So you're running for Mayor of Chicago. Congratulations! It's a packed field, with everyone from well-funded household names to, well, people that aren't. With 20 candidates in the mix, you're going to need to work to stand out. I've been tracking the ins and outs of the race with the Chicago Mayoral Scorecard, a tool that lets you see every candidate's web presence, and I wanted to give you some advice on how to be seen in this crowd.
First off, you're going to need a website. Many of you have them, but there are a few surprises in the pool that don't. Danny Davis and Roland Burris, I'm talking to you when I say the web is really important. I know it seems really complicated and, sure, maybe yard signs are an effective communication tool too, but there's something to this whole Internet thing. Google just published a great little book about it and how it works--you might want to read up.
Look, I know that setting up a website seems like a big and overwhelming task, but it really doesn't have to be. I mean, look at your fellow candidate Frederick K White--he's using Google Sites, a free service that lets you build a website like you're using Microsoft Word. Sure, his site might not look as slick as Carol Moseley Braun's, but you know whose site it looks better than? Your nonexistent one.
There are all sorts of free tools for getting up on the web. Wordpress is another great solution: certainly a lot more robust than Google Sites, and yet you'll be up and running in a few clicks. Ask Jay Stone--he's using it. Or, hell, start tossing things up on Tumblr--if it works for sharks (link NSFW), it can work for you, right? It really doesn't matter what you use, you need something up now. If it gets replaced by a better, custom built website when that's ready--great! But for now, go with whatever's fast, cheap, and easy: days are like years in Internet time, and you're losing this race by simply by not showing up.
Now if you were running for mayor six years ago, congratulations--you'd be done. But you were afraid to run against Daley then, so you're stuck with today's Internet. And today's Internet is becoming dominated by social media. What's that? Oh dear. Essentially, it's a way of reordering the vastness of the Internet so that it orbits around you, instead of you around it. Too conceptual? It's about keeping tabs with what your friends (defined nowadays as "people you kind of know") are doing, both in the real world and on the Internet. Or something. Anyway, let's just agree that it's Really Important. Like, so important that today in the US if someone's on the Internet right now, there's a one-in-four chance that they're checking Facebook.
Which means that you've got to be up on Facebook. And, good for you, most of you are. But understand the language. For instance, Jay Stone, you're currently linking people to your personal profile. That means you have to personally approve every person who wants to link to you on Facebook--considering that you only turned in 280 signatures of the 12,500 you were supposed to, that's probably an OK strategy for you. But for the rest of you, you're going to want to set up a Facebook Page, not a normal profile. Pages allow one-way following--someone just has to "like" your page to get updates, you don't have to friend them back (a good thing if you're Rahm Emanuel because you'd have had to friend over 32,000 people at this point). Pages are also publicly searchable, which is good if someone's trying to find you through Facebook or Google searches. They're free, they're easy, and not having one as a political candidate is akin to walking around in an invisibility cloak. Or maybe with no pants.
Twitter's a little trickier. It's hard to explain what it is, and it's even harder to explain why it's awesome. Even the site's founders have trouble doing it sometimes. But it is and you need to be on it. I think a lot of you know that, but you don't know what to do with it. Danny Davis, for instance, you've been on for a while but you've only Tweeted three times, and the last one was in July... 2009. And while I agree with you about this Tweet, I think you could be using this medium more effectively. The same is true for pretty much all of you: You're either not on it, not Tweeting, or not using it effectively. Here's the secret to being a public figure on Twitter: people want you to acknowledge their presence. That's really the cool thing about Twitter: people write back. You do that by putting an @ in front of someone's username, and then write a message. Or Retweet something one of your followers said (do that by putting an RT at the start, or just hitting the Retweet button). Twitter's part conversation, part soapbox, part info-swap. Treat it like that, not just as a way of pushing a feed from your site (looking at you, Rahm). If all else fails, follow Gery Chico--he seems to be getting the hang of it.
So there you go, my advice to you: Three pretty simple things that you should be doing. Oh sure, there's more--set up a YouTube channel, host some Meetups, build some good muckraking maps, get an Everyblock badge... the list can go on and on. I'm not going to tell you that these are ways to win, but they're the bar for being relevant as a political candidate in 2010. If you don't have them right now, you're not. So get on it!
Oh, and by the way--when you've set yourself up with these, drop me a line at the Scorecard, so I can add your info to the list.
I don't really envy the job you're running for--Chicago has a lot of hard times ahead of it--but I wish you all the luck in winning.