22 Mar 2010

Are Politicians Socially Adept?

Many respected political commentators (and this blog) have talked at length about how Barack Obama's use of social networking allowed him to engage previously disenchanted sectors of America's electorate, citing this as a major contributor to his success at the polls and subsequently in managing information flow from the Whitehouse to the people.

Naturally, you'd expect our politicians to try to learn from Obama in the run up to our own impending election. The key feature of the Obama social strategy was contact across multiple platforms:

Keen blogger who wants to read, discuss and leave your own comments? - come on over to http://my.barackobama.com/

Budding photo-journalist with images to share about the campaign or it's key issues? -  there’s a place for that on Flickr

Unable to attend political rallies but still want to see key speeches? - watch them on Youtube

The Obama team covered off all major and many minor social networks and made sure to keep them updated regularly. To all intents and purposes they owned the medium to the exclusion of the Republicans in the months preceding the election.

So, with all the prior comment and analysis of how to successfuly use social media for political success, are Clegg, Brown and Cameron using this knowledge to engage more effectively with the British electorate? Will this be the first digital election in Britain?

Here are some stats with only a couple of months to go until election day:

Labour Party Facebook fans: 7,416

Conservatives Facebook fans: 24,929

Lib Dem Facebook fans: 7,472

While the Conservatives appear clear winners here it's worth noting that Obama has nearly 8 Million fans who are engaged and active in commenting on the page. While all 3 parties regularly post messages, none attempt to engage the audience with questions or discussions. It is very much a PR mouthpiece channel for all parties.

Obama’s campaign tried hard to avoid confrontation with McCain, making the policies the talking point. It's dissapointing to see the UK parties applying the same old techniques to this new environment rather than leveraging new platforms to take them beyond the partisan party politics of old.

All 3 parties have their own Youtube channel. Again they seem to be used mainly to house party political broadcasts and general messages. There’s no insightful commentary or impartial content. No canvassing of opinion or openness.

How could the 3 main parties do better?

People want to consume content that is interesting, engaging and that will deliver a clear benefit to them. Posting a party broadcast may tick a few boxes for a few supporters, but for momentum to grow the parties need to be developing bespoke content that appeals to the audience that they’re trying to reach - simply posting conference speeches is not going to engage anyone beyond the party faithful. Where is the debate and disucssion around local issues, global issues, issues that show that they care about the audience, that they deserve their vote and that they'll listen to their opinion.

The Facebook fanpages will never take off and appeal to the masses with the current content. The trick is to play to the strengths of the site. Polls, gifting and clever use of apps should be pushed to the forefront above soundbites and insults.

Is this going to be a digital election? Not on the evidence to date.