With this being an election year in the US and the Canadian parliament always seemingly on the verge of an election, there have been a number of posts and reports recently on the use of social media and elections. Boyd Neil observes that political parties often lead the charge on using the web (and associated media) as an effective campaign tool. Neil asserts that corporate communication departments could learn a lot about using these media from their counterparts in politics. I completely agree. Perhaps its the "get the message out as fast as you can on any channel" mentality, but there is definitely a spirit of risk and intrepidness that you can sense on political parties and candidates websites. Typically, this kind of risk isn't taken with corporate communications campaigns/programs.
Bob, over at O'Blog, comments on both Neil's post and his own, that a key issue is that politicians often abandon their great social media efforts after the campaign is over. Another great point. This is one of my frustrations with Canadian politics. Why aren't we using more of these tools to continue the conversations started by the campaign? I get a lot of email from my political party of choice and it can be an effective tool, but it is so very uni-directional.
For additional reference, Neil points us to the Bivings Report (TBR) which has just released a study assessing the use of the Internet in 2006 political campaigns:
Ninety six percent of this year’s Senate candidates have active websites, while only 55 percent of candidates had websites in 2002. While most candidates use a set of core Web tools, the majority of candidates are refraining from using newer and more sophisticated Web strategies, such as blogs and podcasts, on their campaign websites. Only 23 percent of Senate candidates are blogging, just 15 percent offer Spanish alternatives to their websites, and an even smaller number of candidates, 5 percent, maintain podcasts. In contrast, between 90 percent and 93 percent of candidates offered biographies, contact information, and online donations on their websites.
So, while political parties are starting to embrace social media, there is still a long way to go. TBR has followed up with more indepth information on the 2006 US Senate race and the use of blogs. Interesting stuff!
TBR also has an article entitled "Participatory Podcasting: a new tool for political campaigns" (which you can imagine is near and dear to my heart). They point us to Waxxi, a startup which is specialising in interactive podcasts.
Mobile blogging tools as well as tools like Waxxi or Skype conference calls would be a way that politicians can keep in touch with their constituents. Can you imagine if your MP would post a question about an issue that was being debated on the floor, on her blog in real time - then could receive responses in a timely manner that enabled her to take constituent-supported action. This, of course, puts the onus not just on the politicians, but on the governed as well. Conversations/participation works both ways! Until we the people demand this kind of access to politicians and to influencing the issues, chances are social media will continue to be used only for the "quick hit" at campaign time, and not for sustained political dialogue.
Image from the Dalhousie Gazette