This was not the social media election you’ve been waiting for

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.

3 thoughts on “This was not the social media election you’ve been waiting for

  1. I too thought that a lot of the social media coverage by politicians themselves (I particularly have the Labour Party in mind here) was bland, smug and irritating and it was unclear who all the grinning photographs of collected campaigners were actually FOR. I did organise one small event which used Twitter in a way which I think was slightly different: instead of collecting together loads of campaigners Hall Green CND (Brum) collected the local candidates from four different parties, and some of their teams, to collectively campaign one morning in a local shopping centre about just one point: getting rid of Trident (This was triggered by the ultimately winning Labour candidate in our area having made an extraordinary hustings speech which, roughly sumarised, was ‘I’m a 100% pro-Trident: ‘nukes not nurses’ please’.) https://twitter.com/Tev3man/status/594487291520929792 There was a lot of friendly chit-chat over this, on Twitter, and posting up of photos by politicians of the different parties who had worked together that morning.

    However, I thought that where social media really came into its own was in (1) detailed blog reports of local hustings events: something the local press was not really covering. and (2) on-line hustings, also organised by a lot of blogs, with candidates making statements and/or answering questions. I think in this way the so-called ‘hyper-locals’ (can we still use that phrase?) are continuing to pay a valuable role, and to help give the real lo-down on the politicians in their areas.

    • Thanks Julia

      I think you are right to highlight these areas of good practice. Noticeably, these are not being led by politicians themselves

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