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Wednesday, July 22,2009

Candidates.com

Each mayoral candidate is using a different strategy to reach voters online.

by Liz Reyna

Last week at Sir Pizza in Old Town, mayoral candidate and At-Large Councilwoman Carol Wood and campaign workers gathered to unveil her new, completely volunteer-made campaign Web site.


A group of young men from Lansing’s north side renovated the site, www.CarolWoodforLansing.com, as a volunteer effort for Wood’s campaign. Although Wood’s site offers a lot to do it’s not quite as sleek as challengers Charles Ford ’s and incumbent Mayor Virg Bernero’s. However, the three candidates are using a different method to reach voters in cyberspace.

Wood is using volunteer work and Ford a professional political web and advertising firm. Bernero is recycling much of his 2005 campaign Web site.


The three face each other in the Aug. 4 primary election along with Ben Hassenger, who employs MySpace instead of a dedicated campaign Web site.


Wood’s Web site is still a work in progress says Major Young, 34, the leader of the group that redesigned the site, which includes his brothers Tony, 19, and Timothy, 30, and friend Dwayne Goodwin, 21. Wood’s Web site now features an entry with a picture of the Capitol with her photo on over it; there is an updated photo section and even a “kids’ zone” that features games like “Rocket Pig” and “Ms. Pacman.”

“It wasn’t the campaign with me and Carol, it was always about the kids and it just so happened they needed kids for certain days and things to help out, so the kids volunteered as part of Carol’s campaign,” Major Young said speaking about himself and his team. “Everything just fell into place.”

The young men got interested in Web design in 2007 after their music program at Hildebrandt Learning Centers was cut. Young rallied fellow students together to continue their education and bought computer equipment to teach graphic and Web design.

When the opportunity to work for Wood was presented, the volunteers were happy to do the work for free, Young said, because Wood had supported them in the past.


“The kids wanted to know what could Carol do for them because they figured they didn’t matter. Carol had a nice little conversation with them and told them when she gets in office she’s going to change things,” Young said.


Ford has had a professionally designed Web site up for months and Bernero has been steamrolling both his competitors with social networking.


Bernero Campaign Manager Patrick McAlvey said his candidate’s Web site was done in-house with local professionals.

“I think it’s important that all the candidates have Web sites, but of course every Web site is going to be different,” McAlvey said.


McAlvey said the most important thing a Web site should have is candidate history, background information and crucially, their stance on the issues. (Bernero’s shows a record of past issues and votes.)


Ford, an attorney and member of the Lansing School Board, hired John Addis of Addis Enterprises to do his site. As the mayoral candidates look to gain more votes leading up to the primary, candidate Web designers are pushing hard for a finished product.

“We’re good, it only took us a week and a half,” Young laughed and said.


The quick work done for free by Wood’s team is a contrast from the normally $3,000 multiple month-long process Addis describes. His process takes three to four hours of a one-page mock-up alone.

Addis has been doing web design professionally since 1994. His company, dmedia, which he uses for Democratic candidates (the mayoral race is nonpartisan), has received several awards while Addis himself received a Pollie award.

For every political Web site he does, he maintains certain key components, including a place for online donations, Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, blogs, mailing lists, search engine optimization, and making sure the Web site speaks in “one voice.”

The quality of the donation page especially, said Addis, who is working for Ford partly on a volunteer basis, is critical for raising funds for the candidate.

An unprofessional-looking Web site may deter donations, he said.


“Personally, I feel that it could be damaging to (Wood) if she is holding out on funds for Web site making, TV and radio ads,” Addis said, referring to whether Wood thinks Ford — who is likely to have all three — isn’t a competitor.

But regardless of whether it’s professionally made or not, Young said he thinks a Lansing candidate’s Web site should focus on Lansing talent.

“It’s local work for local people,” he said. “We don’t want the stereotypical boring candidate Web site, we want it interactive and something that they come back to time and time again. You’ve never seen one like this one before.”



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