Monday, April 26, 2010

This. Is. Powerful. Stuff.

When Labour MP Kerry McCarthy was named Labour’s ‘Twitter Tsar’ back in August last year, several commentators rightly predicted that this year would see the UK’s very first ‘Social Media’ election.

Indeed, we now have a glut of MPs and parliamentary candidates tweeting about their campaign trail; the electorate can ‘like’ or become a fan of a political party on Facebook; the Liberal Democrats released an iPhone app to coincide with their manifesto launch – Social Media really has become the playground in which we, the general public, are being wooed.

But whilst this spate of activity highlights the possibilities of branding, marketing and mass communication, it has been another element of the forthcoming election that has really highlighted the incredible importance of Social Media as a real-time communications platform – the much-publicised Leaders’ Debates.

In similar vein to BBC Question Time (Twitter users regular tweet their opinions on the show as it is aired using the hashtag #BBCqt), the Leaders’ Debates have drawn a staggering amount of real-time comment, debate and interaction, using the hashtag ‘#leadersdebate’. Similar communities of people do exactly the same for Match of the Day, Doctor Who – the list really is limitless. But the Leaders’ Debates have drawn such a level of engagement that really is difficult to ignore.

People are once again engaging with politics in the UK – this fact is impossible to deny. There has been a huge surge in people registering to vote, which although most likely fuelled by a desire for change, once again shows how involving this election campaign is turning out to be.

But what this Social Media interaction really shows is how online channels such as Twitter really are providing people a ‘voice’ like never before. Although in no way comparable to the liberating role Twitter played during the Iran election protests, the huge interest in this election is highlighted by the fact that people are using Social Media to talk about it – and Social Media affords everyone a voice – one of the most fundamental principles of democracy.

As a marketer, I don’t need to be told of the possibilities that Social Media holds for brands and businesses. But in our rush to create dynamic, commercially viable SM campaigns that deliver lashings of ROI, perhaps we should start every campaign looking at the core element highlighted by the Leaders’ Debates.

Social Media is a communications tool - where the user has the power.

As Social Media marketers, we do not dictate the conversation and no longer direct a one-way flow of communication. The consumer audience now has power like never before – they have a voice – and it is our job to ensure our voice is part of their conversations.


  1. Great post Callum. I completely agree that social media is playing a significant part in getting more and more people interested and involved in the election. A bit like how Obama galvanised support behind his presidential campaign.

    I'm not sure if you're following @ruskin147 - he's the BBC's technology reporter and is currently focusing on the election. He's written some great blogposts about online/social media response to the election. For example, here's a post about how the 2nd #leadersdebate unfolded online

  2. I think this raises some really interesting points Callum. The question that keeps on coming back to me is whether the level of noise about Social Media and democratisation is really true or whether the chattering classes have just become the twittering classes?

    I'd love to think that the existence of Social Media was engaging hitherto sceptical and disengaged voters, but I'm not sure whether that is strictly true. Much of the upsurge in registered voters is down to this being a crunch election as you point out.

    What I do think is different is the level of real time debate that actually shows the difference between the media "analysis" of the election and the public reaction.