David Cameron on the campaign trail

April 7, 2010

Just before the election was called, there were some very interesting articles about David Cameron and the UK Tory Party’s approach to online campaigning. The Tories (like most opposition parties, such as the Democrats with Obama in 2008, and Labor in 2007 with Kevin 07) are being quite innovative and creative with their online activities.

A lot of what he is doing is fairly standard fair, but amazingly it is only being slowly adopted by governing parties.

For example, the Tories campaign is using Google Ads effectively:

Within seconds, anyone Googling “boilers” or using the phrase in Gmail will find a link to a “prebuttal” budget document on the Conservatives’ home page — a rolling response, updated in real time as the Chancellor speaks. Once Darling sits down, Osborne’s aides race to read the giant document supporting the speech, pulling together an official response within the hour, which is in turn rolled out through a further set of Google ads.

Cameron also pioneered UK politicians using YouTube to bypass the mainstream media and speak directly to voters (and in the process, generate a lot of free media coverage).

The very first clip was to be of the Tory leader at home with his family. Cameron and Hilton debated the risks: let the public into your house and you may never get them out. But they went for it. On Saturday September 30, 2006, the day conference opened, The Guardian’s headline declared: “Tories unveil their secret weapon: webcameron”. It was a radical step: conferences normally kick off with a big policy announcement, not a YouTube clip. The videos themselves were even more unusual: a strikingly intimate portrait, complete with Cameron wearing rubber gloves as he talked politics doing the dishes.

Furthermore, Cameron’s MPs have also engaged with social media, as this Facebook example shows:

As the Conservative candidate for the marginal seat of Dover and Deal, he had become used to odd questions. Even so, this Facebook message was unusual. Elphicke scribbled a reply: he was, he said, against it. But who wanted to know? The correspondent turned out to be an 18-year-old pupil from Dover Grammar, who had Googled Elphicke’s website and followed the link to Facebook.

Questions from other pupils followed –“Why isn’t there anything in Dover for us to do at night?” asked one — and before long Elphicke was using his Facebook page to connect with his young constituents. One set up a Facebook group to help him get elected, which now has 71 fans. A few dozen volunteered for his campaign.

However, the Tories have been criticised for spending huge amounts of money on their social media efforts, including several unsuccessful campaigns that had little return on investment.

This is something to watch out for: you don’t need to spend millions of dollars (or even large sums) to use social media to engage with your supporters and voters in general. You should also be careful about jumping on every social media fad that comes along.

This article is part of my Project 52 posts – one post per week over the year.

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