Two Internet domain stories about high-profile people came out this week. In one, Sen. Ted Cruz, who had just announced he was running for president, had to face the reality that tedcruz.com is owned by somebody who is using it to support President Barack Obama. (Cruz’s campaign uses tedcruz.org.) In the other, Taylor Swift made news by proactively buying up “TaylorSwift.porn” and “TaylorSwift.adult,” domains that would otherwise become available for anyone to purchase come June 1.
The contrast between the two stories highlights how politicians like Cruz, who are in the business of promoting their personal brands, could learn a few things from the tech-savvy marketing of Swift and other young celebrities. In particular, there are three basic principles that public figures should follow:
- Start early: Whether you intend to run for city council or you’re content with being a voting citizen, you should have your own domain name. Think about it: For just the price of three lattes, you can secure insertyourownnamehere.com for one year. Even if you never intend to put a blog or website on it, about $14 a year is a pittance to pay to ensure no one else can own your name online.
- Think strategically: If you’re a politician, you shouldn’t limit your URL buying to just one domain. See if you can get your last name .com, if it is available, along with your first name. Buy up the .org, .net, and .info domains as well. Look to claim common political slogans, too, such as yourname2016.com, yournameforamerica.com, etc. With more than 1,000 new top-level domains coming out, the older .coms and .nets are likely going to be even more valuable and authoritative in the eyes of end users. And don’t forget your social outposts. Social platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Instagram are already crucial ways of communicating with voters, and they will only get more important as the platforms mature. In addition, these platforms almost always pop up in the first page of search-engine results. As people search for your personal brand, you want to own as much real estate as you can in those search results. Swift has done a great job of the “land grab” game on social media, not only because her fans are on the cutting edge of new platforms, but also because she and her team are actively promoting her there.
- Pick your battles: Politicians need to identify the platforms where they want to talk to potential voters and constituents, and where it is an uphill battle that is not worth the effort. For example, one Canadian would-be politician made the mistake of doing a Reddit Ask Me Anything, and it turned into a miserable PR failure. Open forums are essential to public debate, but politicians need to be fully prepared to give honest answers without getting defensive and divisive.By contrast, Taylor Swift says she doesn’t even read articles that she knows will upset her. “Is it important to my life?” she asks. “If the answer is no, then I just don’t click.” As a celebrity or politician, there are going to always be people, news media, or commenters that say things just for attention, or who will never change their minds. And they just aren’t worth engaging.
Politicians need to be thinking strategically about these reputation-management and online-identity issues. For everyone else, it’s never too late, or too trivial a task, to establish your online presence.