Saturday, 13 February 2010


An interesting debate is going on in the PR industry; the hot topic is the “impact of new media in politics”. Recent articles in The Guardian, The Daily Telegraph and Reuters UK all seem to be analysing the impact new media will have on the 2010 General Elections in the UK. I think Barack Obama’s successful online campaign during U.S. presidential election in 2008 is one of the best examples to illustrate the fact that new media provides a real time opportunity in front of political parties to proactively engage and converse with their stakeholders. This blog attempts to analyse why and how politicians are using the new media to influence their target audience.

How and why politicians are using the new media?

Emphasise: Political parties can use new media to reiterate their core message along with traditional media. For example, Webcameron is a website where Conservative leader David Cameron has been talking to voters since 2006 and has been emphasising the fact that Conservatives are much more capable of running the country than the Labour. Labour on the other hand is doing the same thing through its website

Reach new audience: Platforms like Twitter, Facebook and YouTube enables them to reach a different segment of the target audience i.e. youth which is hard to reach through traditional media. For example, the Labour Party in Feb 2009 launched a system to integrate Labour MPs' websites with Twitter and Facebook.

Influence: Online advocacy (26%) is becoming the most influential channel for European consumers. Hence, political parties can influence their target audience using this medium of communication. For example, Labour party was first to start inviting bloggers to press conferences.

Speed: When Cameron launched the conservative party’s election campaign in early January this year in Oxfordshire; his “new media” team alerted tens of thousands of followers through instant updates on Facebook and Twitter. They also provided the followers with a link to the full speech so that they could download it. Political bloggers were briefed before they gave their instant analysis on to the web and Films were put on YouTube. Thus, with just the press of a button, politicians can reach millions of people within seconds.

Direct reach and Flexibility: Unlike traditional media where the messages need to pass through gatekeepers (the media), new media offers an opportunity for politicians to reach their voters directly. Moreover, it gives politicians the flexibility to change their approach as and when required. For example, David Cameron had an individual account which has been shut down at the request of Tory HQ. The webpage asks its visitors to follow conservative’s webpage for latest updates. The reason as Cameron explains is that it’s hard to convey complicated messages in just 140 characters.


I think new media cannot be seen as an end in itself rather it should be seen as a tool to amplify the message. Although 70% of households in the UK have access to internet but the real question is what percentage of this 70% is new media literate. Also, credibility is another issue which needs to be considered. Weber Shandwick’s INLINE communications research highlights that 40% of Europeans do not believe what they read on new media. Although, I think new media will definitely play an important role in 2010 general elections in the UK but political parties need to be conscious of the fact that they cannot simply rely on the power of new media. In fact, they need to adopt an integrated approach where all the channels of communications (traditional and new media) send across a simple and consistent message.

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