Candidate Tech Review: Senator Brown

In an ongoing series of reviews about MassGOP candidate web technology, it is time to look at Scott Brown, whose campaign just launched a new website.

Disclaimer: I am not affiliated with the campaign in any way. I have no insider knowledge. I have never met any technical people on his campaign. All of this is based on what a technical person can find out through public sources. These are all just my opinions, and I don’t want anything in return.

This post will have the following sections:

– Introduction

– Executive Summary

– Evaluation Categories

— Raise Money

— Get Volunteers Involved

— Engage the media

— Advertise the issues

— Advertise the biography of the candidate

— Support get-out-the-vote activities

– Pure Technology Stuff (of no interest to normal humans)

Introduction

There will be money and media from all over the country in this race, which will be one of the most expensive in the country. Technology will be a crucial part of this campaign, and if one candidate gains a huge advantage in technology, it could be decisive. As both campaigns have millions of dollars, they can do literally anything they want – so I am going to pull no punches, and recommend things no one is doing yet. They, like the presidential primary candidates, should be leading, not following. This is only a review of Senator Brown’s stuff, but I will point out contrasts with Professor Warren’s stuff where it makes sense.

Executive Summary (if you don’t want to read the whole thing)

Senator Brown’s web technology is solid, but not innovative. The new website is a major improvement! He is now slightly ahead of Professor Warren at the moment, as his main site is better than hers. I am certain she will do more, though. If she either does a lot more custom development or moves her content to a souped-up implementation of Nation Builder (a full-suite campaign tool that the Democrats love) then she could jump ahead of him. He needs to do much more.

So… if I were Senator Brown’s tech manager, I would consider some of the following:

– Have fewer volunteer forms, improve them, and let people manage their volunteer and communication preferences

– Shut down the Brown Brigade Ning site and figure out how to re-create it on Facebook (pages, groups, and apps)

– Add calendars for campaign events, media, and volunteers

– Get a map showing locations of upcoming events, look for ways to use Foursquare and Facebook places for events and GOTV (maybe a map in Facebook that lets people add their Brown yard sign as a pin for everyone to see)

– Add more Facebook applications to the FB page, including the store for campaign gear, a reward system (like Jon Huntsman had)

– Figure out how to incorporate content from fans into the site (maybe volunteer videos – perhaps a weekly “I like Scott Brown because….” contest on YouTube).

– Improve the already-great issues section on the website with contrasting (color-coded) positions by Professor Warren

– Set up the technology and process to stage a “practice election” one month before the general, managed by technology – where people “check in” to polling places (Foursquare / FB Places), use collaboration tools to report results, etc.  

– Consider having the senator use a mobile check-in service for tours around the state, so people could follow his travels online

– Make sure there is a mobile version of the main site (css issue)

– Build an online tool (connected to or inside Facebook) where people can “commit” to voting for Senator Brown (President Obama’s people built this for Democrat candidates in 2010 – where you could declare your intent and share it with your friends).

(read more…)

DETAILED EVALUATION  

Raise Money

Senator Brown uses at least two platforms: Fundly and Fundraise.com. Fundly is really good. He is using Fundraise.com to allow people to have their own site to raise money for him. (Look for the “Become a fundraiser” button on this page: https://www.fundraise.com/scot…  It’s the kind of thing that lets everyone be… kind of like a bundler!)  He also uses the Fundraise.com app on his Facebook page.

Warren Comparison: She uses her own fundraising page, and connects to ActBlue (a democrat online fundraising clearinghouse) also. She does not allow people to become their own fundraisers online as Brown does. But she does have a nice landing-page-auto-start video on her fundraising page. I think that works well.

Get Volunteers Involved

So in 2012, this is about social media outreach and channeling people into doing things that help the campaign. His Twitter and Facebook pages are pretty good, in terms of content and frequency. Yes, it would be better if consumers were given more to “do” (contests, fun things) but he’s doing well here. (You can like and follow him directly from his main website, that’s good.)

How is he doing on volunteer intake? He takes in volunteers though the text messaging signup, through the signup application on Facebook, through joining the Brown Brigade, through the email signup on the top of his website, through the “Get Involved” form on his main site, and lastly through the signup for the Truth Squad. (I am not counting signing up for a fundraising page for Fundraise.com)

That sounds like a nightmare to manage. I recommend campaigns use Wufoo for forms (like his previous Truth Squad signup), so everything, including the forms on Facebook, can all dump information into the same system.  Brown did use Wufoo before, but when he moved to WordPress for this site, he switched all his site forms to Gravity Forms – which is like Wufoo, but is only for WordPress. This means that those forms go to one place (perhaps) but that the Facebook signup page (a strange form from an email product called “Genius Mailer” that is owned by the Prosper Group) will lead to somewhere else, most likely.

So… I can sign up for email updates in multiple places? What’s the difference to the end user with all of these forms? If I do a truth squad signup, do I do other forms? If I sign up in Facebook with my email and zip, do I then have to join the Brown Brigade or fill out the volunteer form on the main site? (This is way too confusing.)

Also, what am I getting into with the text message signup? Everyone in the party uses the same text message banner, but no one tells me if I am signing up to get fundraising solicitations in the middle of the night or alerts to call into talk radio. He needs to make it clear what the text signup does, or else people like me will never sign up. Perhaps there might be different options for what I get texted about.

As for the forms themselves, they don’t say what you’re getting into. What does it mean to join the truth squad?  I liked the big “Get Involved” form, though it is weird that I can check a box at the end saying that I don’t want to be involved at this time. (What the hell does that mean?) I do think they should add a field or two on what someone is willing to do (social media outreach, GOTV, lit drops, etc). They did a tiny bit of this on the Brown Brigade signup, asking about making phone calls, etc.

I can’t see them finding a way to manage all these inputs from all these places effectively. They have got to re-think how they take in volunteers. If I join the campaign as a volunteer, I should be “on the team” and then I can manage my communication preferences on a separate page from then on. I don’t want to have to sign up in many places (FB, top of main site, Get Involved form, and Brown Brigade).

Let’s get to the Brown Brigade (BrownBrigade.ning.com). It is a separate site with a Scott Brown Supporter-only social network. It is a Ning site – they offer private and public social networks and were all the rage a couple of years ago. However, Facebook has become more popular and more sophisticated. The burden of getting people go act like they are on Facebook somewhere else… is really high. Do I think this is worth it? No. The only reason to make someone socialize elsewhere is if there is fantastic, unique, content there and if they, in that space, can really help the campaign in a way that they cannot in Facebook. I have poked around the Brown Brigade, and I think it no longer makes sense. Almost everything I have seen can be done in Facebook and would be more useful there. I think they should convert the Brown Brigade either into a series of Facebook groups and pages, or, if they really want to innovate, create a new Facebook application for volunteers to use.

I think more needs to be done with maps and location technology for volunteers. I should be able to see where events are going to be, and I should be able to check-in at events and get rewards.

Oh – as for email… I actually like Senator Brown’s emails. They look nice! (The signatures on the emails are a nice touch).  They use a firm called Exact Target for their email campaigns. I haven’t used it, but it looks quite good.

Senator Brown also allows comments on his articles on his site (like media articles). I would probably switch that to Facebook comments to improve the quality of the submissions (as you don’t have anonymous stuff, etc).

Lastly, I think there should be a Google calendar that volunteers can subscribe to, which also has a map that shows where Senator Brown will be over the next several months.

Engage the media

Senator Brown doesn’t have to get the media to notice him, as other MassGOP candidates need to. He has to manage them. Some of this is through social media, as they follow the people they cover. I think Brown is doing well on social media.

Also, his “issues” page is very good. Things are broken down into topics, which bring up a dedicated page for each one. This will help the press see where he is on things.

I like that the “in the press” section features stuff from smaller outlets, not just the big papers. That shows the little guys they will get featured also.

I would probably go further and put up some of my voting record and perhaps some fun things (word clouds of my speeches, online tools and graphics showing the polarization of Congress). Also, I think he should have a form just for media inquiries so he can manage those better, especially from the smaller sources that he doesn’t want to overlook. Relevant to that last bit, he should feature press he gets from small blogs, etc. That would motivate the grassroots.

Maybe there should be a media-specific Google calendar that the press can subscribe to that would have major events.



Advertise the issues



As I said above, Senator Brown has a great issues page with links to issue-specific pages that contain articles that support the position. Fantastic. I also love how there are Facebook and Twitter links to share Brown’s positions on things!

I might go further, and with different color-coding, include contrasting positions from Professor Warren alongside my own stances.

Biography

Senator Brown’s new website is a vast improvement over the old one. He has a nice biography page, and a wonderful timeline showing highlights from his life. (It includes everything except the word “Republican”. Hmmm….) Anyway, I don’t want to leave out the wonderful details about his personality on his Facebook info page here: http://www.facebook.com/pages/…  I love seeing what his favorite TV shows and quotes are! In contrast, Elizabeth Warren’s page here: http://www.facebook.com/Elizab… just lists her likes, which are (in order) Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, U.S. Department of the Treasury, The White House, Harvard Law School, Enact the Consumer Financial Protection Agency! (boring)

Overall, I think Senator Brown does a great job showing who he is.

Support get-out-the-vote activities

So, the difficulty above with all the forms and the Brown Brigade and differing levels of information has got to be a nightmare on the back-end of their systems. I can’t see a great system to manage volunteers toward getting out the vote. Leaving the integration issues aside, I think the forms should be modified in order to help GOTV. Volunteers should be able to indicate that they want to do GOTV and are in a position to help.

I’m a big fan of location check-in technology, which campaigns largely don’t use. I think the Brown people should have volunteers create “Scott Brown” check-in locations on Foursquare and Facebook outside every polling place in the state. They can then “practice” some GOTV stuff with volunteers (make a game out of it) checking into polling places two weeks before in a mock election or something. Brown should also a reward for checking in at the polling place (but NOT for voting – so you don’t run afoul of election laws).

Pure Technology Stuff (of no interest to normal humans)

So Senator Brown decided to do a WordPress installation to replace his rather stale Drupal site. OK, WordPress is pretty good – and I want to see if they do any custom plugins, or if they make clever use of all the stuff already out there. They also decided to host on Rackspace, just like Mitt Romney (who also uses Amazon EC2 for static content). That’s good. I think they are using the Rackspace Cloud Sites hosting option, which is a $149/month option with upcharging for heavy traffic. This is a great choice, as they should get the scalability they need with no extra effort.

Interesting that Professor Warren went with a custom-designed site hosted by Trilogy Interactive. Will they do more custom development? Can they handle not getting all the built-in functionality that you get with a Drupal or WordPress installation? Her hosting infrastructure also doesn’t look nearly as scalable as his does. I wonder if they stay with the custom stack, or whether the cool kids in the White House campaign operation convince her to port her design to Nation Builder. I think there is a good chance she does that.

About edfactor

  • Rob “EaBo Clipper” Eno

    Isn’t that permission marketing 101?

    If I sign up for emails on the website, I’ve not consented to join a ning network like the brown brigade, which I would never do.  I already belo ng to Facebook and see no reason to join ning.

  • edfactor

    I have decided to do a review of Tisei’s web stuff in a few weeks. His wordpress site is actually surprisingly good! But I will have a lot to say about what he is doing, but I won’t repeat very much from this review.

    If there is someone else you’d like me to talk about this year, please email me or suggest someone in the comments.

  • Ed,

    Great job.  Quick question.  I just received an email announcing a new Scott Brown website and wonder how many of the items you mention here are included in the new version.  Not being a tech guy its hard to tell how much really changed or not.  Sure you also received the same email so is it possible to give a quick note on anything that changed?

    Thanks

  • I don’t think it’s a good idea to try to do through Facebook, because only liberal statuses are acceptable on Facebook. Conservatives would rather just keep their conservatism to themselves on Facebook, and just share in the cat pictures and music videos, as if they had no political views whatsoever. So they need a separate secret site, like say RedMassGroup, to express themselves and reveal their non-PC controversial opinions. If their only option to organize with a Republican campaign was through Facebook, I bet most people just wouldn’t do it, to avoid being ostracized by all their friends.