is key. Imagine the main types of people you want to visit your site: voters, donors, volunteers, reporters, students and so forth. Plot out a path they might follow to find the information they are seeking.

5. Plan to update the site. A static site is a brochure in the sky.Who will do the updating? How? If possible, invest in a content management tool that allows quick, easy updates using only text so that the campaign is not dependent on coders for updates.

6. Create synergy between the offline and online campaigns. The web team should have a representative at the highest level of your campaign organization. Every time a mailer goes out, an email newsletter should, too. When a major announcement or speech happens offline, it should go up on the website the same day.

7. Budget at least five percent of your campaign budget for web work, including design, implementation and maintenance. The website is the 24/7 home of the campaign, and the best way to educate the public about both the candidate and the Green Party vision.

8. Plan for evolution of the website. Every site should start with an Announcement site, which highlights the candidate’s record, bio and goals. It is aimed at the press and potential supporters. The Main Campaign site has regularly updated News and Events sections, and lasts for most of the campaign. The Finish Line site has comparisons between the candidates and a strong appeal to last-minute deciders.

9. Build for the long haul. Make sure to invest in tools that can stay with you after the campaign is over. A database should remain the campaign’s property, and not be used by the vendor. Position papers, voter lists and other information should be the property of the party, and not just one candidate.

10. Plan to win. This seems self-evident but it is not. Given the state of the world, there is no time for candidates who only want to “make a statement.” There are too few progressives and progressive resources to waste them on candidates who are not ready to get inside the system and change it. Both insider and outsider strategies for social change are valid, and most of us do both at some time in our lives. But Green candidates who want support must start with the mindset that they are ready and able to assume office.

Phil Tajitsu Nash is CEO of and co-author of Winning Campaigns Online.