Building Political Sites and Gearing up for the Elections on WordPress

Ahead of the upcoming U.S. midterm elections in November, we spoke with Ben Ostrower, Principal and Creative Director of Wide Eye Creative, a creative web design & development studio who has built some of the recent entries of high profile WordPress sites in the government space. 

Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee

Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee

Why WordPress? There are so many players in the CMS space, especially in the political realm, why do you choose WordPress as your go-to software?

When I started Wide Eye, we were doing almost exclusively work with Drupal. It filled a lot of our client’s needs and it’s a great tool for some purposes, but it was always cumbersome. The way Drupal was built, it just kept imposing limits on design, which, as a designer, was incredibly frustrating. My developers would always say: “no, it’s really hard to do that because it’s not the way ‘xyz’ module is built”. It was as though the materials we were using to build a house were guiding the design and architecture, not the other way around.

When I first started trying WordPress in early 2010 or so, it was already fairly mature and I wondered immediately why I hadn’t been using it earlier. The structure of it was just incredibly intuitive to me – as though it had been created by designers, not just developers. Suddenly it became much more possible to realize my own creative vision for a project.

On top of it, and almost more importantly, it was more user-friendly for our clients. People would just immediately “get” the interface and how content can be controlled and structured. I saw clients generally become more self-sufficient with the management of their own sites, and our exposure to followup questions, bug-fixes and hand-holding went way down. Since then, while we’ve used Drupal for a handful of select database projects, we’ve used WordPress for literally everything else – every campaign site we’ve done since 2010 has been on WordPress. It’s been a great marriage.

Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi

Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi

What can you do using WordPress that you can’t do using locked-down / proprietary software, like NationBuilder?

We pride ourselves on intimately tailoring each site to a project’s goals. WordPress, especially with the Advanced Custom Fields plugin integrated, gives us the ability to deliver really granular control over page templates to a client — i.e. turning a banner image on and off, changing the color of a button, toggling the positioning of elements, the list goes on…Plus, we have a wealth of excellent plugins available to us that we can use to quickly extend functionality. Ultimately, when we train clients on the backend of their site, we consistently hear them say: “Wow. I’ve never had that level of control before.” That level of customization just isn’t as possible with a proprietary framework. NationBuilder is an impressive tool and a good solution for some campaigns, but, for us, it’s really analogous to the difference between a fully bespoke suit versus tailoring a suit purchased off the rack.

You have a great client list and you work with some high profile politicians. What sites have you done that are most exciting to you?

We love all of our clients – that’s not hyperbole, but the most exciting ones are when we work with a campaign or organization that trusts us as a creative partner and is willing to take risks and try new things. Brandon English and his great team at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, for example, actively collaborated with us to innovate the way stale old email sign up forms have worked for years. Now a multi-field form operates in the space of a single input field, sending the input data to Blue State Digital’s tools with each click forward instead of form fields stacked one on top of another with a big button below. As a client, they truly understood the value of user friendliness and the capacity that good design has to fuel better, more successful results.

Chris Coons’ Senate campaign in Delaware is another client that worked with us on something that we call a “smart website” – calls to action that change for a user based on their prior engagement with the campaign. That was really fun.

Our other great scenario, as least from a design perspective, is where we have the challenge of striking a difficult creative balance for a client: i.e. “we want to look simultaneously polished and savvy, but also modest and grassroots”, “conservative and classical, but also innovative and cutting-edge”, etc… That’s always fun.

U.S. Senator Chris Coons

U.S. Senator Chris Coons

Do you have any tips and tricks to share that could help other developers and designers who are building websites in the area of politics and non-profit?

  1. Don’t approach political and non-profit projects with any less of a standard of quality than you would for a corporate client like Nike or Apple. Quality matters. Audiences are more sensitive and savvy than ever before to design and functionality – when something is subpar (doesn’t look good or doesn’t work the way a user expects), it diminishes the campaign’s or organization’s message.
  2. KISS: Keep It Simple Stupid – one of the first things you learn in filmmaking class. Keep your message simple and your actions focused. By packing lots of information and options in a small space, you’re diminishing the impact of everything.
  3. Don’t be afraid to provoke emotion with your designs – you’re appealing to a visitor to take action. You can’t just expect them to click a donate button because it’s there, you need to tell them “why”.
  4. Interaction matters. With the rise of CSS3 and HTML5 over the last several years, use animation to give visitors the sense that the website is alive and responsive. Buttons should react when you hover, form fields should highlight, etc.
Senator Kirsten Gillibrand's Off The Sidelines

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand’s Off The Sidelines

Look 5-10 years into the future – what do you think the future will look like when it comes to technology in politics, campaigns and in the government arena?

1. Websites, ads and apps will continue to become smarter. Messages and calls to action will be more and more targeted and segmented based on a visitor’s profile. By 2016, the era of visitors all receiving the same general, default call-to-action on a website landing page will be over.

2. Mobile will continue to become even more important. Designers and developers will need to stay ahead of the curve on that.

3. Ads, emails and appeals for people to take action and donate will only become more and more ubiquitous. There are going to be more and smarter ways to reach people.

4. Not that it’s not happening already, but digital campaigns will be more and more driven by data, analytics and math.

Mark Dayton, Governor of Minnesota

Mark Dayton, Governor of Minnesota

What new technology are you using that you’re most excited about? 

There are a lot of technologies that we’re keeping a close eye on. We’re really excited to play with NGP VAN’s new API, and we’d really like to be building more around Google’s open source civic tools.

My incredibly talented Lead Developer (and JavaScript Ninja) Nick Cerminara considers the JSON API WordPress Plugin the most exciting WordPress technology we’ve been toying with lately. With it, we’re able to do any WP_Query and get a nice and pretty JSON endpoint with almost no custom work involved. This is huge for application development because it allows us to leverage WordPress as an out-of-the-box backend. Down the road, this makes using Front-End Frameworks like Angular JS a lot more practical with WordPress where they’re typically intended only for single page applications. Combining these is going to bring a whole new and unprecedented liveliness to WordPress sites.

Thank you to Ben – to learn more about Wide Eye Creative or to see some more case studies, please visit their website! Visit the WordPress.com VIP site for more information about WordPress in Government or get in touch.

WordPress Powers Politics

WordPress is the most powerful content management system in the world – today it powers just under 17% of the top one million websites in the world. Millions of people from across the globe turn to WordPress to build websites of all shapes and sizes and across all different categories.

Now that the political conventions are over and we have officially turned the corner towards the November election, WordPress.com VIP is proud to release this infographic which clearly shows that WordPress is now the backbone that powers websites from across the political spectrum.

Check it out!

This research project started when we began to notice that more and more political websites were being built on WordPress. We focused on a couple of key categories: state parties, U.S. House races, U.S. Senate races, and Gubernatorial races. We looked at all of the major-party candidates across these categories and manually checked to see what content management system was being used. We were excited by the results and thus, they became the impetus for this lovely infographic.

If you want to learn more about WordPress for your political website, or any other purpose, get in touch with the WordPress.com VIP team here.

Spread the Word

Copy the embed code below to share the infographic on your own site:

<a href="http://vip.wordpress.com/2012/09/13/wordpress-powers-politics/"><img title="WordPress Powers Politics -- compiled by WordPress.com VIP: Enterprise Hosting and Services for WordPress" src="http://vip.files.wordpress.com/2012/09/wordpress-com-vip-politics-infographic-final-1.png" alt="WordPress Powers Politics - Infographic" width="759" height="1896" /></a>

WordPress.com VIP Heading To The Democratic National Convention: See You There?

As many of you know, I recently joined the WordPress.com VIP team to focus on expanding the WordPress footprint in government, politics and in the nonprofit space. Today, WordPress powers hundreds of political websites across the world – I’m coming across new ones every single day. In fact, both the Democratic National Convention, as well as the Republican National Convention are running their websites on WordPress.

I’m very excited to announce that we’ll be heading down to Charlotte during the first week of September for the Democratic National Convention and will be sponsoring StartUp RockOn, a new movement that will officially launch in Charlotte, but will a long-term effort to bring together the enthusiasm and excitement of the start-up community with music and entertainment to create experiences that showcase start-ups and what they bring to our world. You can read more about StartUp RockOn here.

On Monday, September 3rd, StartUp RockOn will officially open the festivities with a concert, featuring one of my all-time favorite bands – The Roots. As a Philly native, I have been listening to these guys since they first got together, so I’m all kinds of fired up for the show.

If you or your team will be in Charlotte and would like to attend any part of the StartUp RockOn festivities, including The Roots concert, please shoot me an email.

Oh, and another quick favor. We are looking for a couple of credentials for the DNC events on Tuesday and Wednesday night. If you or your company have access and can help us out, we’d greatly appreciate it. I’ll continue to post more details about the events as they unfold. If you have leads on great parties, panels, events, etc. or if you have access to some extra credentials – please let us know. Hope to see you all in Charlotte!

House Committee On Oversight And Government Reform

Have you seen the House Committee On Oversight And Government Reform’s new website? It’s built on WordPress and it’s pretty awesome. Here’s what the Committee has to say about the relaunch:

The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform today launched a reimagined Oversight.House.Gov, built to increase taxpayer access to the Oversight information that supports their participation in the committee’s work securing a government that spends less and serves better.  Oversight.House.Gov is the American people’s primary source for information on the committee, and the new WordPress site is a step towards increasing the accessibility of committee investigations and hearings, while delivering the customer-oriented Internet experience taxpayers should expect.

On Capitol Hill, there is a movement afoot to build websites that are user-friendly for citizens, but also flexible and intutative for staff, many of whom don’t have the technical know-how to manage their web presence. After all, these are policy wonks, not techies. WordPress is a great option because it’s so easy to use, even a Congressman can us it. Don’t believe us? Check out this video:

Interested in learning more about how WordPress can power your Congressional office or political campaign? Drop us a line.

Fox News 2008 Presidential Election Site Powered by WordPress

As we mentioned a couple of weeks ago with Super Tuesday primary election coverage, news organizations are creating compelling experiences with WordPress as the foundation.

A great example in this space is what Fox News has done by creating their entire You Decide 2008 election site using WordPress:
foxnews jpg

The site includes many content modules and interactive elements and features areas such as candidate profiles and detailed state results.

In addition, Fox News is aggregating their various political blogs into one stream:

… FOXNews.com’s new Blog Spot, where you can keep track of the latest headlines, information on upcoming primaries and caucuses, details on the candidates, and blogs, blogs, blogs. Three of them, to be exact, all updated through the day by FOX News’ politics team.

[ You Decide 2008 ]

Renovación Nacional Selects WordPress MU

We profiled Chilean Revista CA magazine recently, and their innovative use of WordPress to power their site.

RN Pablo Matamoros, the webmaster of the Chilean political party Renovación Nacional, read the Revista CA blog post and wrote in to tell us about his project that is using WordPress MU:

- We are using wordpress mu in our homepage – www.rn.cl .
– We are giving blogs to our party members personal blogs (subscribers, politicians and the most important: candidates), for example:
* http://lperez.rn.cl
* http://pmatamoros.rn.cl
* http://jrndistrito44.rn.cl

In addition, Pablo shares his thoughts about the impact of this project:

I think that is a very important step in the way of make more democratic, transparent and fluid the communication between our party authorities and the people.