Social media in the political arena

Parliament House, Canberra

Since the 2008 USA election when Obama demonstrated to politicians and governments around the world how to use social media successfully and how to access previously uninterested young voters, the majority of politicians, governments and their opposition on all continents are now actively engaged with stakeholders and the general public via a number of social networking sites.

In week seven we discussed how social media has changed the world of politics forever.  We discussed in the tutorial the impact of citizen journalism and how social media is now an integral part of an election campaign.  Obama used social media to inform and persuade voters about his policies but a key driver to his success was also his ability to raise a large amount of funds for his campaign as well as creating a personal connection with each voter through YouTube, Facebook, email, Twitter, blogs and texting.  His own campaign social network my.barackobama.com allowed all of his supporters to connect to him and to each other.  This did not mean that he stopped touring the USA but it did mean that his supporters and voters could follow him online and they no longer had to wait for national news updates.   His strategy included setting up a profile on sites where he could easily connect with his target audiences such as Asian.Ave and BlackPlanet.com. As the first to do this he was breaking new ground at a time when voters wanted a better world  and an understanding of the next President.  Obama was also able to control and manage his messages quickly following any poll results or trends.  10 social media lessons from the Obama campaign

In 2012 Obama’s experienced social media team used the information gained from online subscribers to proactively communicate to different demographic and psychographic groups.  Obama had to ensure that he maintained good relationships with followers and encouraged supporters to convey his messages through their social media activities.

During the Australian election campaign in 2010 social media played an important role but not to the same extent as it had in the USA elections of 2008 and 2012.  Since voting is compulsory in Australia and campaign funding operates differently, perhaps it will be some time before the impact of social media becomes so important.  A social media study (see table below) by Jim MacNamara shows that Australian politicians were communicating via the most popular social networking sites of Facebook and Twitter. This study highlighted that the communication type for the most part was one way.

Social media

2007

2010

% change

Personal Web site

137

157

14.6%

Twitter

0

92

9200.0%

Facebook

8

146

1725.0%

YouTube

13

34

161.5%

MySpace

26

9

-65.4%

Blogs

15

29

93.3%

Flickr

0

9

900.0%

E-surveys

24

7

-70.8%

E-petitions

10

3

-70.0%

E-newsletter

42

78

85.7%

Total online   sites/activities

275

564

105.1%

Change in the number of politicians using various social media from 2007 to 2010.

In the 2013 Australian election the same rules apply for voting and fundraising but the political leaders have decided to put in place social media campaigns.  Kevin Rudd is using Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, Facebook and has adapted Obama’s strategy of encouraging volunteers to campaign online.  Some of the tactics and even some of the team who worked on the Obama social media campaign are now being used by kruddmp.  Tony Abbott, although less active in social networking has been much more active on Twitter since the 2010 election and has successfully gained numerous social media mentions often for his mistakes, alleged fake Twitter followers or photo opportunities which did not happen as they should have.

Online news sites are also playing a key role in the roll out of the 2013 election campaigns with online forums which focus on several different areas of the main party policies.  Polls and analysis are updated daily.

Even with all this social media activity it is clear that the Australian Election is unlikely to be won or lost due to social media.  Social media is clearly integrated into the strategies of both Kevin Rudd and Tony Abbott but the connection and relationship building with voters has a long way to go to meet the level of Obama’s campaign.  As with the Obama campaign social network sites are part of a range of media tools for communication.  A plan is required to ensure that all audiences can be addressed 24/7.  Actual policies will of course determine the outcome.   In recent Australian elections it has been difficult to really learn what these policies were, as leaders played the personality political agenda and  “I can do better than you” game.  Social media communication is only as good as the communicator but it is rapid and this makes the politic task of staying on message much more difficult.

 
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