Search, Social Media & UK Politics
Monday, 08 June 2009
I was interviewed by the BBC this week regarding UK political parties and how they were using online, search and social media. The screened interview only shows some of my personal opinions on each of the parties videos, so a lot of more in depth detail about each parties social media strategy was left out. I thought I'd include my notes here, for a bit more background.
Actually the UK have been fairly early adopters in using the web to communicate and interact, the number 10 petitions site which was launched back in 2006 and has millions of signatures for example. In particular the Conservatives were early adopters with various MPs in the blogosphere for sometime and David Cameron himself blogging and uploading videos through ‘WebCameron’. However, more recently the government and political parties have really tried to embrace the web with a fresh new site and using a wide range of social media platforms from blogging, sharing of images, video, social networks and ‘micro blogging’ with Twitter.
Obamas Search & Social Media Success
The UK political parties must of taken note of the massive success Obama's team had last year online in particular. (Mark & Luke here at Guava have put together a really great presentation that you should take a look at entitled ‘Writing for the Web: Politics in Social Media’). Obama was certainly not the first to utilise online though, McCain back in 2000 was the first to raise over a million dollars online. However, as the internet and new social platforms have evolved, it’s provided greater opportunities to connect, build relationships and create dialogue with people. When Bush was re-elected back in 2004, Myspace and Facebook were just a blip on the radar.
What Obama's team did so well was embrace social media right at the very heart of their campaign. The online campaign was strategically coordinated with the offline media assault to promote the same single message for ‘change’. Obama used social media to help build relationships with his target audience and give power to campaigners.
But Obama's team understood it was not just about getting the message out there, it was also about empowering and energising people to take action. Converting everyday individuals into empowered volunteers, campaigners and donors. To do this, they understood that they needed to provide them the tools to do it to.
Some of the methods and statistics make for great reading -
• Change.gov website was at the very heart of the campaign and was designed to give people a chance to share their thoughts. Over 5,000 people commented on a video asking people to submit their ideas for health care reform
• My.BarackObama.com - Empowered people to create groups and the tools to organise and engage with others in things like rallies & events. It contained videos, speeches, photos and allowed people to create their own content and share. Everyday people had become campaigners for the team creating huge amounts of content that they would never of been able to do alone
• Obama team blogged and updated users by RSS
• The team used 15 different social networks & bookmarking sites in total to spread the message of new speeches, debates, rallies etc. They had 850K friends on Myspace, 1.3M followers on Twitter, 3 million facebook fans. 900K joined the ‘One Million Strong for Obama’ group on Facebook. Obamas team had Chris Hughes on board who was one of the co founders of Facebook.There were Facebook groups for Obama for almost every college in America
• Huge Digg Success (ObamaforAmerica)
• 2000 official YouTube videos were uploaded. Weekly radio address uploaded to YouTube so it could be embedded, shared and commented easily. Who can forget the 'Yes we can speech’ that had 3million views and subsequent ‘yes we can’ song with Will.i.am from Black Eyed Peas (18M views)
• They were very clever in posting videos with same tags and in response to opposition videos which criticised Obama, by understanding how people use ‘related videos’
• Viral success of others they had energised along the way such as 'Obama girl'
• Used a 5 day public comment period before signing any non emergency legislation to invoke discussion and engage
• Obamas team understood that 90% of people click on the first page results of Google, embraced SEO and made sure they appeared where they should for popular key phrases.
• Aggressively purchased paid search adverts
• Use of e-mail lists (upwards of 13million addresses, in total more than 1 billion e-mails landed in inboxes) to huge success.
• Used Mobile to huge success.
By using a combination of online techniques Obama's team built huge momentum and word of mouth offline. It encouraged and empowered people to drive rallies and political debate at local level aswell as achieve their key goals - votes and donations. They managed to raise over half a billion dollars during this period. A very interesting fact is the average online donation was $80, and the average Obama donor gave more than once.
UK Politics Starting To Embrace Social Media
Historically there has always been a perception of one way communication with politicians which online they are able to address. Last August the Number 10 Downing Street website went live and straight away you can see that they were focused on embracing the social aspects of online and really boosted video content. The website itself is made using Wordpress which is a blogging platform by trade. In very prominent positions they have -
• Twitter commentary (Nearly 700K followers @DowningStreet)
• Facebook Group
• ‘Ask the PM' which directs you to the Downing Street YouTube page where you can upload your own video questions and get it voted for a response from Gordon Brown. Again embracing more 2 way communication.
Labour, Conservatives and Liberal Democrats all have rich media websites aswell. But are they as focused as the number 10 site? Lets look at the Conservatives & Labour parties.
Conservatives - http://www.conservatives.com/
The Conservatives have news, blogs, speeches, video through webcameron and photos. They have for sometime embraced the social side and in a lot of ways much better than Labour. But where are the links to feeds such as Twitter (8,000 followers @conservatives), Myspace, Facebook groups etc?
A few interesting points -
• MPs expenses – They are publishing real time expenses as they know it’s a hot topic. They are targeting this phrase through paid search (or were up to yesterday), but have not set up the page to take advantage of organic rankings. (Link text to the page, the page title etc). Google trends on Mps expenses.
• PPC Advertising – The Conservatives have for sometime used paid search to bid on hot topics after the budget or more recent MPs expenses.
• Facebook App development - Donate your 'status' box to the conservative cause where other friends on your network can see the latest debates.
• Conservatives use the strap line ‘Vote for Change’ (like a lot of parties). If you Google ‘vote for change’ can you guess what appears top? Obama of course.
Labour - http://www.labour.org.uk/
Labour were slower to adopt and in someways there online campaigns has been a little more disjointed. Their site is similar to the Conservatives site in that it does not have social at the forefront (Twitter 3,500 followers @UKLabour, Facebook etc). However, they have really tried to engage online more recently -
• Labourlist.org – To give their party a place in the blogosphere. Where Labour minded people can come together, create a blog and interact with each other.
• Labourspace.com – Users can start campaigns, sign up and vote and bring ideas to the attention of the Labour party. This is a great idea to encourage and fuel debate. However, the highest petition votes is 184, next is 51, then 20. At the moment interaction looks very low, so do people know about this?
• Goforth.co.uk – John Prescott blogging, but the sites seems to be down?
Social Filtering Down To Local Level – MPs & Councils
• More local councils embracing blogs, flickr and Facebook pages.
• More local MPs are on Twitter, some are even using it to announce resignations. According to Tweetminster.co.uk/ 62% are Labour, 22% Liberal Democrats and 14% Conservatives. You have to bare in mind some have few or any updates though, so they are many that have an account but are not active.
The big challenge with UK political parties online is communicating with and capturing the publics imagination and energising them to take part and create dialogue.
Is This Risky? Some recent examples -
• More Facebook group members calling for Gordon Brown to resign that in his group
• Back in April, 10K signed an online petition for Brown to resign. This is still top of the e-petitions list today.
• When the new Downing St website was launched they accidentally posted a draft piece about a former member being a prat.
• Petition Jeremy Clarkson to be PM. Subsequently number 10 created a response on YouTube and subsequently were criticised for wasting taxpayers’ money.
• BNP recently accused of racial comments on Facebook status and joining white supremist forums. Comments by another member about the death of David Camerons disabled son.
• Scientology members banned from editing their own Wikipedia page
While some may see these as a threat, there will always be debate no matter what and in particular online. It shouldn’t be treated as a threat, more of an opportunity to listen, understand and create discussion with the public over the issues rather than ignoring.
A greater understanding and use of the internet, SEO, paid search (pay per click) and social media to reach their target audience. While each party have started to embrace some aspects in varying success, we can only expect this to increase in particular in the run up to the next general election.
Will there ever be a time where you can carry out major political votes online or push through key issues? (credit - @GuavaMarked)
While I think it’s good news that political parties are trying to embrace online and have certainly come up with some good ideas, there are a few areas they could still improve.
• Understand their online audience & demographic better and produce focused, relevant content that appeals and energises them. Some of the images and videos (David Cameron has gone for a more personal, fun and informal approach at least) are very formal and lack personality. This is somewhat ingrained in the parties culture and politics itself, though some members definitely have personality.
• All parties websites could be improved by bringing more social elements to the forefront (which they are taking part in), more akin to the new number 10 site.
• Integrate online better with offline efforts delivering a consistent clear & concise message.
• Search Trends – Target hot topics by understanding how people search and target those phrases accordingly onsite through great content and basic SEO.
• More two way communication with the outside. (Some good examples that this is improving already)
• Empower the masses & identify key campaigners – Identify and support most reliable/top campaigners and give them the tools to engage others into action.
Can Social Media Have The Same Impact In The UK?
I think we have to remember it was a very special time in America. There was huge discontent from the old regime and challenges at a key time with their first ever (major party) African American president candidate. Obama is also massively charismatic and 'cool', made totally for social online.
Would a pop star write a song about our Prime Minister or could you imagine Gordon Brown dancing on Ellen? Is that just a fundamental difference between the Americans and English?
While some (or most...) might argue Gordon Brown or our other politicial leaders do not quite have the same personality or charisma as Obama, it does not mean they can’t utilise search and social media to really drive their campaigns forward with huge effect. Time will only tell in the run up to the next general elections how well each party fares.