In 2008, President Obama exploited the power of internet technologies during his US presidential campaign, and today the rest is history; little wonder he has glued to his blackberry and has even appointed an internet adviser into his cabinet. All over the globe there are several latest instances of the practical mass use of internet technologies in mobilizing people and creating a huge influence such as the successful 18-day revolution that saw the ousting of President Mubarak of Egypt.
The Place of Technology in Electorate Enlightenment
Similarly, creating political awareness through information propagation takes many forms but in this computer age, effective information dissemination is becoming increasingly dependent on advancements in technology especially internet technologies and notably web tools. It is therefore very acceptable for individuals and political groups to expect the electorate to rely so much on what they read about them online (in blogs, websites, podcasts, bulk SMS, social media and other forms of internet-based information propagation).
The technical responsibility of designing and perhaps maintaining a political website is that of a webmaster but the task of developing the concept is the combined job of 3 key personalities namely: an experienced Computer Information Systems professional or lead consultant, the political candidate and possibly the campaign manager.
The Peculiarity of a Political Campaign Website
In developing a typical campaign website concept it is important for the political candidate and his campaign manager to realize that the target of this website is to market him as the favoured contender amidst other opponents, therefore its contents and the way the contents are organized should appeal to the interest of its target visitors, who ultimately will determine his success or otherwise. Besides, it should also portray him as being in tune with contemporary technology which can be viewed as a very effective campaign gimmick.
Domain Registration and Hosting
There are several reserved second/Top Level Domains (TLDs) but the following are the open ones which any person or entity is permitted to register. It is highly recommended that the candidate chooses from any of the four (4) in descending order of preference. The .ng domain must be used as a suffix to reflect the Nigerian country code (ccTLD).
- .com.ng (commercial entities and businesses)
- .info.ng (general information)
- .net.ng (network-based entities)
- .org.ng (non-commercial organizations)
Name customizations as Fully Qualified Domain Names (FQDN) is also possible under some strict professional guidance. It is further recommended that, as much as possible, a one-stop turnkey be made for both registration and hosting to ensure effective management and maintenance of the domain and web content under a single administrative authority.
- Dynamic website: As a political campaign website, you don’t want the content to remain static from week to week. Information contained in it should be changing as regularly as possible in line with unfolding events and demands. Your webmaster must express commitment to perform prompt and regular updates circumstantially.
- Database-driven website A recommended type of dynamic website perfectly suited for political campaigns is the database driven type which relies on a database to generate pages. This means that you have web resources that grab information from a database and insert that information into the web page each time it is loaded by your interested visitors using any preferred browser. Deriving data from a database in response to requests for web pages is what makes your site truly professional.
- Markup languageUsing validated (X)HTML will ensure that your website has compatibility in all popular web browsers. The more valid your website (X)HTML is, the more people will be able to view it with ease. (X)HTML is highly optimized for speed so that your viewers don’t sit around waiting for your pages to load.
You need to let your target audience experience your website smoothly regardless of visual or other impairments. Aside from ethical obligations there are also increasing legal reasons for considering this issue because users are more than likely to claim that a website is deliberately designed to deprive accessibility by a certain category of visitors. Besides, you also want your viewers to get your political messages as simply and clearly as possible without clumsy maneuvering requirements and adherence to a strict routine of procedures.
Graphics and Colour Combination
Because this is a political campaign website, you should only use graphics sparingly. Use digitally-treated images with the target of keeping viewers locked in once they visit your website. Select your colours with care to reflect your party’s standard colours without deemphasizing Nigeria’s colour identity too.
Animation (Flipping and Dynamic Images)
Because you have a lot of campaign promises to portray, using animated pictures will create an impression of liveliness in presentation. Animated flips and graphic transition effects should be used as top banners for the default home page as well as each subsequent page with advancing variations. But remember it is a political campaign website not a product advertising portal on eBay, so keep it simple but full-featured. Too many animations per page will make the website annoyingly busy.
A variety of site navigation systems exist, but I recommend the stylish pull-down and pop-up menus method. This presents a clear and simple method of website navigation for your audience, without having them to memorize technical intricacies. Combining this with hover and blow effects will give your political campaign website a classic look from one page to another.
Feedback and Contact Forms
There must be deliberate provisions for relevant feedbacks to enable your audience to make contact with you. There are several contact options available; but feedback forms are recommended.
Include feedback forms so that visitors to your site can get in touch with you without having to start up their email program, write a letter, or contact you by phone. Your webmaster will help you to design a simple but attractive online feedback for the purpose of gathering reactions from visitors.
Online Dynamic Time and Date
This is a live clock that displays itself at any corner of the screen. Giving your viewers a free visual local timepiece makes them stick to your website and grants them the opportunity to peruse the contents thereof. There are multiple formats and display options available, but I recommend the bright one with a dynamically advancing second’s field. The web designer should choose a time and date script that synchronizes with the time of the host computer; this gives accurate time to the extent that the host computer’s time is correct.
Use a conspicuously-positioned flashing digital countdown clock to count down to a particular date such as the date for your party’s primaries, the actual elections date(s), your next birthday, a previous campaign tour or an upcoming political rally. This keeps your supporters glued to you.
External Links and URLs
Allocate a series of vertical menus to open up (on a new window) links to relevant external websites such as your party’s website, selected Nigerian newspapers’ website, global political news, portal of famous political quotes, your previous rally speeches, etc.
Operationally, political campaigns apart from being a hectic endeavour, also involve meeting and interacting with different sets and calibers of individuals at all levels. To make information about you accessible to your online admirers and supporters, a search feature is a good idea. This will be used by your site visitors to fetch specific information through the supply of indexed keywords in a fetch and display format.
There are many variations to the arrangement of the contents, the 3 parties earlier mentioned should agree and adopt the most suited using a combination of the following:
- Candidate’s introduction
- Vision page (A 4-year vision for your ward, constituency, the state or Nigeria)
- Personal attributes
- Travel history (optional)
- Previous achievements
- Humanitarian connection
- External collaborations
- Actions points
Consider adding useful pictures of your campaign train, your political associates, memorable occasions, humanitarian visits, etc, all in a picture slideshows. Such online album may be embedded as part of your overall website content or hosted in one of the many separate picture sites as an external resource with an appropriate hyperlink as a reference. www.snapfish.com is a handy recommendation.
In an ever increasing computer-dependent age, a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) is highly recommended in a political campaign website to provide a one-stop list of questions and answers people are most likely to be asking about you and your candidacy in relation to the political position you are aspiring to. Your campaign manager will draft both the questions and answers while your webmaster will determine how best these questions and answers can be technically arranged on the website for greater accessibility via the FAQ.
Note that there is no limit to the number of Questions and Answers you can publish on your website so long as the answers help in building more public confidence in your capabilities in the minds of your website visitors.
Embedded Music (Optional)
You can optionally consider having any music of your choice, such as your party jingle, your campaign mantra or state anthem to play at the background, but this consumes a lot of bandwidth and can also be challenging for visitors with inadequate internet resources. You can balance this out by inserting brief audio clips and very short video trailers that can be played only through users’ willful activation.
The interactivity of your political campaign website can be boosted by the addition of an online guestbook for the purpose of capturing visitors’ compliments and brief comments. This will help you to restructure your campaign strategies in the short term and to align and reunite with your associates when the elections are over.
Ultimately, winning or loosing is a game of numbers. Knowing how many people that visited your site within a specified period of time can be used as a campaign strategy to the disadvantage of your opponents. It is therefore recommended that you incorporate an extended site counter (also called a hit counter or web counter) that can indicate the number of visitors, or hits, your web pages have received and also record the following statistics:
- Number of visitors recorded in a given period.
- What portions of your site most people visited
- Number of new comments and suggestions left on your guestbook
Web Admin Portal
You need to have a securely protected login interface for the purposes of management and administration of the website by designated Webmaster(s). This login interface should be securely protected and frequently changed to avoid being high jacked by your opponent to insert discrediting comments or offensive content into your website which may in turn jeopardize your chances and create a scandal.
News Articles and Events
Major political events and landmark activities that can boost your chances of success need to be promptly published on your website under the news corner, but avoid leaving stale news for longer than necessary.
Payment Portal (Optional)
You can automate the influx of your political funding by creating an online payment portal through which friends, political associates, family members and well wishers can make donations and gifts in support of your political course.
Discussion forums on your website will allow communities of people with your interest at heart to have online conversations with each other on your website, i.e. one person can publish a question on the site and another person can write a reply which will be read and reviewed by everyone on a continuous basis.
Polls and Voting Portal
Consider adding a polls portal on the website to allow visitors to vote on different topics concerning your candidature, criticisms, opportunities and strategies. When the site is fully up and running, your campaign manager will be responsible for proposing voting topics from time to time especially after each rally. Polls and voting facilities can also be used to get feedback for informal surveys, which you can use to plan future campaigns based on verifiable facts and statistics generated from your website.
Blogs and News Feeds (Optional)
You can set up web-logs (popularly called Blogs) to serve as online diaries to provide daily news, articles, photos, on-going discussions and links to other websites. Entries are dated with the most recent entry at the top. However, your webmaster may advise to substitute Blogs with discussion forums (earlier discussed above) to minimize anonymous gossips and to ensure netiquette.
Website security is an utmost priority. Security becomes a major concern especially since online forms, blogs and forums may be embedded in the site.
- A particularly essential security exploits peculiar to websites of this nature is the Cross Site Request Forgery (CSRF). CSRF is an attack which tricks an end user to execute unwanted actions on a web application in which he/she is currently authenticated. It is a class of attack that affects web-based applications with a predictable action structure.
- As a remedy, all your online forms should be well-protected from improper data input, both in the user’s browser and at the remote server. Website parameters should be programmed not to allow users to put up forms with <input> because password managers may fill in the password, thinking the form is a legitimate part of the site.
- Your e-mail address where presented on your website should also be protected with anti-spam measures.
- Databases should be secured via other forms of strong authentication measures other than mere username and password protection.
- Potentially sensitive information is secured using industry-standard encryption algorithms.
- The admin login interface should be securely protected with a strong authentication scheme and should be frequently changed to avoid being high jacked by your opponent to insert discrediting comments or offensive content into your website which may in turn jeopardize your chances and create a career-damaging scandal.
- Your webmaster should verify all these with the security consultant or site host prior to commencement.