Social Media Elections – Revolution or Integration?

As the ‘Pre-Election‘ period looms large and guidance for local government officers like myself is disseminated, noticeably the social media aspect of “Do’s” and “Don’ts” is front and centre! Does this mean we are moving, both locally and nationally, towards a truly Social Media based Election for 2015?

Being a heavy user of Twitter, Facebook, YouTube etc. for work and pleasure it is clearly apparent that national and local political parties have upped their social media output. Undoubtedly the larger parties have their on-line strategies in place to help increase reach, engagement and persuade the electorate of their respective virtues.

It is well documented how President Obama used a Digital Strategy and particularly social media to help him win in 2008 and repeat the feet in 2012. A method of campaigning now adopted globally. The parties in the UK are gearing up and if you can get a copy of this research it’s interesting how certain parties get more traction on Twitter than Facebook and vice-versa.

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On-line, Off-line or Both?

This is a lazily framed question really because right now it surely has to be, unlike my favourite whiskey, a blended approach! My educated guess is that social media is principally being utilised to attract the younger voter. Emerging research indicates that broadly speaking young people will be more influenced by social media, or at least more engaged by it, although it remains to be seen whether this will have much influence in terms of voting.

At the moment most people do not use social media to follow mainstream politics. Very astutely for now political parties are not using social media to engage directly with the electorate. They mainly seem to use platforms such as Twitter as a way of amplifying a message in traditional print or audio-visual media rather than asking people to actively participate in an issue that is of interest to them. Over time my feeling is this approach will change and more people will engage more directly via digital, however we are not there yet.

The foot soldiers will still be out leafleting, doorstepping, supporting local campaigns and so on. Just as they cannot afford to be absent from the digital world any more; it would equally be politically suicidal not to have a presence in traditional media and visibly doing the grass roots work – the off-line world at the moment remains the bread and butter of successful campaigning.

What Next Then?

Yes, the cliché is: “If I knew that…” Nonetheless, the move to digital campaigning is evidential merely by parties seeing the need to invest time and resources to this method of campaigning.

For me, the greatest traction being gained in local elections is through the growth of the ‘hyper-local’ campaigning and reporting: before, during and after whether we choose exercise our right to vote on 7th May – an argument succinctly articulated here.

So, for the time being I see Social Media approaches to elections as integrating into and augmenting established campaigning and media/reporting methods – the revolution, driven by the grass roots, is on it way but sometime in the not too distant future I feel!

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Like a Kid in a Digital Toy Shop!

I’m still a relative ‘newbie‘ trying to work my way through the multitude of Digital Tools at our disposal! There’s so many which could enhance and complement off-line engagement methods to support involvement and democracy.

We know there is a growing desire to harness the power of the Internet and social media to engage on-line, to share stories, to gather insight and to harness the power of the crowd. Too often traditional ways of engagement and involvement seem inadequate and reach only a tiny fraction of those affected by decisions taken and traditional meetings alone can too often be confrontational and composed of the active few.

As stated, I’m still finding my way and part of the issue is knowing what’s out there – do I ‘Hangout‘ with Google or ‘schedule’ with Doodle???

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Where to start? I do feel “Like a Kid in a Digital Toy Shop” however the danger is I will gorge myself and get or become sick of the plethora of goodies out there. The starting point for me is to know what’s available; here’s an excellent piece entitled “Let’s Get Digital! 50 Tools for Online Public Engagement by Community Matters, outlining some current cracking resources. Read it quick because it’ll be out-of-date next week!

The key I think, is how we work our way through the options for our personal use and organisationally testing the best platforms/tools etc. with our communities on a ‘hyper-local‘ basis. To illustrate the latter, if a healthy democracy is partly dependent on a free press then as the Carnegie UK Trust report last year, “The Future’s Bright, The Future’s Local” showed how Digital neighbourhood reporting for example is positively disrupting established practice in a community-led way.

Time for us all to see which ‘Toys’ R US and which work best with our local communities!!!