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Feature Article of Monday, 30 January 2012

Columnist: Lawal, Mahina

Campaign Websites-Did Okudzeto Ablakwa Get It Right?

It gives me great pleasure to write on this important topic especially as
we prepare for this year's Parliamentary and Presidential campaigns.
So far, apart from the Website of the Honorable Deputy Minister for
Information, Samuel Okudzeto Ablakwa, *www.okudzetoablakwa.com*, which has
been clearly advertised on facebook.com and other media, I am yet to see
other individual campaign websites aside political party websites beaming
with life and fairly ready for the campaign season.

The Official National Democratic Congress (NDC) website, *
nationaldemocraticcongress.com* is inactive and the last time it was
updated was 6th January 2012. The New Patriotic Party’s website, *
www.thenewpatrioticparty.org* is better with the latest information of the
party. The NPP seem to be ready with their online strategy to wrestle power
from the NDC. It seems the ruling NDC is not serious about the power of
websites. I am sure by the time they finish reading this article, something
will be done to their web communications strategy.

As at the time of writing this article, the Vice President *(vpghana.gov.gh)
* as well the President’s *(presidency.gov.gh)* websites were down. I am
surprised that in a campaign season like this, where people would like to
see activities by the President and Vice, their websites are down. It is
very bad for political campaigns.

But well, they are being survived by their “mother”, the ever charming and
best website of all time-*www.ghana.gov.gh*. In fact I love this website,
it is funny they call it a portal when it is clearly a website. Anyway, I
love the layout, the color scheme, its features and the content. The
government should submit this website for an award. Content on this
website, especially news have saved the government. I visit this website
and it is a pleasant feeling as a Visual Communications expert to see the
dynamism of this website.

Well, before we look at the essence of a campaign website, I would like to
comment on Mr. Okudzeto Ablakwa's Official Campaign website, *
okudzetoablakwa.com*. I am commenting on this website because it is a bold
initiative and effort. More so when one reads news articles online coming
directly from the campaign website and signed by it. This tells you how
seriousness has been attached to the running of the website.

At a first glance of *www.okudzetoablakwa.com*, I must admit it is
attractive. The colors are well used and the website professionally
developed and informative. The issue of website usability is right and on
point.

The use of social media on the website is encouraging. I saw a Facebook fan
page integrated on the website, a YouTube video channel and a Picasa for
the photo gallery. This clearly tells you that the young man is up to date
with social media and knows how to use them. What I didn’t find was a
twitter account which must be there because it is more popular now. Other
tools maybe integrated.

I also didn’t find any Donation Widget on the website-a button soliciting
for funds (maybe he has a lot of money for his campaign) but for us in
abroad, there should be a system of making donations to help campaigns in
Ghana.

On the contacts page, I only saw an email address and a contact form. I
suggest they add a telephone number to that page and any other information
for people to be part of the campaign.

I love the links, news, photos and video pages, they contain some good
information but there is more room for improvement.
Overall, I will give *www.okudzetoablakwa.com* 85%. It is an excellent
effort and for me the website as I can see would also serve as a digital
archive of the Honorable Deputy Minister. I will urge the team working on
it to continue feeding the website with lots of information to enhance the
work of the Honorable Deputy Minister.

In fact campaigning online isn't an option for politicians like Samuel
Okudzeto Ablakwa, and political parties such as the NDC and NPP. It is
indeed a necessity for presidential campaigns all the way down to
parliamentary elections in Ghana. Voters are going online to research
candidates and their positions, what they have done before, their future
aspirations and all. And if people are interested in you and your campaign,
they'll be searching for you on the Web.

Perhaps the most misunderstood medium in all of politics is the website.
Partly because it is (relatively) new, and partly because it is
“technical,” consultants, candidates and volunteers often overestimate the
power of a website, and fail to see the real ways it can help their
campaigns.
Despite what you may have heard, websites will not magically bring in
fundraising dollars without effort or take the place of television
advertising. Used right, however, websites can and will be a great benefit
to your campaign.

Howard Dean who ran unsuccessfully for the 2004 Democratic presidential
nomination campaign had many of the features of successful campaigns: press
coverage, successful fundraising and exciting people. He achieved this not
just through traditional campaign strategies but also by extensive use of
the internet. He used his official blog and Meetup.com to bring people
together and organize fundraisers. This was cheaper than traditional
fundraising and resulted in a hug number of small donations, allowing him
to avoid fundraising limits. However, his team missed the crucial element
of converting enthusiastic participants into active voters. As Clay Shirky
points out in Here Comes Everybody, Dean created a movement that strongly
appealed to some people, but which participation became more important than
voting.

Some of the same strategies Dean used were taken up by Barack Obama during
his 2008 campaign. Barack Obama was called the King of Social Networking by
the Washington Post as he became the first social media President. His
campaign team was the first to fully understand and harness the potential
of social media to communicate his message and energize supporters to
donate and vote.

Barack Obama’s campaign team didn’t invent anything new but strategically
used social media, websites, SMS and emails to establish his candidacy and
win the elections; in fact he had a strong Web Communications strategy.

He didn’t use just one platform but ensured his message was spread across
multiple sites that complemented his message of change. He engaged people,
listened and used not only the major sites like Flickr, Facebook, MySpace,
YouTube and Twitter, but also more specific sites like Glee and BlackPlanet.
The majority of Obama’s donations came from donors giving just $200 or
less. He achieved this by ensuring that on each site there was a donation
widget.
No politician can control how the media uses and spins his message. One way
around this is using social media channels to distribute the message. Also,
with a large community eager to listen it is important to speak directly to
them. Obama used YouTube to announce his reelection campaign. Twitter is a
far more popular tool now than in 2008, and Obama’s campaign team have
given it more importance by setting-up separate Twitter accounts for all 50
states to target state-relevant messages to supporters.

The effectiveness of Obama’s online strategy to engage and mobilize people
can be seen in some of the numbers [reference]:
6.5 million Online donations
$600+ million campaign funds raised, most of it online
13 million email addresses
1 billion emails sent
2 million profiles on MyBarackObama.com
200,000 offline events planned
400,000 blog posts written
35,000 volunteer groups created

No matter how big your campaign is, a website is a must. Don't think your
campaign is large enough to justify a campaign website? It is, and just
imagines what your opponent will do when they see that you're already
online.

Simply put, your website will scare the heck out of them! With a campaign
website early in the season, you'll have the competitive edge. Your
organization looks larger, your message is out there for voters and
volunteers - and maybe you've even started online fundraising. With a solid
Internet presence, your opponent will have no choice but to create their
own website, forcing them to spend scarce money and resources just to keep
up.

A political campaign website also helps to get information out quickly and
cheaply – The Internet is a great way to get press releases, issue papers,
articles, and even campaign posters out to the public in a short amount of
time. Of course, no one will know the information is there unless you tell
them about your website (we’ll discuss promotion later), but the web is
still a great way to make campaign materials available to your organization
and the voters at large.

As a Ghanaian living abroad, it helps us to know how to support elections
in our various constituencies. For instance if I am able to view the
projects my Member of Parliament(MP) is undertaking in my constituency
online and his future projects, it gives me an idea of what is going on, I
can even speak to my family back home to give him another chance and
because I am the breadwinner of my family and I support over twenty(20) of
my family members who are over 18years, I know I can lobby at least 20
votes to support my MP in December or make him lose the same figure if he
is not doing well.

It further provides extra information for those who want it – Your campaign
website is a great place to post your issue papers, reports, responses to
your opponents’ attacks, etc. In your political mail pieces, you can talk
about an issue, and then direct those who want more information to your
website.
Similarly, you can let reporters know that additional research items for a
story are available on your website.

No, the website won’t solve your campaign’s fundraising woes, or allow the
campaign team to forget about door-to-door and campaign from the comfort of
his or her own home. The website and e-mail can, however, help you contact
your supporters and provide information to the voters twenty-four hours a
day.

This is my opinion.What o you think.I am proud to be Ghanaian!

*Author: * Mahina Lawal
Visual Communications Consultant
Former Student, North Carolina Central University,USA

*Email: * mahinalawal @gmail.com

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