Thursday, January 29, 2009

Are No. 10 Tweets Party Political? And if not why not?

I revisited Bob Franklin's argument of the blurring of information and party politics last night and today found the perfect example. No 10 Downing Street has a twitter feed, it basically tells read followers what Gordon Brown is doing, for example "PM has spoken of the importance of the digital industry in a speech on "Digital Britain" - read more at from web" and often does respond to followers' questions. However one interesting response to a question asking why the PM is talking about the NHS and not MPs' expenses issue is "The matter you refer to is a party political / Parliamentary one - as civil servants I'm afraid we cannot comment on this". Now where is the line here. Is GB talking about a new constitution for the NHS party political, well it is clearly promotional and demonstrates activity on an institution close to the public heart. Also the inclusion of a link draws followers towards a page on the No 10 website that is even more promotional: the NHS under Labour offers more choice, pledges for access to drugs and specialist care, ok it never mentions a party but it clearly promotes the government which is run by a party. So, by the same token, why would any statement on any other issue suddenly be party political if the NHS is not? While it would be wrong for the feed to include attacks on David Cameron or the Conservatives, as that is clearly party politics, where is the fine line that the authors of the tweets are treading?

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Are we expecting too much?

There has been a lot of negative comments about the beta version of Labourlist, particularly from among the Conservative bloggers. Less has been said about their Blue Blog, but essentially both have the same raison d'etre. The aim of both is to promote the respective parties and their policies. Derek Draper, the strategist behind Labourlist told the media: "I am building a site for 60 million people, not 60 bloggers" which is perhaps an odd claim. Why odd, well it is doubtful that there are 60 million people who are interested enough in politics to read the words of elected representatives or party members? The Blue Blog gains very little in the way of comments; Labourlist is doing better in that respect, 18 comments on a post that tells members not to be disheartened by the polls (including one essay). The webmasters also seems to be allowing all comments, or at least it is not a place to find purely positive messages. What is wrong with Blue Blog? It seems to be dominated by very serious statements from senior Conservatives, that may not be a bad thing but will only attract a certain type of visitor. Labourlist is more random in terms of content, so perhaps some grab greater attention than others appearing more like Labourhome and Libdem Voice. Also it is new and was hyped by the media, so perhaps there will be more interest. But is there a long term pull factor with either site and can either engage anymore than the normal website is a big question. Chances are Labourlist could well be successful as a portal for members, some of whom may be mobilised to a greater extent due to the site when they are required to come out and canvas for the party at the next election; the problem is though that it can be attacked by flamers and trollers and so used to undermine the brand. The Blue Blog seems to be more of an information portal, it offers the same opportunities for opponents, but seems of more use to journalists and those keenly involved in the party and its political platform than a wider audience. With the former, if it is a supporters network why make it public; with the latter why make policy announcements in blog format? Both are interesting despite the attacks, but neither currently seem to be attracting the interactivity the creators seem to desire - as for recreating the Obama phenomenon that is a real pipe dream!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

And its about style

Jon Stewart of Comedy Central's The Daily Show does an amusing critique of Obama's persona during press conferences compared to those of his soon to be predecessor.

What is remarkable is the difference, the respect paid to journalists, the honesty and transparent style - in particular saying it would be disingenuous to suggest there would be no political appointments to ambassadorships. It suggests a different style of presidency consistent with his change and man of the people brand. It also suggests a more controlled and measured President. Bush appears to spend a significant amount of time thinking on his feet and getting it wrong. Obama also shows he is thinking on his feet, he may face criticism for appearing to pause and think, but this may also show he is considering not just what the answer is but how to phrase it. It is a style which will be important, he will face the media a lot and the way he faces the tough questions will be increasingly important. As Stewart says there are some areas where he needs to up his game but he also needs to keep that humility.

Its the look

If you are President, you must look like a President, and have a beast of a car worthy of office. No environmentally friendly car for the leader of the US, but a top of the range and special 'Beast' of a Cadillac build to special personal specifications. It exudes wealth and power, but is this consistent with a man of the people?

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Twitter as campaign tool

Is Twitter a service for those who feel their everyday lives may be interesting for others, or is it something that can be used to build networks. It is an interesting question, I joined up simply to see what others are doing and then finding my self searching for profound things to stick into the status bar, I then often ask myself why I did that. However i note that in PR circles there is much discussion of how it can be used as a relational tool. For me it depends if you have interesting links to share, or things to say, and an audience. Many of those tasks can be completed via Facebook, delicious, FriendFeed just as well so what is different about Twitter? To be honest I am not sold, though i note some exploring the potential. One example I Graham Watson MEP. He joined December 9th, Twitters infrequently so far but has now launched a campaign to be President of the European Parliament. He is currently following 910 with less than 200 of those following him. However, in his quest to have the "first ever public campaign for the presidency: in this I hope that I will set a precedent" he may need those he is following to covert to being followers. This allows him to have access to a network of advocates who will forward on his links. While inefficient it suggests a strategy of locating Twitter users with an interest in politics (hence the 910 figure) in the hope they will return the favour, watch his updates and follow links. Obama is using exactly the same tactic to try to have a day of community action to coincide with his inauguration - be it cleaning parks or great public works he wants things to signify a new dawn in America, Twitter is used to remind his supporters to get involved and promote the day. One wonders to what extent the parties will try to harness this during an election campaign?

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Are widgets interactive?

I like this, in some ways, in others I am unsure. But the ideas behind this is to encourage interaction, or at least a form of interaction. Interactivity-as-product allows web users to shape their web spaces, interact with the site by choosing what to see, where to go and what to take away.
The WebCabinet can be embedded across any website and, essentially is a way of getting a message across to a wider audience. And it has worked, even the Conservative supporting blogger Dizzy embedded it as it made him laugh! But is this the sort of interactivity that voters want from a political party or would they prefer to enter into public dialogue on substantive issues as opposed to sharing in an attack on the opposition? It is a question?

Monday, January 12, 2009

Credit where it is due

When I heard that the Conservatives were launching a campaign raising the profile (it it needed it) of their argument against Labour's attempt to reverse the recession I was a little sceptical. 'Labour's debt crisis' could have been a cheap attack, and the use of a baby well the mind boggled. But I actually think it is quite a clever ad.

The poster is fairly cute strategically. But the Youtube ad (above) uses some quite compelling imagery that could have a long term effect. The use of Labour's colour of red to signify danger harks back to that attack on Blair (Demon Eyes) but is much more clever. The way the red bleeds into the image accompanying the message about the level of debt that future generations will suffer does not have the lack of believeability that controversial poster had. Equally the message of 'babies' deserving better, the image of a blue sky and the phrase now for a change are an equally compelling combination of visuals and words that encapsulate the brand positioning of the Conservatives. Of course it is pure marketing communication and relies on two things, whether the floating voters trust the untested Cameron or Brown; and whether Cameron's alternative is seen as better. However a clever ad!

Friday, January 09, 2009

Palin: How Obama Won

A fascinating interview that has been canned by PR Junkie, which calls this as proof that she needs media training. However there are actually some interesting points, on whether a candidate's family should be foregrounded by the media and particularly that anonymous bloggers should not be used as sources of fact.

But some of the lines she defends, such as when asked what media she reads saying 'all of them'; and suggesting had she been Obama's Vice President the voters would have loved her, tenuous? Yes perhaps she needs some advise on dealing with journalists such as Katie Couric. But it also raises some interesting questions about the role of the media within an election campaign and how low they should be allowed to go despite the fact Palin is not a great performer, and independent of her politics, there are some interesting points in this. If she does reappear as a candidate in 2012 could she celebrate her inability to perform in front of the media or emerge as a professional communicator?

Countering negative flak from the blogosphere

This is a flow chart devised by the US Air Force, not the most immediate target for negativity but nopw somethign of a priority for them. The flow chart is one that could be lifted and embedded into communication strategy by any organisation.
The strategy, as introduced to me, is this: It's all part of an Air Force push to "counter the people out there in the blogosphere who have negative opinions about the U.S. government and the Air Force," Captain David Faggard says. Over the last couple of years, the armed forces have tried, in fits and starts, to connect more with bloggers. The Army and the Office of the Secretary of Defense now hold regular "bloggers' roundtables" with generals, colonels, and key civilian leaders. The Navy invited a group of bloggers to embed with them on a humanitarian mission to Central and South America, last summer. Military blogger Michael Yon recently traveled to Afghanistan with Defense Secretary Robert Gates. In contrast, the Air Force has largely kept the blogosphere at arms' length. Most of the sites are banned from Air Force networks. And the service has mostly stayed away from the Pentagon's blog outreach efforts. Captain Faggard, who's become the Air Force Public Affairs Agency's designated social media guru, has made strides in shifting that attitude. The air service now has a Twitter feed, a blog of its own -- and marching orders, for how to comment on other sites. "We're trying to get people to understand that they can do this," he says. I'm guessign he is also getting people to understand its importance also! The obvious problem is that you end up doing nothing more than reacting, but perhaps every organisation, and especially every party during the general election, will have to decide how to deal with attacks on blogs, which ones to respond to and which to ignore and how to cope with what is likely to become a co-produced campaign experience where everyone contributes something somewhere that has an impact on someone elses' political choice making.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Do endorsements from rappers matter?

And it is just a question! Perhaps one of the really novel events within the US presidential election contest was the creation of supportive videos and music independently of the campaign. Not just the rather naff Obama Girl, though that got a lot of coverage for him and for Obama Girl herself, but Will-i-am's Yes We Can. The novelty was that Obama's words had been inserted into the song making him appear as more than simply a politician on the victory trail but also a performer in his own right. A new song has appeared, My Flag which can be downloaded free here and is being promoted online. It does not yet have a Youtube video but it is interesting that there remains an impetus and enthusiasm to promote Obama in ways we would not normally consider as fitting with electioneering and campaigning. While much rests on his ability to deliver, if this continues it could be a highly significant arm of his permanent campaign: one he can do nothing about but is supportive of him as President. Does it matter, I think so, the fact that a DJ singer and rap artist is prepared to not just sample Obama but to build a song around his support and love for the President elect is a message to others like Jay and to wider society.

Monday, January 05, 2009

An unwise attack or honest opposition?

A often used technique in political campaigning is to build a fake website, in your opponent's name or something close, and then use it to undermine that opponent. While it is fairly obvious that the website is the creation of the opposition, it always has the veneer of being unofficial and can be denied if pushed. WebCabinet is a dig at the Conservatives, it has the shape of a chat room and in it leading Conservatives are supposedly chatting candidly about the way they are deceiving the public by offering tax cuts (see the pic you get the idea).
The odd thing is that it is actually embedded within Labour's official website with logo and everything and invites visitor to get involved. Now it can be applauded for being an honest attack, but it also links it directly to the party. It can also be seen as somewhat childish, perhaps not something we would want the party of government to produce, so perhaps an own goal. Whatever the verdict, depending on if it gets any airing in the media, it proves that Labour is proving the believe that old adage that the best means of attack is defence is correct, however should a government defend itself by purely by making its case or is this an appropriate weapon in the political campaigner's arsenal? In an age of cynicism it may hit the right chord or it might turn voters away from politics all together as both sides increase their attacks; the academic jury is out.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Images of the future

Ok, so its been a while, and it feels longer, but to be honest real politics has been a little boring. It is hard to see innovation without following Obama, and UK politics has descended into a tit for tat battle over who would run the country better. Sometimes interesting but I wonder how much this permanent (propaganda-style) campaigning actually turns voters off. However, and better late than never, I found a great article in the Independent on how an general election campaign may look if one is called in 2009 [as an aside Gordon Brown said on the Andrew Marr Show this morning that his first priority was the economy and an election could not be further from his mind, but he still refused to rule a contest out in 2009]. Anyway back to the story, basically they approached six advertising agencies and asked them what key messages may be prioritised. They chose, and I reproduce the best visual - the new 'Wiggy', (originally done to William Hague) but interestingly it is all negative. The Conservatives would criticise Labour for economic mismanagement, the image of Brown and Darling as Laurel and hardy I could see appearing, while all Labour can really do is undermine the image of the Conservatives as having changed.

My hope is that this image does not translate into reality. While it would be fun to see amusing images of party leaders and notables doctored is a campaign the place and should the Conservatives only attack. The agencies seem to think so, possibly because they cannot think of a positive message synonymous with Cameron's Conservatives, possibly because they see that as the easiest way to win an election. But could this strategy backfire? One of the key observations about the US Election was that McCain was overwhelmingly negative and personal in his attacks, Obama meanwhile compared his 'newness' with the 'system' while slowly become more policy heavy. The Conservatives need to show they offer a change for the better and not just that the current government are (for the want of a better word) crap. Public opinion may not agree that all the economic problems are the fault of Brown and Darling, equally they will not trust a party that simply attacks. The big challenge is what message can Brown offer that will be believed. It seems few (or at least not those floating voters that may decide an election) believe Labour have delivered improvements to the country. Hence we find just one suggestion, the updated Wiggy, the biggest communication challenge for Brown is find a positive message that has resonance with the non-aligned voter!