A quintessentially British ‘social media’ election

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Many people have been describing the UK’s general election this year as the first ‘social media’ election. I don’t think it’s quite been the same revolution in politics as was referred to about Obama’s campaign in 2008 but it has done a few things:

1. The use of social networking has boosted & driven our conversations and news about the campaign

A while ago I saw this funny picture making fun of Second Life (the virtual online world):

Get a first life spoofOne of the things I find often difficult to explain to people who don’t ‘get’ social media is that one of the best things about it is that it enhances your interactions in the ‘real world’. For example, I am a fan of a local community theatre on Facebook – I’ve been to see far more plays in the last 6 months because of the updates I get from that than I ever have before. During this election campaign, activity on social networks has produced excellent news stories and spilled over into face to face conversations with my friends – that wouldn’t have happened otherwise.

2. It’s been brilliant for satire and spoofs

Lots of fun gadgets have been created which make it easier than ever to spoof election posters and different political figures. My favourite and probably the pioneering site for this campaign was http://mydavidcameron.com with one of the best posters being:

3. Twitter & Facebook enhanced the TV debates

Watching the TV debates (the first of their kind) was great fun if you watched the comments on Twitter, Facebook & the TV channel websites alongside it. It was like watching TV with thousands of other people. Instantaneous reactions appeared, witty comments and the TV companies had quick vote buttons on their websites where you could see instant approval ratings. The TV debates were arguably the defining moment of this campaign but their impact would have been far lower had people not been going online in their droves to express their views.

This screen capture was taken during the BBC debate and made the front page of a number of newspapers the following day (this spread like wildfire on Twitter during the debate):

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I don’t think that social media has been effectively used by candidates for campaigning in the way that Obama’s team used it. What social media has enabled during this campaign, however, is:

  • instantaneous responses from the electorate (witness ‘bigotgate’)
  • feeding of the news and then enabling news stories to be shared more widely than ever
  • brilliantly creative satire – and not just from the ‘usual suspects’ but from the ordinary voter

I think some of this shows how quintessentially British our use of social media has been in this campaign. Unlike in America, where it was used to campaign, here, in Blighty, we’ve used it largely for making jokes!

What the impact on the ballot box will be remains to be seen…

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