Sometimes the ever changing nature of the internet can seem overwhelming, sometimes it isn’t even noticed. One thing we can all agree on is the growing influence of the internet on our daily lives. People from all walks of life use the internet to engage with whatever they’re interested in, and usually trends come with the times. The November election will require political parties to adopt social media strategies to entertain the changing attitudes and behaviours of young (and older) voters. It shouldn’t be seen as a frustrating new medium to overcome, but rather an opportunity to engage with voters via a medium that subverts traditional media.
The New Zealand Herald published an article relating to social media use on Monday, setting out that half the adult US population now use social networks. This compares with eight percent in 2005, a dramatic shift in general habits that we often overlook. This study obviously doesn’t focus on New Zealanders’ use, though it seems reasonable to assume the statistics would look somewhat similar.
Of course social networking is not the only new medium gaining in popularity. Political blogs such as The Standard are gaining in readership as people hunger for a broader perspective on what’s going on. Clare Curren created a stir on Red Alert recently with her emotionally charged ‘The Importance of being Labour’ posts. Imperator Fish looks into the issue of whether Red Alert is damaging Labour. A worthy read which I will take a few quotes from,
The challenge with using social media is that it’s dynamic, fluid and collaborative. You can carefully craft a press release on a policy and send it forth into the world to be debated by media commentators, analysts and bloggers alike, but when you stick something up in your site and let people comment you’re allowing the public to give you direct and instant feedback. That should be good in theory, and we should welcome this form of participatory democracy, but the trouble is that if only one of the two main parties does it while the other continues to issue anodyne and polished releases, the impression can be created that a whole pile of people don’t like one particular party’s policies or personnel.”
The other trouble is that I don’t think Labour has yet worked out how to use social media effectively. People don’t like negativity in their politicians, so overly negative posts just invite counterattack. If you have a crack at someone and then arm their supporters with the means to swipe back (i.e. a loosely moderated comments policy), then of course they will.”
There is some great points in this, and I agree that National not participating in the same way as Labour could be considered a challenge. That is no reason to stop however, if anything, the exercise Labour is taking with Red Alert offers them a chance to dip their toes in the social media waters before being forced to take a dive as no doubt all political parties will this (or next) election.
“How the web shaped the Australian election” is a short article on social media during the last Australian Election, here are some relevant highlights,
“MySpace’s Australian general manager, Rebekah Horne, said that after nearly 12 years of the same political party in charge, more public engagement in the political process was needed. “There was a whole generation of people removed from the political space,” Ms Horne said. She believes the high level of political participation on social networking websites such as MySpace and Facebook has shown that we’ve gone some way towards reaching that goal.”
YouTube has proven to have been very popular for most political parties during the Australian campaign, with several policy announcements first being released online. Ms Horne believes the success of Labor and the Greens has been a result of them embracing and participating with social networks. “Kevin Rudd is as popular as the effort he puts in – that’s the key to social networking. He is engaged on all social networks and he’s reaping the rewards,” Ms Horne said. “I’m quite surprised that the Liberal Party haven’t been as engaged.”
It would be prudent to first note the Liberal Party failed to adopt social media strategies like Labour and the Greens, and an argument has been put forward that they paid a price. Can we draw parallels with National’s lacking strategy toward social media? Are conservatives scared of the community power found in social media? It is an interesting consideration.
What can be discerned from the above quote is that social networking is only going to become more ingrained in political campaigning. An article in the Southland Times, titled ‘Internet action heats up’ focuses on the use of social media for the upcoming campaign (no link available). Clearly there is growing interest in how political parties will choose to interact with social media this November, and with the growing participation of our population in social media it must be an interaction that is nurtured and engaging.
The left has an opportunity at this election to step out ahead of the right via innovative campaigning on social media. The left has the chance to build a platform of engagement with the community, and thankfully the left generally attracts people wanting to be engaged in a community. The right has this opportunity too, will they take it? They probably don’t need to bother, or at least that must be the attitude they have.
How can Labour and the Greens create a campaign to engage New Zealanders over social media? A very pertinent question in the coming weeks, and one that could be crucial to their level of success at this election.