The 2015 UK General Election is just weeks away and the polls are neck and neck. With things so tight, could social media have an impact? Definitely.
Back in 2011 I applied for a campaigning role with a local political party (I won’t say which one so as not to alienate anyone from the outset) and as part of my interview I gave a short presentation on the increasing role that social media would play in politics. I came prepared with some early examples (primarily from the US) of how some parties and candidates were already using it to good effect and how we could and should be doing the same.
I did not get the job.
Whilst they loved my enthusiasm for ‘new media’, the overwhelming vibe I got was “But why bother when leaflets work so well?!”
It’s now four years later and I hate to say I told you so… but I really did tell you so.
The big opportunity
For me, the most exciting opportunity has nothing to do with @David_Cameron being on Twitter or Ed Miliband trying to be likeable in a YouTube video. I’d hope that by now, that stuff is a given rather than being innovative. Instead, I’d like to look at how social media can be used to reach local communities and increase the presence of local candidates.
Build a presence
In all probability, most voters won’t know much about their local candidates. Perhaps they’ll have seen their faces on a couple of leaflets on the journey between the front door and the recycling bin (excuse my cynicism), but it’s very hard to form an opinion of them as a candidate based on such an impersonal form of media.
Herein lies the strength of social. Candidates can use Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and their blog to give constituents a real insight into their lives, the issues they care about and why they’re worthy of a vote.
At the same time, these social channels offer young voters a really easy way to access and digest this information that comes naturally to them.
For examples of existing MPs that are doing this really well, take a look at this infographic from politics.co.uk.
Taking it a step further, social media monitoring can also give candidates real insights into what voters are talking about in their constituency. Geo-targeted searches for keywords such as “Lib Dem”, “UKIP”, “vote” or “election” are a good start and will give valuable insights into what people are saying about you and your rivals, but you can also start to focus in on specific policy areas. For instance, what are the residents of Cambridge saying about the NHS or education?
Listening offers the insights, but engagement is where candidates can really impress. How many times have you heard voters say that they don’t feel listened to by politicians? How much of a shock would they get if a candidate actually replied to their tweet about tuition fees? – And how many friends would they tell about it?
Likewise, how many voters would feel compelled to take time out to attend a hustings or a q&a? Not many, so why not make it easy for them and ask them to send their questions via Twitter or Facebook? No doubt you’d need a thick-skin, but then, if you want to be a politician you’d better get used to it.
Fortunately, there are already examples of this being done really well. For example, I was very impressed to see my local MP running an online crowdfunding campaign to help support his re-election campaign. Tellingly, I came across it after a friend of mine shared it on Facebook!