In recent months the prominence of the internet in elections has become increasingly evident. With increasing numbers of voters using the internet the need to get your online campaigning strategy right is more important than ever before.
In the 2008 London Mayoral elections I spotted that both Conservative Boris Johnson and Liberal Democrat Brian Paddick were using the Facebook pages service, with Brian running Facebook and Google adverts. I immediately set up a page for Labours Ken Livingstone and at that time Boris had around 5,000 supporters and Brian around 1,000.
By election day Boris had over 9,000 supporters, Brian around 2,300 and Ken nearly 3,000. By not being there at the beginning and without a clear link with Ken’s only profile page a huge opportunity to reach out to supporters was missed. With Facebook pages I was able to easily email supporters who had signed up to the page and their support was clearly demonstrated on their own Facebook profile in a box that shows which pages they are subscribed to.
During the election I spent many hours collecting, sorting and delivering leaflets – many of which would have gone straight into the recycling. On election day I spent the whole day knocking on hundreds of doors of people who were mostly out and would be surprised if I reached more than a hundred to remind them to vote.
When I set up the Facebook page for Ken it must have taken less than an hour. On election day his page had over 1,000 views and over 13,000 in 8 weeks. If the page had been officially recognised with fresh content of photographs and video footage added on a regular basis the number of views would have been even higher. Discussion boards could have been used to garner opinion on key issues and the emailing facility used to encourage supporters to help with the campaign and keep them informed of progress.
It seems ridiculous spending so much time attempting to reach those who in the majority are not interested and no time at all on those who clearly are looking for the information within their network. It is not sufficient to just create a website you need to go their networks creating facebook pages, a blog and create a YouTube Channel. Each time you add new content to your site it is then quick and easy to add this to the appropriate network as well.
I am not suggesting that because the Facebook page was not utilised properly that Ken Livingstone lost the election. I am not suggesting that Facebook replaces leaflets and other traditional forms of campaigning. The fact is though, with very little effort, new technologies can be used to reach potential and current supporters. If you do not utilise these and keep abreast of how they are changing and the opportunities these changes give you – your opponents will.
In my experience the politicians who claim that online is not important this is more to do with their lack of knowledge and fear of the technology. What I say to them is that you do not have to understand everything, but trust those that do, and spare some of your very busy time to learn what you can. If you do not you will have a lot more time on your hands when the opponent who is ahead of the game beats you.
The campaign for 2012 London election has started already with the creation of the Boris Watch Facebook Page.
Update: 4 May: Boris Watch Facebook page now has over 1,000 fans, it took 24 days to reach that number of supporters for the Ken Livingstone page that I set up during the election campaign. Clearly the level of passion and interest is currently at its highest, however it is also interesting that a negative page (against Boris) should grow faster than a positive page (for Ken).