Andrew Seel and Fiona Grantham our Strategy Director featured onThe Politics Show on 28 March 2010.
With this year’s General Election due to be one of the most tightly fought contests for decades The Politics Show was focusing on new ways of reaching the voters and getting policy ideas across.
Obama was dubbed the first social media president over in the US so there’s no surprise that politicians and parties in the UK are trying to follow suit. They’re looking to social media as a way of giving them the edge in connecting with voters they’re not currently reaching and ultimately win the day.
So how should MPs campaign online? Can they simply transfer their experience of knocking on doors to Facebook? Or do a new set of rules apply?
This was one of the key questions that came up on The Politics Show – whether just creating a page on Facebook was enough?
Unless you’re very well known you might struggle to generate many ‘Fans’ (as they’re called on Facebook). By all means create a Facebook page, but to get it working you need to consider a few key points:
1. Listen to your constituents
Social media is one of the best ways you can listen to the views of your constituents on a large scale. Something not possible to the same level knocking on doors.
But more importantly you can listen to potential voters who you might not reach otherwise and you can follow their conversations in forums, Facebook groups, blogs and on Twitter in a way which might be appear rude in real life.
If you use it for nothing else, social media can put you in a strong position to understand what a fast growing segment of your voters think about you, your policies and life in general.
2. Engage with your constituents on things they care about
There’s nothing worse than someone turning up at the pub and talking AT you about themselves all evening, not thinking to ask how you are.
The same goes when engaging in social media such as Twitter, Facebook orLinkedIn. If you only follow a traditional communications approach of pushing out your message people will quickly get bored and stop engaging with you.
It is better to use the tools to take part in a dialogue with people, listening to what they are saying, responding with your opinion, helping by answering their questions, connecting them with others who could be useful, correcting them if you think they are wrong.
Think about how you can use your position, experience, contacts and knowledge to be part of and benefit the community online.
With this in mind, if you are setting up a Facebook page it may not always be best to set it up around you. Instead you might decide to focus on a particular policy issue where you can add real value.
It works because it is around an issue and has a simple message. Facebook works well around simple ideas and campaigns more than it does around a personality (In terms of using it in a professional capacity)
3. Be there for the long term
Social media is for life not just for elections. It is about being part of and creating online communities. A good community member does not just pop in when they want something. They are there for the long term.
This is something Obama has successfully demonstrated. After winning the presidential election he didn’t then drop his Facebook page, blog and Twitteractivity. He stepped up the activity. Read more about what he’s doing in this post on Econsultancy’s blog.
In the run up to the General Election the Qube blog will be keeping an eye on how the parties are using social media, looking at some of the above issues in more depth and how candidates can give themselves the edge using social media.