websites vs facebook pageThe good news about social media is that it allows you to quickly and relatively easily create an online presence and attract followers. Many candidates believe that they can get away with creating a free Facebook page but there’s some bad news that isn’t obvious.

In this article, we’ll explain what those tradeoffs are and provide some advice on setting quickly, easily, and affordably setting up a website.

All That Glitters

Creating a Facebook page for your campaign is quick and easy and free. How can you beat that? You can invite friends and family, and get exposure relatively quickly. The page is public, which means that (at least in theory) the search engines can find it. You can even take donations and allow people to sign up for your email list.

So what’s the problem?

#1) You Don’t Own Your Account

If you take the time to read the terms of service for your Facebook account, you’ll find some unsettling things in there. The fact is that because you’re using a free service, you don’t own your account and you’ve already agreed to a number of conditions that allow Facebook to do things to your page and your account that could be problematic.

Evicted stencil, Heygate Estate by cuncan c on Flickr

Evicted stencil, Heygate Estate courtesy of cuncan c on Flickr

The first is that they can shut down your account at any time, for no reason whatsoever, and with zero recourse. While this may not happen all that frequently, it does happen and Murphy’s Law says it will likely happen at the worst possible time. There are lots of reasons why a social network may shut down your account, but here are just a few:

  • Mistaken Identity – Many Facebook accounts have been shut down due to mistaken identity. An Indianapolis attorney had his account disabled because they thought he was trying to impersonate Mark Zuckerberg.
  • Violating Obscure Terms of Service – Certain topics will get you banned from Facebook and other social networks. In a political campaign, it’s common to discuss issues like terrorism, hate crimes, gun control, etc. Posting the wrong picture or using the wrong words in those contexts can get your account suspended.
  • Abuse Reports – If a page or person has enough abuse reports filed against them, accounts can get suspended.

Regardless of the reasons, if your account is suspended or shut down, it can take a lot of time to get it reinstated.

#2) You’re On Your Own

Every single social network expressly stipulates that the service is provided “as is,” with no warranties of fitness, completeness or reliability. In other words, “it may work, it may not work, you’re on your own.” This is no great shock and in the era of the Never Ending Beta, we have grown accustomed to this. But the problem is that we’ve grown so accustomed to this and the services have been so reliable that we are unprepared when things don’t work.

The lesson here is never to make any social network a mission-critical part of your campaign. It could stop working at any time and there’s no recourse if it does.

#3) Limitations

If you’re relying on a Facebook Page as your only (or primary) public-facing channel, it’s very difficult to clearly and effectively control messaging and user experience. Ideally, you want to make it easy for prospective donors, supporters, and voters to learn about you and your policy positions. That’s tough to do on a Facebook page and most people won’t take the time to scroll through your posts to find the information they want.

The functionality is also very limited. It won’t be very easy to collect donations or post a campaign calendar. And reporting and analytics are difficult as well.

Finally, if you’re going to be using any digital advertising (Google AdWords, Facebook ads, etc.), then it’s critical that you drive traffic to a website and not a third party page. We’ll cover that in more detail in future posts.

Low-Cost Campaign Websites

wealth of pennies by Reza on Flickr

Wealth of pennies courtesy of Reza on Flickr

There are many, may options when it comes to building websites. I’m going to recommend a particular approach, but it is by no means the only way to go. However, each and every step in this process is recommended for a lot of reasons – more than makes sense to articulate here. But I will list a few benefits:

  • Inexpensive: This recipe will get you a website on a shoestring budget. Every step has a budget and premium option, and some even have free alternatives.
  • Professional: Even though you’re not spending a lot of money, it’s possible to get a reasonably professional-looking website that doesn’t have to look home-made.
  • Flexible: My approach provides a very wide degree of flexibility to implement a lot of different features on your site.
  • Scalable: This architecture is also very scalable, which means it can grow with you over the long term as your pool of resources increases.

And here’s my recipe for a great, low-budget website for your campaign:

  1. Register Your Domain: You’ll need to secure your own domain name. This is essentially a commodity business and there are lots and lots of choices to register and host your domain. We recommend GoDaddy, but most of them are fine (avoid Network Solutions). When selecting your domain, we recommend that you select something you can use on a permanent basis. For example, you may be running for school board this year, but don’t rule out the possibility that you may run for higher (or just different) office in the future. Try to avoid including the campaign office name in the domain name.
  2. Sign Up for Website Hosting: All of the domain registrars offer website hosting, but I don’t recommend that you use any of them. Instead, it’s important to use a company that specializes in WordPress hosting (more about that shortly). There are several recommended vendors available and they include (listed in increasing order of cost); Hostgator (budget), Bluehost (moderate), WP Engine (premium).
  3. Install WordPress: WordPress is a free web content management system (CMS) that makes it very easy to build and maintain your website. Some of the hosts listed above will have WordPress pre-installed, but others require that you install it. But don’t worry: They have simple one-click installs that make it pretty easy. After you install WordPress, you’ll need to configure the DNS entries on your domain host and your web hosting company can help you with the instructions for doing that.
  4. Select a Theme: WordPress allows you to change the look and feel (i.e. colors, layout, appearance, etc.) using themes. There is an online library of thousands of free themes, but I don’t recommend you use them. The reason is that they’re typically not maintained very well and if a security vulnerability is discovered, it may not get fixed. Instead, you can purchase a premium theme from several online vendors. A few that I recommend include ThemeLab, Elegant Themes, StudioPress, and iThemes.
  5. Create Your Pages: Now comes the fun part! Here are some suggestions for pages you should create; An About page that describes you and why you’re running, an Issues page that lays out your positions on relevant issues, Donate, Volunteer, Subscribe (to your email newsletter), etc.

This entire process can cost less than $100 for the entirety of your campaign. Don’t ignore this important asset!

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