Online Campaigning: 10 Lessons from the General Election
The internet played an importantpart in the 2010 election campaign but attempts to build up its significance and importance were misguided and naïve. Behind the scenes, it was database management and email that were vital. In the public domain, party websites and third-party sites failed to excite the public but social media and existing online communities played important roles. The internet was not a game changer but given its widespread adoption and increasing media convergence it was important, allowing for the creation of resources that could successfully be deployed alongside other traditional methods.
The internet’s use during the 2010 general election campaign is a direct reflection of increased adoption and wider social appropriation amongst the public. What we saw during this campaign was not a pivotal moment where we entered an age of internet politics, rather how the internet has evolved into a legitimate ‘business as usual’ channel for people and, with this, for politics and political debate. The internet clearly offers the potential to build trusted spaces where political debate can happen and for politicians, over time, to build social capital but it is not of itself changing the face of elections, simply supporting a natural process of evolution.
Above all the 2010 General Election shows that it is time to put aside the idea of an ‘internet election’ and reflect on the fact that digital media is now so heavily embedded in our political and social culture that we couldn’t have had this election without it. So, with all of this in mind, here are my Top 10 lessons from the 2010 Digital Campaign:
- It’s about convergence – print with blogs; TV with online discussions; Twitter into the mainstream media – and you can’t control it. So stop trying.
- The more effective the tool, the less sexy it is; Think databases and email.
- Twitter only gets your message so far.
- Novelty value doesn’t hack it. You need a strategy to get the message beyond social media and into the public eye that goes beyond doing something really smart, really cute or completely stupid on Twitter.
- Websites aren’t really that great for elections. They’re a good repository for all your policy documents but most people won’t read them.
- If you want to engage go to where people are already engaging. Newly created ‘campaign’ spaces lack social capital and even the extended campaign period isn’t long enough to establish necessary levels of trust.
- If you want people to engage with you, listen. A lot. And let them set the agenda rather than trying to control the conversation.
- It’s about local. Use social media as part of a wider constituency strategy when it’s appropriate but never in place of getting out meeting people or leafleting.
- Digital media now permeates the lives of the majority of British adults who use it to socialise, discover and discuss. So when an election comes along, they will use the internet for this too.
- That means that this wasn’t an internet election, it was an election that couldn’t have happened without the internet.