Campaigning in 140 Characters

Campaigning in 140 Characters

Pagefield General

As Nick Clegg attempts to overcome his latest disappointment – narrowly losing out to The Script during Sunday’s top 40 – the inspiration for the catchy tune highlights the difficulties faced by old media politicians in a social media age.

There is a fine line between getting it right (think Stella Creasy and legal loan sharks) and getting it very, very wrong (think Aidan Burley’s Olympic Tweets or Ed Miliband’s ‘Blackbusters’).

Here in the UK, our leaders continue to struggle to balance the scales, both as individuals bidding to build a profile, and as organisations striving for electoral success.

Perhaps this is because for some politicians, social media is a tempting vehicle for personal embellishment rather than genuine campaigning success; bolstering the perception of politician’s ‘normality’ instead of bolstering the credentials of the party they serve. Speaking on a panel at London’s CIPR Social Media Week, blogger and digital campaigner Paul Staines (aka Guido Fawkes) highlighted the chasm that exists between the UK and US in this regard.

As Guido pointed out, American politics enjoys significant advantages in funding, capacity and appetite not shared in the UK. Some of these factors are unavoidable – size, wealth and liberal election laws all put the US on a different level entirely – but others demonstrate a lack of adventure in our domestic politics.

He also suggested there are no longer digital parts to campaigns – all aspects of campaigns are now digital, with Nick Clegg’s video a case in point. Something which had been designed as a traditional TV broadcast was quickly remixed by the people behind a satirical website, posted on YouTube, shared on Twitter and Facebook, before ending up as a product to buy in Apple’s iTunes. The lesson? Everything is digital – even that which is designed for TV.

This lesson applies increasingly to public affairs and corporate campaigns. But if Twitter followers and Facebook fans are not turned into crossed boxes, political engagement or increased sales, then it will beg the question: what is the point?

It appears that if we are to move beyond the arguably frivolous nature of social media engagement in this country, the current US election may need to lead the way and demonstrate a strong return on digital investment.