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What I learned about Blogging from the U.S. Presidential Election

Posted By Darren Rowse 16th of November 2008 Miscellaneous Blog Tips 0 Comments

In today’s guest post Trisha from Ideas for Women shares some lessons that she learned from the US Presidential Election.

I followed this year’s U.S. presidential election pretty closely on T.V. and also volunteered for one of the candidates. Over I time I began to notice some parallels between running a successful campaign and a successful blog.

I don’t plan to ever run for president – but I would like to have a more successful blog. I would also like to share what I learned and hope that it will be helpful to other bloggers.

US-Election-Blogging.pngImage by BohPhoto

1. You need a story

Both of the presidential candidates and their running mates had a story. John McCain was a P.O.W., Sarah Palin, a hockey mom. Joe Biden was from Scranton, Pennsylvania and stuttered as kid. Barack Obama’s story is that he is the “son of a black man from Kenya and a white woman from Kansas”.

The details of the stories don’t really matter. What matters is how they /framed/ their story – their story had to be everyone else’s story – a story people could relate to.

John McCain was a guy who loved his country and was willing to do whatever it took to defend it – just like many Americans have done or would be willing to do. Sarah Palin, a mom with many of the same concerns of other American moms across the country. Joe Biden had many obstacles growing up – but overcame them and is still a down to earth guy that people could relate to. Obama’s story is a little more complicated – most of us don’t have fathers from another country, etc. But as he said – his story could only happen in America and that while “we may have different stories we hold common hopes”.

He even had a flyer that said: “His story is our story – an American story.”

It’s the same way with blogging. You need a story (I’m still working on this myself) – it has to be uniquely about you, but it still has to be something your readers and potential readers can relate to. It has to somehow be their story too.

An example is Wendy Piersall – her story is about “one little mom who wanted to start a blog as a hobby” and now has grown to 14 bloggers that are “willing to do what it takes to make a great living while also living a great a life.”

Many people can relate to her story – struggling with finding a successful career path and juggling that with raising kids.

Each of the candidates did a good job of telling their story and framing it so other people could understand and relate to it. That isn’t enough to win an election, just as it’s not enough by itself to make a blog successful. But it’s a good start for letting people know who you are so you can begin building relationships with them.

Once you share your story on your blog you give your readers a chance to share in a part of your life – your struggles and successes can be theirs too. And once you build those relationships, the resulting community that forms can share their struggles and successes with you also!

2. You need a community

Obama had a huge number of people volunteering for him – millions – literally millions across the country. The volunteers created a grassroots effort that helped to get the word out about him being a great candidate for president. They helped to recruit even more volunteers and convinced even more people to vote for him.

Together the paid workers, the volunteers and other supporters created a huge and powerful community. Huge communities of enthusiastic followers attract even more people.

He not only had an offline community – but an online community as well.

His website had groups you could join based on geography, political issues and many different interests or hobbies. You could find groups in your own local area or based anywhere in the world. You could add people as friends or search for old friends. You could have a blog at his site. You could find out about offline events through his site. In short – his site brought people together to promote a common goal.

Communities are created by lots of individual relationships between many different people with similar interests. In Obama’s case, his community’s common interest was in him and in helping him win the election.

Blogs are similar. You need to create a community of readers.

One expert on building blogging communities is Liz Strauss who specializes in relationship blogging. She is great at creating a blogging environment that makes people feel welcome and encourages them to participate. As she says on her blog: “You’re only a stranger once”.

This is very vital to making a blog successful – identify a common interest of your readers, invite them in and let them participate in the conversation.

Another thing I noticed when I was volunteering – I was always welcomed by the other volunteers and paid people. They always appreciated any effort you made, so matter how small. Liz does this too – whenever you stop by her Tuesday Open Comments Night – you always feel appreciated.

Probably the most important thing to remember about blogging is this:

… massively successful blogging is about establishing and maintaining mutually beneficial relationships

Establishing and maintaining mutually beneficial relationships is a big part of why Obama won the election – and is also why the top bloggers are so successful!

3. Pay attention to the numbers, but don’t take them too seriously

It was difficult to keep from checking all the polls everyday for this election. Some days it looked good, but you could never feel too confident. The next day things could change. And you never know until the actual day of the election how it will turn out.

Obama even warned his supporters about getting too confident and that he still needed them working for him on Election Day – and every day leading up to it.

With blogging it’s easy to get caught up with checking your subscriber numbers, your Page Rank, Technorati rankings, etc. But in the end, those numbers don’t mean that much.

Subscribers can unsubscribe just as fast as or faster than they subscribed in the first place. And many subscribers don’t actually read all the blogs they subscribe to. Page Rank doesn’t contribute as much to the Google algorithm as it once did, etc.

There’s nothing wrong with checking these numbers and being aware of them (what blogger wouldn’t want to be able to display FeedBurner numbers like those of Darren Rowse: over 66,000 subscribers!) – but what really matters is real people – not numbers.

Who are your readers? What are they looking for? Are you meeting their needs?

To build the community I wrote about in Part II – ask yourself: “Am I making my visitors feel welcome? Have I created an environment that encourages them to participate?”

Always, always keep working to improve your blog. Don’t let yourself get too confident or complacent. Work on your content. Tweak your design. Reach out to and build relationships with other bloggers. Keep your current readers engaged. Always look for opportunities to attract new readers to your blog.

But do take a break now and then! I realized after a while that I needed to take a break from watching all the polls and election coverage on T.V. It’s too overwhelming after a while. It’s good to walk away a bit and get some perspective.

It’s the same with blogging. Sometimes you have to take a break for a little while. Do something else. Read a book or talk to people offline. It can help to get you recharged – before you completely burn out – and to come up with new and creative ideas to write about!

4. Everyone has an opinion

Everyone has an opinion and has the right to express it, in politics and in everything else in life. When I was out doing door to door canvassing I was quite often surprised by some of the responses I got. Some supportive, some not and some just way out there about issues you never would have thought about that would leave me scratching my head in disbelief.

Sometimes I would come up to a house and think I had a pretty good guess at which candidate they were supporting and be completely wrong. Sometimes I would guess right.

On a blog if you want to create a community you should let people express their opinions in your comments sections even when you don’t agree with them. Of course if the comment is threatening or filled with hate speech you should moderate it. But as long as the person is polite, differing opinions can be enlightening and stimulate more conversation and are sometimes quite entertaining!

If the conversation gets too negative – try to turn it around and make it into a positive. When people booed as Obama mentioned McCain at a rally he told people not to boo – just vote.

On the other side of things – you the blogger, are expressing your opinion whenever you write a post.

Both politicians and bloggers need to really believe in themselves and the ideas they are promoting. If not, people will see through what you are saying and it will be more difficult to be successful.

If fact if you aren’t getting much of a response with your blog it may be that you are not being opinionated enough. According to Kelly McCausey guest posting at Remarkablogger:

All else being equal, if you’re not getting the traffic you want and the income you want … you’re probably not being opinionated enough.

Some rules she included for being opinionated apply well to both politicians and bloggers:

Accept that you will alienate someone.

Step up and justify your opinions.

Expect and respect opposing opinions.

I’m pretty shy and am surprised at myself that I was brave enough to knock on the doors of total strangers and express my opinion in favor of Obama. Yes, some people were rude – but I kept knocking anyway. And yes, I had Obama signs stolen from my yard three times – but I kept putting more out there anyway. And yes some people will disagree with what you write on your blog – but keep writing anyway!

Some people will never agree with you – on politics or what you blog about, but that’s ok – don’t let it stop you or slow you down!

About Darren Rowse
Darren Rowse is the founder and editor of ProBlogger Blog Tips and Digital Photography School. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.
  1. Well said. Those four points apply to both politicians and bloggers. All four of those points are necessary for a blogger to succeed. Oh, and yes: Obama did a brilliant internet campaign. Internet is the media for the new generation and he managed to spot it.

  2. Hey Trisha, you really nailed it right from the get go. We all have a story to tell and if we aren’t properly/effectively communicating ours, we will be left with a ‘dry’ blog that will always be working with this handicap.

    Excellent points and thanks for sharing them! Eric.

  3. This is one of the best article i have seen in a while : Obama being virally popular on internet is one such example of ” We care of politics and politicians ” .

    Looking forward to more articles from you :)

  4. Thanks for posting this. #4 is one in particular that I need to get better at; I’ve become focused on getting people to think of me as affable and approachable that I’ve almost forgotten how to have a personality of my own! I should spend a week saying “screw what I think other people want me to think, here’s what I actually think”, and see how it turns out.

  5. Great article. Like the connection drawn here. Had me hooked. :)

  6. Interesting article!

  7. Excellent article. I am currently reading through yours and Chri’s book and its excellent I must say. I just wish I found it a little earlier when I new little about blogging.

    I love how you can make any event thats currently happening and change it in to a blog article.

  8. I have to strongly agree with this: “Everyone has an opinion and has the right to express it”. And it is an essence of commenting on blogs and we – as the bloggers – must be careful to give this message to our readers. Because, one comment is able to bring another comments and when we step into conversations of our readers we have to support this conversation. Not to kill it by too “authoritative” opinion.

  9. In this election they discounted the passion in our discourse. Even if they take over and screw up our system in time it bounces back.

    Note to Republicans: God bless you for Palin ;-p and please use her in 2012 again Obama. Paaaaleeeeze

  10. What I learned from the election is you can buy your way to the top which is exactly what Obama did.

  11. I agree about the people part. I used to freak out when I saw that my subscriber count had gone down some days…but then I realized that I have a few loyal followers.

    There are some people who visit my blog every day as I can see by the comments they leave.

    They obviously READ my blog because whenever I make a mistake or do something silly I get an email in my inbox calling me out.

    I have gotten to appreciate the handful who always keep coming back for more…..and understand that the feed reader count will always fluctuate…but as long as I can get regulars that is okay.

  12. I agree partially to the analogy drawn over here. However, one must note that Obama and McCain were already popular figures even before they entered the presidential race. Secondly, they did a huge marketing campaign spending millions of dollars. Having said that, they were skilled enough to gather volunteers for the colossal task.

    Let’s focus on a brand new blogger jumping into this blogosphere ocean! Do you think he/she can take cues from this analogy to become a successful blogger? One out of ten, may be!?

    You can draw an analogy on comparing the success story of Darren’s new blog TwiTip, and how he went about marketing that. TwiTip, just like how McCain and Obama were marketed by those famous Republicans and Democrats, was marketed by the already famous Darren!! What say you?

  13. Being new to blogging, I got a lot out of this article. Thank you for sharing your insight into both blogging and campaigning.

  14. Thank you very much Darren for publishing my post! I really appreciate it!

    And thank you everyone for your comments!

    Naren – I don’t t think that just doing these four things are all that is necessary to be successful, just that they are big components. And yes, people who are already well known, no matter what they try to do, have an advantage!

  15. Now this is quite an interesting article since I also favored Barrack Obama. Maybe one of the interesting factor was that he had the best websites. Damn… its quite good. The branding and the total packaging was very professional indeed.

    check out his site: http://www.barackobama.com

    Best of luck to Barack Obama for his presidential term.

  16. Shanika Journey says: 11/16/2008 at 4:10 am

    I actually have kept all of the emails that the Barack Obama campaign sent to my emails. They are extremely well written and in a way, it’s a blog of every moment up to voting day.

    Each email, no matter what, it always pull me in and it would compel me to donate.

    And I found out, with that technique they did with Obama’s email “blog” it generated millions for him. To me, those emails from his campaign are really good swipe files for the future email and blogging marketing. The technique is awesome.

    Has anyone else kept the emails form their favorite presidential nominee? If you are trying to learn more about email marketing and blogging, you should have.

  17. These are all great points to remember… ways to tweak what you already have. But I think it comes down to content, style and voice. The first time I ever heard of Obama was 4 years ago while watching his speech for the DNC. I was absolutely blown away by his words and presentation. That was the first of his speeches that moved me to tears. It was before he outraised and outspent all of his opponents, before Barack Obama was a household name. Two days later, I was telling someone about the speech and couldn’t even remember his name, but I remembered his words. (And ya, I ended up knocking on a few doors myself, so I really understand what you’re saying about community. So true.)

  18. Great story Trisha. I know I’ve definitely got a story (not only my current one, but many from the past as well), just have to work on the community :)

  19. Trisha,
    I really enjoyed reading the lessons you learned and the analogy between election-2008 and blogging.

    I too followed the election very closely. In the Primary Election, I worked as a precinct poll worker. Performing this community service really gave me an energized sense of connection with the voting process. I was extremely pleased to see so many first time voters regardless of their party affiliation.

    As the General Election got closer, I had become so passionate about my candidate of choice, Barack Obama, rather than work from a neutral, objective role, I wanted to be able to be opinionated. So instead of working the General Election, I decided to get out and promote Barack Obama whenever and wherever I could.

    The only element I would add to what you have already included in the lessons is having a “real, true passion”.

    When struggling to make improvements to my blog or finding valuable content, in the midst of having a writer’s block, it is my passion for blogging that sees me through.

    “Not being opinionated enough” is an area that I could definitely use more of in both my blogs and making comments.

    Thanks for sharing your election experience and useful blogging tips.

  20. Trisha,
    Brilliant job at putting forth a clear, concise workable plan for focusing to build a successful blog.

    Having a story and being able to relate to a community in a strong and individual way is what won the election. How appropriate that your post is on this blog — can’t think of a better example to follow. Hopefully our American President can be as good at listening and teaching as the successful bloggers I know.

    Thanks, too, for the love. :)

  21. Another excellent and informative article. More Power to you, Darren

  22. After reading problogger for 6 months, i am making my first comment. Thanks so much for this particular post. I never knew I had a story to tell only that I just tell people what I am interested in doing. Maybe that is why I have not really been known because there is nothing that makes me different from the crowd. I now believe it is time to tell my story to the world! Darren is doing a great job here and I learn alot. I come here everyday to read but I think today’s post really propelled me to tell the world about myself. 17 year old with something to offer! I now accept that telling the world about me will really make that traffic and community difference. Thanks so much!

  23. Hi,

    This article and what Obama did with his online activity are inspiring. It really shows the power that social media and a strong online community can have. The Obama’s presidential campaign was Positive and he never talked bad about his competitor.

    He respected one of the golden rules on business blogging :”market your products, tell people why you have better products BUT NEVER TALK BAD ABOUT YOUR COMPETITION”. It will always turn on you.

    I think that running a positive campaign both online and off line gave Obama a great advantage.

  24. Great thoughts on story. I’ve had lots of experience with story-focused newsletters, and people love how they can feel connected with story and even a larger narrative. For our new blog, the site arrises the commitment my wife and I to still have nice “dates” while raising three kids 3 and under and making less money than ever. It come out of a commitment to connection. You have other great thoughts which are extremely helpful to me as a new blogger.

  25. Thanks so much for this post. Your first point made me realise that my “about me” page didn’t tell my story at all! I’ve made a couple of changes already but you have certainly given me food for thought

  26. I agree basically on what you say.

    But I’ll add another thing. Obama had a new mission, and he branded it very well: CHANGE. So Obama “was” (is) the future. McCain is an extraordinary person, no doubt, but he had inherited a “brand” in decadence (economic recession, the situation in Irak…) , he was the past, and his attempts to grasp the brand “Change” were obviously unsuccesful.

    We all want to change for the better. Always. If the present is not so good, we absolutely want to change. In Spain, in the past, a very young Felipe González won an election with the same slogan: POR EL CAMBIO. CHANGE…

    If you concentrate on a valuable mission (Obama), a new mission, if you focus all your efforts on it, if you know how to brand it effectively, if you can show absolute passion for your dream, then you can easily communicate that passion to people.

    And I thing that applies to blogging.

    From Spain,

    Juan Bielsa

  27. Wow, this is an extremely interesting article. Great perspective on the election and how it relates to blogging. This is an extremely cool perspective and is essentially a look at human psychology. Great job on the article.

  28. If the conversation gets too negative – try to turn it around and make it into a positive. When people booed as Obama mentioned McCain at a rally he told people not to boo – just vote.

    Those were very great words. The same thing applies in blogging too. As Toma said, you can tell people why they should buy your product or tell them why your blog is better, but NEVER talk bad about your competition. That’s very important for a successful blogger.

  29. “Accept that you will alienate someone. Step up and justify your opinions. Expect and respect opposing opinions.”

    Absolutely true! If you don’t step up, there is a good chance you will end stop writing.

  30. I don’t want to create any malicious idea here, but this is fascinating. I made a post last Nov. 5 entitled – What Bloggers can learn from the 2008 US Presidential Election.

    The content and subtitles are totally different, though. But it feels good that somehow, I can create posts that others can also think about.


  31. Interesting, I think a lot of things could have been learned from this historic election. Thanks for the great parallels!

  32. Great! Great and simple great article. I think this is one of the best article of this November 2008. Perhaps importance of the first point – 1.You need a story can’t be expressed in money terms. To the best of my knowledge it’s 100% true fact that all the successful politicians and blogger had their own story. Dareen Rowse story symbolizes “First Blogger of Australia making a great living by Blogging and earning in Six figure USD.” The Story of Indian Blogger Amit Agarwal is that “Founder and 1st blogger of India. Not even blogger but each and every successful webmaster had his own story, say it be the story of Orkut, You tube, Face Book or even the Great Google .Really story line matters.Anyhow My story is somethings like this “I am a cool guy, currently in the final year of graduation and blogging is my passion . I blog especially of content management system and on everything else which I feel is worth Blogging.”

  33. Trisha, others had said it but you never have too much compliments. I enjoy reading your insightful tips. I would add that as your blog evolves, you must take the time to update your story, while staying true to the original story.
    Thank you Darren for inviting Trisha to be a guest blogger.

  34. Very inspirational and impressive post. I too have learnt a lot from this campaign. But I think what I really walked away was work ethic. Barack Obama’s life story is fascinating, and so is his drive, passion, and work ethic. I promised myself after election day that I would try to accomplish at least half of what Obama accomplishes in a day, and since then, my productivity has improved a lot and I have much greater mental clarity.

  35. great job….you can create nice articles from the fresh situation…and making it very valuable….thanks

  36. Thanks for the link, Trisha.

    You’re too kind :)


  37. Trisha, excellent parallels between blogging and politics. Blogging is our platform and like the candidates our supporters (readers) are looking to us as leaders. Each blogger must pick their issues and lead courageously.

  38. Interesting way of looking at the past presidental race from a business perspective- especially in regards to the community aspect. Does a good job of illustrating the importance of building your audience and how important is to write for them- not necessarily yourself.

    I did a similar post about what entrepreneurs can learn from President-elect’s Obama’s campaign which you can check out at http://geekentrepreneur.net/what-entrepreneurs-can-learn-from-president-obama%e2%80%99s-presidential-campaign/
    which you might find interesting.

    The Geek Entrepreneur

  39. Thank you all again for your comments! You are all so nice and encouraging! I don’t have that many regular readers, so I don’t get this many comments at my blog. I will have to print them all out so the next time I get frustrated with blogging, I will have something to encourage and motivate me!

  40. Obama’s story is remarkable from so many perspectives.

    It’s not only an excellent from a blogging point of view, but also marketing, community management, evangelism.

    Thanks for linking it up with blogging, it’s a story that everyone can relate to and easily apply to their own blogs.

  41. Trisha, this is an excellent article. I am a fairly new blogger (new but not young) and am also an introvert, so the social part of blogging is difficult for me.

    I have been quite intrigued with the organization behind President Elect Obama’s campaign strategy so I found this post quite thought provoking and informative.


  42. This is an excellent, inspiring article! Thanks for such a thoughtful approach. We recently launched our blog and are learning as we go. I guess everyone does, huh?

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