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


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