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.