Why social media won’t but could win the election: #LEWISSMS

Last night I attended a debate on social media and the election hosted by our frenemies, Lewis PR, over at the very flashy Lewis media centre.

Alas it was, I regret to report, mainly a dull affair with the highlights for me being a delightful little montage of ‘thoughts from the general public’ fronted by the very smartly dressed Eb Adeyeri and some entertaining shenanigans with the Twitter wall.

Despite these amusements, in a great example of how not to chair a focused seminar, the event started thirty minutes late, the four speakers (Evening Standard Editor Paul Waugh, Tory MP Jeremy Hunt, Labour ex-minister Tom Watson and Dan Burton from Salesforce who apparently didn’t have a Twitter profile) were given a ludicrous 40 minutes to pitch (it was advertised as 5 minutes each) their pretty mundane and predictable thoughts (including a tedious sales pitch from the sponsor, Dan from Salesforce, on cloud computing of all things! A guy who I hasten to add didn’t then contribute anything further and had to leave halfway through to catch a train! – ouch #whydidyousponsor), leaving very limited time for questions.

The unfocused discussions crawled their way through the predictable traditional versus social media quagmire and much to and froing about whether MPs should be tweeting at all.

The advertised title of can “social media make or break and election” was largely ignored.

So I regret to inform that it therefore falls to me to use the obligatory ‘report on an event I’ve been to’ blog post to give some of my thoughts on the theme of “the impact of social media on the general election”.

TV is going to play a big role

As Tom Watson quite rightly observed, the TV debates will have the biggest effect on this election. Business Zone editor Dan Martin made a good point (on Twitter) when he questioned why it’s taken us so long to even get to this point. And with this in mind, it’s hardly surprising that social media usage by the main political parties is at such a base level.

Social media is not enough on it’s own

Many forget that social media wasn’t really what won the election for Obama. It played a part, but a relatively small one. That’s not to say it couldn’t be a winning formula, but just ‘doing it’ isn’t enough. What Obama did teach us, was that a carefully thought out and executed strategy from day one (take note Mr Cameron) is vital.

Don’t forget Facebook

The debate raged limped around the various merits or not of tweeting and blogging but, as anyone who knows their stuff will tell you, Facebook is where the war can be won or lost. Twitter is the media’s shiny new plaything, but Facebook is where the majority of voters are to be found.

If social media has an impact on the election, it will be from the grassroots

So in the absence of any real strategic planning in terms of social media from any of the main political parties so far (happy to be proved wrong about this), any innovative social media action in terms of the election is likely to come from ‘below’. We’ve already seen Mydavidcameron.com and I expect more grassroots movements like Invincecable before May 6th has been and gone.

If this event taught me anything…

…it’s that the traditional media, despite the valiant efforts of the Paul Waughs and Rory Cellan-Jones of this world, still don’t ‘get’ social media. And similarly, the vast majority of politicians, despite the valiant efforts of the Tom Watsons and Jeremy Hunts of this world, still don’t ‘get’ social media.

If they did, they would realise exactly why spending time using social tools wouldn’t be better spent dreaming up policies that no one knows about.

Winning elections is all about winning the hearts and minds of the punters on the street. And, despite the fact that the Tories are intent spending more of Ashcrofts money on it, billboard ads are no longer cutting the mustard.

What do politicians need to get over the crisis of the expenses scandal?

They need to start engaging with the voters again. And I just wonder whether arming MPs with (cheap) laptops with Tweetdeck (other desktop apps are available) and iPhones, might just be a good starting point and the wake-up call many of them need.

That’s how I’d use social media to win the election. Simple really.

picture credit

5 Replies to “Why social media won’t but could win the election: #LEWISSMS”

  1. I'll be interested to see how politicians (and PR and marketing people more generally) start to integrate social media into integrated 360 campaigns. When the direct mail that drops through your letterbox and the party political broadcasts start to drive traffic to an official Facebook or Twitter which in turn point to YouTube channels and blogs, then we'll start to see some wheels really turning – I'm not convinced this is happening properly yet as social media is seen too often as separate from the rest of a marketing campaign rather than being integrated properly.

    It think it's possibly a little reactionary to say that “billboard ads won't cut the mustard any more”; as someone said to me last night “your family living in a Rochdale council estate aren't likely to be looking at mydavidcameron”. That said, every single one of the Tory campaigns since the new year, it seems to me, has been disastrous – coincidence with the slump in opinion polls? Hard to say.

    I agree that Facebook is still the great unused weapon but its power can be limited. I'd love to see some stats on this, but my impression is that the vast majority of people who join a Facebook group actually interact with it very rarely. At least with fan pages the content pops up in your news feed. Groups are dead in their present form. But the way it's structured, only a confirmed (say) Labour voter will click the button that says “become a fan of The Labour Party”; more subtle ways will be needed to interact with floating voters on Facebook.

    Nice bloggage on last night Danny, I've linked to this article from one I wrote myself.

  2. Thanks Eoghan, all valid points.

    Yes, the billboard comment was probably a bit throwaway, but I think us new media types just get a bit angry when we see so much money thrown at mass media – do they get ROI?

    I mainly agree with you about Facebook. I don't actually think Facebook is as 'difficult' as many imagine but, as you say, the 'down your throat'/mass media approach won't work.

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