May 7, 2010Social media fails to make an impact on British politics

If you live in the UK you can’t have failed to notice there’s an election going on. I say going on, because for the first time in a generation, it hasn’t produced a decisive result in terms of forming a government. But that’s not the only area of indecision. Before the results were in, even leading political bloggers such as Iain Dale were reporting that the internet played a minimal role in the campaign — in stark contrast to many social media, marketing and web experts (including myself) who were confident this would be the UK’s first “internet election” with blogging, viral video and even twitter playing a major role in the campaign.

Last week, it was widely assumed that television was the defining factor in the campaign — with the first ever televised debates giving the Liberal Democrats, Britain’s third party, a substantial campaign boost. But that didn’t happen, either. Although “Cleggmania” saw Nick Clegg and his party gain a brief poll boost, they actually lost seats on the night. So if social media didn’t win it, it doesn’t look like television won it, either.

Social media brought very little to the campaign.

Antony Calvert’s Obama-style internet led fundraising drive, while interesting, failed to unseat the Labour incumbent, Ed Balls. But moreover The Sunlight Centre’s extremely negative online attack video, heavily publicized on local news websites with paid-for ads, failed to make an impact either.

Facebook Privacy Concerns

In fact, the only really surprising news was when Facebook put its foot in it again with a colossal breach of privacy —  encouraging facebook users to take part in a poll which showed their friends who they voted for — a massive faux pas in a democracy where the right to a secret ballot is sacrosanct.

I’ve become so concerned about Facebook privacy breaches of late I’ve stripped all information out of my profile — Facebook’s constant push to share more data publicly has gone way beyond what’s acceptable to me and this latest example of a cavalier attitude to privacy has only confirmed my concerns.

So where did it all go wrong for the web — and social media?

There’s a great analysis of how the internet affected the General Election here, from one of the BBC’s tech bloggers. He argues that social media played an important part, noting that “A YouGov survey found that a quarter of 18-24-year-olds had commented on politics via social networks.”

But there was no killer blow.

In fact, for me, the only really interesting internet news is that Guido Fawkes, arguably Britain’s leading political blogger, has finally switched allegiances and come out in favour of using Twitter — although he has railed against how it’s not a representative sample of the population at large.

I’ve held off using Twitter to market myself because I haven’t managed to find a use for it that benefits my customers / readers rather than merely advertises me — and I’m a firm believer that my marketing should provide value to customers, rather than merely push advertising / marketing on them — this blog, for example, aims to provide information rather than just sell my services.

I may have to re-think my marketing strategy in the light of one of Britain’s leading bloggers switching sides. But I’ve no intention of spamming you with ads or spending my life updating you on the minutiae of my life. I may start a twitter feed linking you to what I’m reading every day. Then again, I may find something more useful to do with my time. Like, say, work!

It’s been a bad election for social media. It hasn’t been a great election for television, either. It seems that old fashioned word of mouth and door-to-door campaigning have been the most important ways of communicating. That’s something every so-called “social media expert” should be paying attention to.

Social media isn’t the silver bullet many marketers claim it is.

It may improve campaigns, but it hasn’t replaced old-fashioned offline campaigns


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This entry was posted on Friday, May 7th, 2010 at 9:29 pm and is filed under Blog, Social Media. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.


  1. Sam says:

    Sad news for the Liberal Democrats. With no dice from the Tories and with Labour-Nationalists less enticing than a St. Pauls street whore, a big enough facebook group is their only hope left for any real power.

  2. al says:

    It’s been a surprising few days for the lib dems hasn’t it?

    I’m genuinely optimistic about this new government, hoping it will combine the best in the liberal tradition from both parties and cut off the radical socialist / reactionary authoritarian wings of both parties — could we get a freedom-loving government that believes in cutting taxes, starting with the poorest first?

    Hope so. But I guess we’ll just have to wait…

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