Why this is NOT the Twitter election

If you read the last few days’ papers, you would think that the Twitterati will  decide the outcome of the election.  

I’ve almost suggested as much msyelf.

But actually, we’re only half way there. This is not going to be an Obama-style social media-led uprising.

Social media has two potential types of influence on the outcome of an election – firstly, accelerating and magnifying the news cycle, and secondly – and potentially more powerfully – activating the advocates.

The first part is now just a fact of communications, but the second relies on planning and engagement from the political parties. They should have got serious about that months ago – this time round, the major parties have left it too late.

So inevitably there will be some gaffe that goes crazy on Twitter. The speed with which Gordon Brown’s Bigotgate blunder spread on Twitter was a classic example in the UK election.

But less so the planned, focused use of social media demonstrated so well in the election of Barack Obama.

Where social media – Twitter, maybe, but more so Facebook – becomes a huge potential tool is in not just getting getting out the vote, but turning these supporters into an informed and engaged army.

In the US, Sarah Silverman’s The Great Schlep persuaded engaged young Jewish people to travel to Florida and talk to their grandparents about voting for Obama. The state swung from Republican to Democrat.

But that kind of engagement relies on creating your army long before the battle is called so they are already listening when you need them. It’s a bit late to raise your army as you are already charging into battle.

Julia_Gillard twitter mumbrellaWhen the PM only started tweeting a fortnight ago and Labor only embedded social media capabilities into its own website a week ago, that’s far too late.

Even chucking up an ad on YouTube and hoping it goes viral and gets you some free media will only get you so far. Particularly if it’s boring, and especially if the song is as bad as this one for the Liberal Party:

The best any party can hope for this time is to not make a mistake that kills them when it gets sucked into the Twitter news accelerator.

Next time round, they may be able to use social media in a positive way. But they’ll have to start now.

Tim Burrowes


  1. Tiphereth
    19 Jul 10
    3:44 pm

  2. Agree Tim, its all too broadcast and same-same. Neither party is talking back to any of the voters and debate rages on all the social channels they’ve set up with no responding. It all smacks of social for social’s sake. I’ve done an analysis of the net sentiment Liberal vs Labor up until last night, and there’s not even a point between them. http://www.digitaltip.com.au/i.....h-fitness/

  3. Phil Collins
    19 Jul 10
    4:04 pm

  4. Dude… the song sounds like “stand up Australia, stand up, for RE-ELECTION.”

  5. Peter Applebaum
    19 Jul 10
    4:21 pm

  6. Obama’s campaign laid out in the easy to understand detail how social media can help to get a rank outsider elected to the most powerful political job in the world.

    Surely it’s not that hard for even half aware pollies and/or their parties to get the potential power of social media. AND that it should extend beyond some lame tweets and even more lame YouTube videos.

    The UK election and now, seemingly, the Australian election demonstrates that political decision makers don’t get it and perhaps feel that what happened in the US was an aberration and it won’t work here.

    Hopefully, we’ll be blown away by a candidate that does get it and does do a meaningful job of leveraging social media in this election. If nothing else, it’s a pretty good way to stand out from the pack.

  7. Grant
    19 Jul 10
    4:27 pm

  8. Check out ninemsn for people response to the question..Tweetrace – Which party Really gets Twitter? http://news.ninemsn.com.au/nat.....home-state

    Seems like only Kate Ellis has any understanding, yet ninemsn users think the Libs have a better understanding. Hmmm! What does this say about the 9msn audience????

  9. Carole Ann Goldsmith
    19 Jul 10
    4:35 pm

  10. Come on Bob Brown, get on Twitter, at least you talk sense.

  11. Bec
    19 Jul 10
    4:39 pm

  12. That Sarah Silverman clip is hilarious. I laughed embarrassingly loudly at my desk and everybody looked at me.

  13. Trevor Young
    19 Jul 10
    4:40 pm

  14. Spot on Tim. Build your community before you need it. This applies to brands as much as it does political parties and dare I say both are as guilty as each other i.e. wanting instant results via one-way blasting of messages.

    Genuinely engaging people and building trust and respect takes time and considerable effort (both on and offline) so little wonder the major political parties aren’t yet ready to take full advantage of the social web.

  15. Gordon Whitehead
    19 Jul 10
    4:52 pm

  16. But but but…don’t both parties have advertising heavyweights advising and handling their campaigns?

    And surely those icons of the advertising world would know how to build communities using social media?

  17. Andrew Grill
    19 Jul 10
    5:00 pm

  18. Tim, landed in Sydney Saturday morning from London and had to chuckle about the whole “Twitter election” the TV networks were wanting us to believe.

    I blogged about this at http://lc.tl/auelection and compared the hype to what happened in the UK for the recent general election.

    Andrew Grill
    I’m here for 2 weeks so will be able to see first hand if my theory is correct.

  19. Martin Walsh
    19 Jul 10
    5:05 pm

  20. As I outlined on Twitter earlier today, http://twitter.com/martinwalsh/status/18892804463 the fundamental difference in Australia is that the politicians and political parties don’t have a strategy; they simply have a checklist and then hope for the best. And, hope is not a strategy!

    The politicians and their consultants do not understand that Social Networking is NOT Social Media Marketing. You will never succeed if you simply have an approach of ticking a checklist of social networking sites.

    I also see lots of people from time to time comment about the Obama campaign but they are misinformed and keep perpetuating the myth that Obama succeeded because of social media.

    The Obama campaign succeeded because of email first, mobile second and social media marketing third. It was strongly supported by ATL and therefore it was a great 360 degree marketing campaign which used digital marketing in the most effective way to support the campaign goals and objectives. The team who led the Obama campaign has stated this on numerous occasions but it keeps getting lost in translation.

    Social technologies are not simply Twitter, Facebook, MySpace and YouTube. It is blogs, forums, communities, product reviews & ratings, RSS, chat & WIKI’s, social media newsrooms, social media press releases, social bookmarks and widgets to name a few.

    As Tiphereth points out social influence marketing is about engagement and conversations. Social Influence Marketing is not just another monologue broadcast channel and yet so many marketers (and politicians) continually treat Twitter and Facebook as an RSS feed to broadcast yet more messages.

    We’ve moved on from the Conversational Marketplace pre 1949 to the era of Mass Marketing Advertising circa 1949 to 2000 we are now in the current era of Conversational Marketing 2001+. But it seems a lot of people cannot grasp the fundamental changes in consumer behaviour underlying these new rules. If you don’t understand your target audience, where they are and how they use the social technologies then you will fail.

    I won’t even go into the art of storytelling and content but simply stories sell, facts and figures don’t and this is particularly true across digital marketing.

    Lastly, influence is not about the number of followers a person has or the volume of their tweets or status updates or blog posts. True influence by its very nature is the power of that individual to influence another person’s behaviour or opinion. Sadly way too many people are also using the wrong KPI’s to measure social influence marketing and are spending way too much time on speaking and or engaging with the wrong people.

    This failure to understand the power of digital marketing and social influence marketing is probably the single biggest lost opportunity of this election.

  21. Ross
    19 Jul 10
    7:13 pm

  22. TWEET OFF! How dumb of prime media promoting another media over their own.
    No wonder more people spend more time online than watching TV or reading newspapers. Think about it. Your client spends $10,000 for a spot in ACA and then ACA tell their audience to go online for more about this story. No wonder clients are leaving TV and Press advertising in their droves. FREE TV, newspapers and radio need to take a good look at themselves. Or they wont be here in this form in 10 years tiime. So then you can forget about your kids becoming news readers and reporters. They will be boring BLOGGERS on Twitter with no income.

  23. Heléna
    19 Jul 10
    9:27 pm

  24. @Carole Ann Goldsmith – he is on twitter @SenatorBobBrown

  25. Jimboot
    20 Jul 10
    10:00 am

  26. @martinwalsh couldn’t agree more. My blog post with an example the social media “gurus” missed. http://jimboot.com/the-twitter-election. @tim I agree I dont think the parties will harness the power of online but individuals may.

  27. mick
    26 Jul 10
    2:48 pm

  28. What election…

  29. hopping mad designs
    27 Jul 10
    8:00 pm

  30. I really think the social media buzz , especially twitter is a bit too hyped – I mean Kevin was all over twitter and look what happened to him – people vote for whos making the best policy decisions NOT on their twitter skills.

  31. Bob
    30 Jul 10
    8:03 am

  32. The usual content of Twitter hashtag streams like #auselection are pretty ignorable but where it does come into its own is when politicians appear on tv programs like #qanda or in a #debate and you get immediate feedback on their performance. Similarly the #insiders tweet stream attracts are a fair selection of larrikan commentators. Journos admit they monitor (and participate) in the tweet streams and this can in turn feed into their articles the next day so in this sense I would say Twitter has an impact. Facebook I would say has had 0 impact.