Several times during the General Election campaign I expressed my frustration and annoyance that the main use of social media by politicians seemed to be to tweet grinning selfies of themselves and their campaign teams accompanied by anodyne messages along the lines of “another great morning on the doorstep”. Apart from the fact that I never once saw anyone admitting to a difficult morning on the doorstep, I really don’t think this is a good use of social media at all. I have tweeted this to some politicians, and said it to others face-to-face. The response was usually that they considered this to be a good tool for proving to people that they were working hard on the ground. I disagree.
My alternative was to urge politicians to tell stories about what people said to them on the doorstep. I think this would be a much great contribution to political debate. And I have urged politicians to use social media to tell their own stories. Someone who did this was Naz Shah, the ultimately successful, Labour challenger to George Galloway in Bradford West. She told her story in public, and I think the public warmed to her as a result. Instead, most politicians prefer to pump out prepared versions of the party line. As Stephen Waddington has already suggested, this was not the social media election you have been waiting for.
A particular point of interest is that the Labour Party claimed to have had 5 million doorstep conversations during the campaign. 5 million conversations; just think of the stories that could have come out of those conversations if they had been prepared to tell them. And yet, despite 5 million conversations, they still didn’t see the comprehensive defeat coming. How does that work? Maybe they weren’t conversations at all. Perhaps the way politicians behave on social media is a reflection of how they operate offline too. If so, that is a measure of the challenge ahead, for all of them.