The election on social media

The 2010 election saw a fresh intake of young, digitally-savvy MPs who led the charge for engagement with social media channels like Twitter and Facebook to reach a broader pool of voters. Nearly five years on and the vast majority of our elected officials have taken to social media with varying degrees of surprising success and comical failure. There are signs that social media is now being taken extremely seriously as a channel for election campaigns.

Recent leaked data has revealed that the Conservatives are spending an eye-watering £100,000 a month on Facebook advertising alone. Meanwhile Labour has drafted in Obama strategist David Axelrod to provide consultancy around its social media campaign for a rumoured six-figure sum.

Twitter has been flooded by a tidal wave of professional infographics from the two main political parties, with hashtags in place to build momentum around key campaign themes which will dominate the campaign from now until polling day.

Doubtless, all the main political parties will have social media monitoring units in place. These specialist teams will be seeking out and drawing attention to off-message tweets from rival parties, seeking to capitalise on errors and whip up a Twitter storm.

But social media channels also present politicians with an opportunity to rebuild trust with the electorate and galvanise support at a local level. Many MPs and potential candidates have created campaign groups on sites like Facebook to tap into local issues and build relationships with influencers in different communities. Effective use of these sites means that MPs can provide the electorate with real-time updates into where they are and what they are doing, a critical asset in the new era of accountability.

However, it is important to recognise that social media alone won’t swing an election campaign. For behind the snazzy graphics and online initiatives, core messaging and campaigning on the doorstep will still play a critical role in getting out the vote and galvanising support for political parties.

Having a dedicated social media strategy costing hundreds of thousands of pounds will achieve nothing if the message is wrong and a narrative hasn’t been established. With this in mind, political parties and elected officials should develop a full strategy and approach before mindlessly tweeting for the sake of it.

Sites like Twitter and Facebook offer new hope for politics in Britain. At long last, digital channels can help rectify the mistrust and suspicion fuelled by the expenses scandal and rising voter apathy. Used correctly, these tools will enable a new era of accountability and transparency, engaging more people in the political process and enriching democracy. This can only happen if politicians recognise that social media is just another tool in the political armoury. It won’t win an election on its own, but with the right content, tailored to the correct audience, it can have a significant impact on the outcome.

So as the election approaches, expect to see your Twitter feed and Facebook account bombarded with all manner of graphics, posters and political messages. You may also expect to receive emails, text messages and phone calls canvassing your vote.

That’s the reality of politics in the modern, multi-channel world.

But this election won’t be won on the frequency of social media interactions, it’ll be won on the core messages and policy pledges that resonate most with voters.

Steven George-Hilley, head of public sector, Hotwire

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