Labour's hierarchy appear to be falling over themselves to have a social media presence. We find an 'independent' site campaigning for http://www.myspace.com/hazel4deputy while Peter Hain's http://www.myspace.com/peter_hain is openly his own. The BBC claims others such as Hilary Benn, Alan Johnson and Harriet Harman also have a profile but they appear to be hard to find. Facebook is also being utilised, but you have to register to find 'friends' and quite frankly I couldn't be bothered.
Social Media consultant Lee Odden talks of a holistic approach to marketing and that online communication should be part of a coordinated strategy. Is this the case, well perhaps. While there are a number of politicians that have successfully embraced the online environment as a form of communication, it seems that Webcameron has created a bandwagon where everyone thinking of campaigning is heading to their PCs first and trying to 'engage'. Will it work, who knows. The general argument (or criticism) is where is the pull factor? But Hazel Blears seems to be attracting a small group of supporters, could this be the beginning of a new stage in the professionalisation of political communication. That rather than being just in the local press, the national media, a serious MP needs to have a not just a website or a public email address but also a Wikipedia entry, a Facebook and Myspace profile, Podcasts on Youtube, a blog and whatever the next stage will be as well? Are we witnessing the birth of political communication via social media?
But there are problems. Are we all then to measure success through hits, friends etc. For a researcher it may make life simpler, we could produce spurious correlations between the Youtube view counter, the blogspot profile views and poll ratings (cool!), but will it prove anything? Is the next election likely to see an explosion in this, and links made between a successful online presence and success in the voting booths, or will this all implode as either users take over control of content or the views are so few it becomes an embarrassment? Questions, questions, questions!!!