After watching Channel4′s Chancellors debate (below) and joining in the conversation on Twitter, I wanted to delve a little deeper into what the UK political parties are doing to engage with the electorate through social media in the run up to the next general election which is coming up, to be held on or before June the 3rd.
Having witnessed the social media frenzy whipped up by President Obama months before and in the run up to the USA election I was wondering why I hadn’t seen the same effort of engagement by either the Labour, Conservatives or Liberal Democrats when Obama’s landslide win was largely attributed to the engagement and grassroots funding he received through social media.
Then I came across some infuriating articles which said social media will in no way be integral to the 2010 UK elections. The articles are based around comments from a senior said analyst at Ovum Vuk Trifkovic who says parties are only using social web tools:
“Aimed primarily at communication and collaboration within the established caste of politicians, journalists, and interest groups”
“The parties acknowledge that social media can be used to mobilise activists, engage new audiences, or harvest a long tail of donators, However, unless the parties have a surprise up their sleeve, we do not believe that social media will play an integral part of the campaign efforts in the forthcoming elections.”
“Last night’s chancellors’ debate and the upcoming leaders’ debates make it far more likely that 2010 will be remembered as the ‘TV election’ rather than the ‘social media election’.”
If they acknowledge social media as an invaluable then why the hell aren’t they using it in the correct way and making it inclusive instead of exclusive? A TV election? What about the U.K’s 23.7 million viewers on YouTube and 23 million active users on Facebook?
Then there was another even more infuriating quote from BCS president Elizabeth Sparrow who suggested further reasons why politicians have shown insufficient urgency in getting to grips with social media technology:
“The problem is that the under 24s tend to be the main chunk of society that has not registered to vote, so even if the parties were tapped into new media it would do little to help their campaign,” she said.
Oh right, so instead of perhaps encouraging and educating young people on how to register to vote – a campaign that they could have easily promoted through social media they just ignore us instead?!
This is exactly where Obama used social media to include and engage the youth vote and it worked, proven in the stats- Young voters preferred Obama over John McCain by 68 percent to 30 percent — the highest share of the youth vote obtained by any candidate since exit polls began reporting results by age in 1976. An estimated 22 to 24 million young people voted in the US election, an increase in youth turnout by at least 2.2 million over 2004.
It’s no wonder that more young people vote on Big Brother than in a UK general election because it is this exact neglect and disregard for the younger electorate that the UK government needs to turn around.
We are the future and we do care, If only you’d involve us or make it easier for us to vote; in a recent study three-quarters of young people would engage in politics if they could vote by text message or social media, according to a survey of 1,082 UK citizens.
But it’s not even just about the youth vote, The fastest growing demographic on Facebook is still women over 55 and the UK has the second highest global Twitter usage after the USA, so why aren’t political parties engaging?
According to Dave Briggs, marketing executive at Learning Pool, UK political parties are not rushing to test out new forms of social media because of the risks:
“The opportunities presented by the internet are one of scale because it allows the government to exhibit behaviour on a mass scale. But so much of it is so new that I think there will have to be pain before things settle,” he said.
“There will be some online conversations that don’t work with the public, but this does not mean that politicians should not innovate and try to do new stuff. ”
Politicians are scared to try out social media because of risk of transparency, but isn’t transparency what the British public need after the expenses scandle? Gordon Brown could easily build up trust through social media but he won’t take the risk which in my opinion is the wrong move – questions will be raised- What else has he got to hide?
Of course the UK political parties are using social media, but not engaging. There has been a steady increase of politicians Tweeting and aggregated on services like Tweetminster, but I have not seen one of my friends mention Brown or Cameron in the last few months, whereas during the US election many of my friends changed their profile picture or Twitter avatar to Obama’s ‘Yes We Can’ picture and were excited by the campaign.
It’s disappointing our political leaders are so out of touch – I would have thought they’d have taken a leaf out of Obama’s proven social media success and invested time into social media instead of spending time on implementing draconian law like The Digital Economy Bill which is helping the UK take a step backwards and will choke innovation.
Investing in online engagement seems like an intelligent choice; Not only would this have been a low cost option to marketing and funding their campaign, It would have illustrated transparency and also shown the rest of the world the UK is in control of a platform which is rapidly effecting and influencing almost every industry. Instead they’ve dipped their toes in, got cold feet and stayed outside.
It will be interesting to see what tricks the parties try and pull out of the hat over the next eight weeks but I think they’ve left it too late and their lack of engagement online is a HUGE missed opportunity.
Lets see the Labour and the Conservatives parties social media usage so far :
Channel Views: 259,90 Total Upload Views: 1,110,151 Joined: February 12, 2007 Subscribers: 2,771
Conservatives: Channel Views: 165,791 Total Upload Views: 1,590,212 Joined: October 20, 2006
Labour: 11,675 Followers
Conservatives: 22,149 Followers
Latest Tweet: ‘Gordon Brown has been caught out using misleading statistics three times in this month alone: http://j.mp/cWtPHG’
Labour: 9,357 Fans
Conservatives: 28,603 fans
The Chancellor’s debate: