Tonight’s televised debate between the leading candidates to be the next Chancellor of the Exchequer will provide a solid indication of the potential relevance of social media in the coming election. Whilst the arguments are played out in the front channel (the TV), the arguments and analysis will be broadcast simultaneously in what has become known as the back channel. Specifically social media and in particular, twitter. The programme makers are promoting this and have created a hashtag #askthechancellors, so that two-screen viewers can follow the debate – front and back. Live online reaction will also be played back to the TV audience.
Before the credits roll we will have a clear sense through the on-line commentary of which of the pretenders to Number 11 Downing Street has caught the mood of the nation. This is important partly because it paves the way for what will happen in the party leader debates but also because it is our economy that is at stake.
When David Cameron met Christian O’Connell on Absolute Radio and uttered the now infamous comment when O’Connell asked him why he didn’t use Twitter, he boobed big time. The Tory leader’s utterance “The trouble with Twitter… too many twits might make a twat.” may prove to be a far bigger faux pas than originally thought and for quite different reasons.
By branding users of the social network as twats he effectively curbed his party’s ability to make the most of the social network. In short if you are a Tory MP on twitter the leader thinks you might be a bit of a twat. The ‘twat effect’ is now becoming evident as Tory MPs fall behind on the network that was one of the social media pillars of the Obama campaign. Tweetminster delivered a breakdown of MPs (and MEPs) today that put the Tories 5 points behind Labour.
The party breakdown of politicians (MPs + PPCs) on Twitter was as follows:
Liberal Democrat 24%
If you look at the latest share of tweets the Tory party is in third place with just 18% behind Labour and the Liberal Democrats. This election wont be won or lost on twitter by any stretch of the imagination but is does seem a little naive to immobilize a key platform just to get down with the kids.
On Saturday the Tory Party launched a web assault on Gordon Brown with a site called Cash Gordon. The site highlighted Brown’s links to the Unite union and invited users to play to earn ‘action points’ by tweeting about the campaign. When the lobby for cash story broke Cash Gordon started to gain significant interest.
At the time of writing Cash Gordon is no more and the URL is directed at the news pages of the main Conservative site.
Facebook has pitched into the election space with Democracy UK, a campaign page that will carry information from the political parties in the run-up to the vote. The sister of Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s director of market development, Randi Zuckerberg (above) is overseeing the launch. The political parties are also starting to target Facebook with ad campaigns.
Facebook was a pivotal space in the run up to the last US presidential election but so far it hasn’t gained the same traction in the UK – partly because our elections are less focussed on individuals and more on parties. The US primaries also mean that the process is ‘live’ for several months. When the UK election is called there will be less than four weeks for the campaign to run. Whilst many regard social media as instant the truth is that it takes months for the bandwagon to roll on sites like twitter and Facebook.
Democracy UK is and attempt to garner interest amongst the UK’s 24 million Facebook users but its a tough challenge – the page has less than 100 fans at lunchtime on launch day and it is heavy in information and light on applications.
Much has been made of the Tories’ foray into the web on a national stage. There’s an in-depth feature about the party’s on-line strategy in this month’s edition of Wired – print version only so rush out and buy.
The Conservative Party is clearly also taking the fight to the doorstep. Marginal seats are where the election is lost and won. This poster site was snapped at Hazel Grove station at the weekend. Hazel Grove and Cheadle, the constituency immediately adjacent are both marginals. On the bottom left there’s a URL for http://www.annesleyabercorn.com a site dedicated to Annesley Abercorn the Tory candidate. This strategy is being replicated across the marginal seats.
A quick look at the site and you can see that it’s rich in social media content. Centre stage is a YouTube clip featuring a constituency pub, a local pie-shop and a quick interview with the Coronation Street stalwart Bill Roache (Ken Barlow to you). There are interviews with local people and a clip with the party leader sounding as if he actually know a bit about the place. There’s also a link to a Facebook page.
Slightly less compelling given that Annesley is a Londoner is the endorsement from Boris Johnson, oh and the London Bus that they have given him for the campaign. I guess there’s local and local.
We suspect this will be one of many ‘tw-opinion’ polls that use twitter to predict how the nation is feeling about the election, how people plan to vote and ultimately the outcome.
Twitelection invites users not just to name a party but to use happy or sad face to express sentiment or emotion in relation to the main parties. It also needs the hashtag #ukvote and of course the name of the party. There is an option to include postcode information that could be used in conjunction with constituency mapping to predict the outcome in marginal constituencies.
Over time it shows how the twelectorate (Ok that’s enough….ed) are feeling about the parties rather than simply how they will vote.
At present there aren’t quite the volume of tweets out there to make this a meaningful assessment of real changes attitude to the party but it is early days and as the campaign and the tweets ramp up it could become part of our daily election stat diet.
This evening at Millbank tower,political blogger and journalist Paul Evans hosted a panel of digitally aware politicians and commentators that included Tom Watson MP, Jeremy Hunt MP and the Evening Standard’s Deputy Political Editor Paul Waugh. They were there to debate the subject of social media and the election. Given that’s precisely the subject of this blog we felt it was right to be there.
Tom Watson told us that he was going to tell it like it is. According to Tom how it is, is that this will be the UK’s first TV election rather than the inaugural plebiscite where the plebeians moderate the debate. Putting aside the fact that this would put us 50 years behind the USA where the Kennedy Nixon run off was regarded as the first TV election, what Tom has missed is what every top TV exec now knows. Social media has become a critical component of event television and event television is what is keeping the broadcasters in business.
The concept is known as “two-screen” and the channel of choice is most often twitter. When Cameron, Clegg and Brown get up in front of the tv cameras it will be one of the biggest ever political tv events and it will be the ‘two-screeners’ who decide whether one or other candidate is too shifty to elect. The likes of Paul Waugh and other social media savvy scribes will be watching with fascination before they channel the views of the twitterati through the mainstream media. For a social media trailblazer Watson’s got some catching up to do.
The user-generated mashup that has been the scourge of pre-election advertising campaigns this year is also coming to a video clip near you.
There is a wonderfully irreverent site called Speechbreaker.co.uk that allows users to re-edit speeches by the three main party leaders. It’s quick and fun and you can post the results to YouTube. Some enterprising users are using alternative videos over which to dub the audio with some almost disturbing results, as you can see for yourself.
There is a lot of debate as to whether social media will play a truly significant role in the coming election or not. The nay-sayers point to the fact that we have no Obama-like figure around which support can coalesce and the short nature (less than four weeks) of the official general election campaign.
A key aspect of the social web is that it allows like-minded people, even those that are not politically active in the traditional sense, to build campaigns around a particular interest or objective. One such campaign is that gathering traction on the social web is a campaign to promote Liberal deputy leader Vince Cable as the post election Chancellor of the Exchequer. The campaign has a wiki, website, invincecable.org.uk, a slogan “In Vince Cable we Trust” and the inevitable hashtag #invincecable.
With the Liberal vote hovering around 19% this campaign surely has no chance having any impact. The Liberals just can’t win. Like many things it isn’t that simple. The latest polls point at a hung parliament. To avoid a second plebiscite a coalition government may be on the horizon. Any coalition would include Liberal Democrats. Whilst not exactly Obama-like Vince Cable is one of the few political figures in the UK that excites interest across the party lines.
The economic crisis will inevitably deepen as public spending falls after the poll. There is growing consensus that the economic challenges we face require a depth of economic understanding that Osborne, Darling (or Balls) just don’t have.
If the people say loud enough that they want Cable in Number 11 they might just get him.
Posts about elections and politics in general with a particular interest in how social media impacts on the political process.