HillaryClinton.com: Conventional, Feature-Rich, But Does it Connect?

Micah Sifry and I talked recently about a project I was considering – a campaign website review. This would be an honest assessment, without partisan positioning, of the state of candidate websites. Since 2004 was viewed as the watershed year for politics and the Internet, has anyone really learned the lessons of last year? How are campaigns using technology to help themselves organize and communicate online?

I want to approach this critically, but honestly, so I’ve broken down the scoring and will judge sites based on six criteria. Each component will get a separate score and the average will yield the sites overall score. The six criteria are:

• Appearance

• Communication

• Depth of Content

• Mobilization

• Technology

• Usability

These six aspects of a site are critical to your success. You can have the best technology, and the greatest message, but if it’s all buried in a hard to use site, it does you no good. Similarly, you can have a great looking site, with no substance, and no thought put into the campaign’s strategy or the mechanics of online activism. Campaign websites are a balance, and the scoring should reflect that.

I’m kicking off the first post in this series with a look at Hillary Clinton’s site – www.hillaryclinton.com. She is up for reelection this year, and likely to jump in the ring for 2008. As a result, this year’s campaign may demonstrate how seriously she’s going to take the Internet community. She’s also likely to be a strong challenger, so lower tier candidates will likely follow her lead if she does something cool online.

http://www.hillaryclinton.com/
Appearance: 

The appearance of this site has a solid track record. It’s nearly identical to the layout of the both Bush’s and Kerry’s sites in 2004. All featured the same main image prominent in the well space, with the action center to the right. Hillary borrows further from GeorgeWBush.com with the issue navigation above the well. Having a lot of experience with this layout, I know it works. We did a lot of click tracking on our home page during the campaign and know the central image gets a lot more traction than a smaller image with headlines.

I’d give the appearance 5 out of 5, but due to the duplication of two existing sites, I have to deduct a point for originality.

Appearance rating: 

4

Depth of content: 

This is a site meant to carry the message of a Presidential candidate. That’s apparent from the extensive issue section. Her robust media center also highlights news, speeches, and video (including a video show called HillaryTV). That’s more content than most senate candidates will typically employ. It appears this site will be used more as a showcase for Hillary than to counter the minimal opposition she’s expected to face in November.

The glaring omission from the site is a blog. The Washington Note recently reported that Hillary will not do blog conference calls. Her site makes it appear she may have opposition to blogs and bloggers in general. She is, arguably, the Democrats’ presumptive nominee. To have no campaign blog, while representing a party that owes much of its momentum over the last two years to blogs, may be a disturbing signal to the party’s online activists.

Depth of content rating: 

4

Usability: 

The site employs a belt and suspenders navigation that allows the user a horizontal navigation for issues and a vertical navigation for content buckets. It’s easy to find information and pretty usable.

The one quibble I have is the lack of action options on actual news items. The Media Center features action items to write a letter or call talk radio, but as an activist, I’d prefer to have those options within the template for individual stories. I’m more likely to get fired up to take action while reading items. Making me back up to the main page is a barrier to activity.

I’d also like to have a Forward-to-A-Friend function on news items so I can pass on stuff I find interesting.

Usability rating: 

4

Technology: 

The site does a lot, but it could do much more. Making the site available in English and Spanish is another indicator there may be bigger things in store for this architecture. The use of video is good. I’m not sure when the existing video was produced (it’s not dated), but I would hope to see more. Nothing sells a story like video. If a picture is worth a thousand words, a moving image, at 24 frames per second, is worth 1.4 million words per minute. You can’t argue with that.

There are a few glaring omissions on the technology side. I’m surprised that Hillary isn’t doing podcasting. With her prominence, I would suspect that she has a lot to say. Why say it with an occasional speech or press release when you could have a popular podcast?

As I said, I’m also surprised by the lack of a blog. This is a technology that she really should have – if for no other reason than to begin developing a well organized online activist base. This site can be the home for a lot of activity, but only if you give people a frequently refreshed reason to come back.

Hillary does include a robust action center and voter registration tools.

On the platform side of things, it looks like she’s building in .Net which should give her a nice scalable platform. No idea what they’re running on the backend for administration.

Technology rating: 

3

Communication: 

The site communicates well. Issue information, news releases, etc are easily found. The navigation is clear. The main message is presented in the form of the large visual element on the front page and the headlines supporting it. The use of video allows you to convey your message in a more engaging way and it appears they plan to use it.

On the other hand, and I keep coming back to this, I can’t understand the decision not to have a blog. That gives you a real-time communication medium that simple press releases don’t allow. When people are on your site and commenting on the news of the day, breaking news gets disseminated faster. If your “current” news is 8 days old, and people aren’t there to see new information that’s posted, you’ve lost valuable response time.

Communication rating: 

4

Mobilization: 

Options to get active are clearly communicated on the home and second tier pages. As I mentioned, I’d like to see more action options within the deep content. I think you’d get more use of these tools if they extended to the roots of your message.

The action center for registered users is a bit light. I’d like to see more options. I’d like to see a make a contribution action. I’d like to see a recruit 5 donors option, I’d like to see an option to call talk radio. It’s a good start, and I imagine it will get better, but for now it’s workable.

Mobilization rating: 

3

Conclusion: 

The site overall is strong. It should be! It’s a near duplicate of 2004’s presidential contenders. It has a lot of functionality, and a good depth of content. What it really lacks is anything that creates a sense of interest.

Online communities develop around three things – interaction, competition, or personality. To be really successful, you really need at least two of the three. Interaction often takes the form of interactive content or interaction with other visitors. Competition often develops communities around game sites or (in cases like the RNC team leader or Bush volunteer programs) where your activity is measured against others. Blogs are a great example of both interactivity and personality.

Because it’s Hillary, it has personality. That comes naturally to a site for a high-profile candidate. But it’s lacking in the other two. The options of interaction are somewhat limited, and there is no competition. Adding a blog to this site would greatly increase its effectiveness. More people would visit, it would communicate better, and create a sense of a dynamic, people-driven campaign.

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