I got a couple of e-mails in response to my snarky comment about Maida Coleman’s campaign blog the other day. The first, oblivious to the sarcasm, thanked for giving Maida some attention in her bid for Saint Louis mayor. The other, oblivious to the fact that Maida has an awful website, accused me of being a Republican in disguise trying to knock down the true progressive in the race. I think the readers here know that I am no Republican, and I don’t have to knock down a candidate who’s doing that all by herself. But perhaps it would be more constructive to explain why it’s awful, rather than just offering an offhanded remark. And it is indeed awful, independent on what you think of the candidate herself.
The website design itself is actually not bad at all. A lot of content is on display without it looking too busy or confusing. The colors are nice, and the graphics are all relatively crisp. A lot of campaign websites get this entirely wrong, the campaign apparently thinking that they have to throw a lot of link, buttons and headers at the visitor right off the bat and hope that something sticks. So on first glance, there’s some promise.
Below the flip, I’ll explain what’s wrong with the website.
That quickly fades once you actually start looking at content. The campaign blog that I mocked has only five entries, one in January and four total in March (each one posted several days apart.) The whole point of a blog is to record your thoughts for a public audience, and in a campaign context, to give your campaign website a little more personality and possibly even interactivity, if comments are allowed. To host a blog on your website but fail to regularly update it, well, that tells readers that you either don’t care or that you’ve got nothing to say. You’ve got to update each and every single day, even multiple times a day. If the candidate doesn’t have time to do it, she can use a staffer to write something in their own voice (not the candidate’s) that focuses on the themes of the campaign.
The problem isn’t just with the blog. The website as a whole has little substance for someone who stops by to see where she stands on the issues. She actually promises at one point to offer a “detail-specific” plan to in the future fight crime in an issues section littered with platitudes and lacking any detail or reference to Maida Coleman’s record as a state senator.
This isn’t a trivial point. Coleman is a challenger fighting an uphill battle – she needs everyone she can get. If someone stops by her website to see what she’s all about, there’s less specifics to drive someone into her camp than there might be on a campaign brochure.
I’m not saying she needs to list a 20 point plan or overwhelm the reader with paragraphs detailing your record, but at least something should be there, something the reader can take away and even persuade friends and family with. A few hyperlinks to news articles about specific proposals that Maida carried through the Senate, or two or three bullet points specifically outlining what she would do as mayor would help to make it more convincing.
The other side of this is that it serves as a poor vehicle for supporters who are already convinced that Maida is a better choice. The lack of specifics about Maida’s record and her plans for the city keeps supporters from being able to tell others those same specifics.
And this website isn’t a hub. There are two links to how you can contribute, one for donations and one for volunteering, but there’s nothing even driving you to that point on the front page of the website, which is dominated by a giant banner with a slogan and picture of Maida. You have to scroll down the front page to find the links to contribute and volunteer. And once you get to the volunteer page, you click off boxes denoting how you can help out, add your contact information, and wait for the campaign to contact you when needed. There’s nothing on the website that tells people where to go or how to help out when they have time, not just when the campaign comes calling.
Nor does it allow supporters to contact each other to find out how they might be able to organize something themselves, if they have different skills and ideas that the campaign might be overlooking. This last bit I can’t really single Maida out on, because it’s rare that campaigns actually encourage this kind of behavior. But the guy who was just elected president (you might have heard of him) owes his election in part to building this sort of functionality into his own campaign website. You think others might start catching on.
I’ll do a review of Slay’s website later this week, as it certainly isn’t perfect, either.