Campaigning Online

First Published in Busnet on 8 April 2010

On 6th May, UK voters will go to the polls to decide one of the most closely contested elections in British history. Both major parties will be trying to win the approval of the ‘swing voter’ – those who have no party loyalty or are willing to change their allegiance.

In previous elections, a key moment has been the televised debates between the leaders of the top parties, however in this election the emphasis has shifted to social media. The major parties are convinced they can win more approval through facebook and twitter than by traditional canvassing (i.e. laboriously knocking on doors and asking if they can count on your vote).

Politicians have recognised that online networks provide the opportunity to position messages that are more intelligent and more creative than traditional communication channels allowed. They are hoping that the right idea in the right sub-group will lead to a rapid, spontaneous growth in their popularity. As individuals in business, we are also seeking an effective and affordable way to position our messages, so this election period could provide an opportunity for us to learn new approaches.

Consumer goods companies have used online marketing to build deep relationships with their customers for many years now. In addition to the original 4P’s of marketing (Product, Price, Place and Promotion) they now respect the 4P’s of Web2.0 marketing:

  • Personalisation – customising the message and the user experience
  • Participation – co-operating in an interactive and democratic way
  • Peer-to-peer – creating advocacy networks and communities
  • Predictive – modelling likely behaviour and spotting new trends as they emerge

Our expectation is that online political campaigning will be a poor imitation of the sophisticated consumer goods marketing we have seen since the emergence of online networks. Nevertheless, with much at stake and huge budgets to spend before 6th May, the politicians may still surprise us with some ‘best practice’ methods.

One of the subtle success drivers of online campaigning is that it should be ‘mutually beneficial’ and British politicians, of all people, will have come a long way if they can demonstrate this. Otherwise, their overtures are likely to remain as unwelcome as the smiling ‘human spam’ that pitches up on your doorstep at election time!

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James writes lifestyle books and blog articles as a hobby. In his principal role, he is as a specialist in business modelling as a process for empowering business decision-makers and unlocking business value.

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