Infuriating and disappointing: The UK election fight is under way, but haven’t UK Politicians learnt anything on social media from Obama?

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.

Final Rant:

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 :

YouTube

Labour:

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

Twitter

Labour: 11,675 Followers

Latest Tweet: ‘Thx to everyone who sent ideas & designs for our next ad.U can see some of our faves now at http://www.labour.org.uk #peopleposters’

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’

Facebook

Labour: 9,357 Fans

Conservatives: 28,603 fans

The Chancellor’s debate:

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Comments (20) | Leave a comment

  1. Politwecal says:

    Great post! I share the sentiment, this is partly why I built this site for following the Twitter feeds of party politicians side by side: http://www.politwecal.com – I think you’ll like it! You can do searches and view the levels that you wish (MPs, PPCs, MEPs etc.) and we’re adding more analysis tools in there.

    Cheers,
    Mikko @ Politwecal

  2. hermioneway says:

    Infuriating and disappointing: The UK election fight is under way, but haven’t UK Politicians learnt from Obama? http://techfluff.tv/2010/03/31/infuriati

  3. John Pugh says:

    RT @hermioneway: Haven’t UK Politicians learnt from Obama? http://bit.ly/bKkEQf #Hermione4PM – the campaign starts now!

  4. John says:

    Hermione for PM!

  5. Kaitlyn Rich says:

    RT @hermioneway: Infuriating and disappointing: The UK election fight is under way, but haven’t UK Politicians learnt from Obama? http://bit.ly/bKkEQf

  6. Marlooz says:

    RT @Hermioneway Infuriating and disappointing: The UK election fight is under way, but haven’t UK Politicians learnt a… http://bit.ly/bKkEQf

  7. kaitlyn_rich says:

    RT @hermioneway: Infuriating and disappointing: The UK election fight is under way, but haven’t UK Politicians learnt from Obama? http:/ …

  8. Have to say, possibly the best blog I’ve ever read that you’ve written – good length, lots of references, and a definite viewpoint.

    Though… having just spent the evening back at ‘home’ in the home counties with my old school friends, despite being ‘on’ Facebook they barely touch it (and of course don’t use Twitter or anything else) and so to be fair to the UK parties, any social media campaigns that they run simply wouldn’t reach them (or most of the country) at all. Even my friend who’s on a secondement at the Treasury at the moment and wrote some of Darling’s budget speech the other week and has worked with him a fair bit over the last 9 months, basically hates Facebook (because of how you can be tagged in photos by friends without any approval) and would never be influenced by stuff posted on it.

    And, do remember that it’s not the same set-up here. The 2008 US election was about two new candidates building up a following start at least a year in advance (knowing that Bush couldn’t stand for a third term). Here we have an existing prime minister who will stand again, and his two rivals have been around a few years and are familiar to us all too. There’s no need for a ‘grassroots’ campaign as there’s nobody coming from that fresh background. Different kettle of fish, to be fair.

    The reason why the Obama campaign worked so well online was because he was coming at the perfect time, when the intelligencia (who are much more likely to be online due to cost and skills required) were sick of Bush and really wanted change, and there was an all new candidate, from the major party *not* in currently in power, who was not only worthy for the job but of minority race (and it is that fact that won it for him in all honesty – he was able to pull in the African American voters who would normally just abstain completely). If you were in any way liberal, as people online generally are, he was the obvious choice. And don’t forget he only won by a relatively small margin of the popular vote – 69.5 million to 60 million (http://www.fec.gov/pubrec/fe2008/2008presgeresults.pdf – page 2).

    Cut to the UK, where we have http://www.labservative.com – very little difference between the leading parties, and a woefully luddite voting system where any other party in the running, despite signifcant popularity share, doesn’t have much of a chance of getting a seat due to how our electoral wards are arranged… I really don’t think you can compare.

    The best representation of social media re: the UK 2010 general election, I think, is the backlash and serious/satirical feedback. The #gordancash fail last week. The spoof Conservative posters. Sites like http://www.voteforpolicies.com that reflect the reality of what people really want (ignoring the digital divide, of course, that affects who is actually using the sites).

    Yes, our parties are out of touch, but I don’t really think the US ones were that much better. It’s just that the Democrats just already had a lot of things on their side, and without those their Twitter account/campaign or Facebook page would have had no backbone. You can’t polish a turd!

  9. Oops – #gordoncash even!

  10. Mel Ndiweni says:

    I definitely agree on a lot of the points raised. I think a key thing here however, is the impact that social media could have on their prospective campaigns.

    The take-up, and social integration of tools such as twitter, facebook etc and the internet as a whole into the daily lives of the US populus far exceeds that of our own in the UK. Hence, why a campaign such as Obama’s could have such a monumental impact. Furthermore, Obama was essentially a viral dream – the first black credible candidate talking, uploading videos, engaging with anybody on twitter – its huge. Gordon Brown, Darling, Cameron on twitter — ‘engaging’ – just won’t have the same impact or generate the same level of social conversation.

    In what looks like its going to be a tight race this time around – maybe social media is the tipping factor one party could utilise?

    Great post though! subscribed!

    P-S – found my way here after hearing you talk at the Nacue conference!

  11. Hermione Way says:

    Exactly my point – they could utilize it but they’re not ..and it’s getting too late for them to start!

  12. Far too late now, IMHO – as I said (in my previous comment that’s still ‘awaiting moderation’?), the leaders have all been around (in the media) for years now – most people (that are going to vote) probably already feel like they know what they’re about/stand for.

    And, it’s not like we can vote directly for them anyway – on the big day we only get to vote for who we want as our local MP. People say that Gordon Brown was never elected by the public to be Prime Minister, but neither were any of the other previous PMs.

  13. RT @Hermioneway Infuriating and disappointing: The UK election fight is under way, but haven’t UK Politicians learnt a… http://bit.ly/bKkEQf

  14. Jill Darling says:

    So far it looks like UKIP is leading the way using mobile social networking technology – http://itunes.apple.com/uk/app/ukip/id349668556?mt=8

    Who’d have thunk?

  15. hermioneway says:

    @BillGlover did you see my blog post on it? http://tinyurl.com/y89w5xg and brill comment by @natts

  16. A mobile app for a political party is a strange idea – anyone that is a fan of the party is going to vote for them anyway, and anyone that isn’t interested in them is not going to bother with it.

    If the parties want to connect with undecided voters, they need to go to wherever they are, not expect to just be found (much like a website – nobody will visit it if there are no links to it or the URL isn’t advertised!).

  17. Facebook User says:

    Dave – some great points. Only thing I’d take issue with is the assumption that the US electoral system isn’t also “luddite” in some form. The electoral college voting system produces some odd results as well; think Gore/Bush and Florida. Theirs isn’t perfect either.

  18. hermione says:

    The Green Party just launched this: http://www.onlygreen.org.uk/

    Very good – But suck a waste – It should have been launched 6 months ago!

  19. Christian – yeah, I’m not saying the US system is any better – in fact it’s worse as they only have 50ish wards, whereas we have 650ish, though at least theirs are actually voting for a president/vice-president to be in charge, not a local representative. If I lived in a swing area, I may have to use my vote tactically instead of voting for the party I want in power.

    And like I already said, Obama only beat McCain 69m to 60m in the popular vote, which is not a landslide, yet the EC numbers imply he did much better, which is why people wanted to hail Social Media as the thing wot did it, yet it’s far more likely to have been the facts he wasn’t white, was new, and offered real policy change to Bush and the old fuddy duddy McCain.

    I don’t know if the Green Party’s site would have done much good six months ago – it’s the next 3.5 weeks that matter when undecided people are making up their mind.

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