Thankyou to B&T
for publishing my op ed
on the YouTube election we never had. B&T trimmed the copy to fit the available space. Here's the full version as I submitted it:If you believe the talk, Australia is entering its first “YouTube election”, but why has anyone bothered?
This question seems strange, because most aspects of an election campaign have a very clear purpose and are scripted to within an inch of their life. For example, the parties only decide how to dole out their promises after they’ve determined exactly which voters are most likely to hand them the seats they need to win office. Likewise, they don’t sign off on a statement until they’ve predicted how everyone from the press to rival politicians will react. Nothing is left to chance.
Compare this precision to the way these parties are using social media in their campaigns. At best, they seem to have decided that social media is another way to get their message out. At worse, they look like they’ve been forced into MySpace by their own kids. Either way, the tremendous effort that we associate with most election campaigning is conspicuous by its absence. Instead, we have web marketing on a wing and a prayer: “Just whack your press releases up on MySpace — she’ll be right.”
It’s too late for our fearless leaders to change their approach to social media in this election, but for our own curiosity, let’s imagine what could have been done.
In this election, John Howard must convince us he still has new ideas. That involves focusing on areas that we don’t usually associate with his government, such as Aboriginal affairs and the environment. His government’s take-over of the Murray-Darling Basin could have been the basis of a sensational social media campaign.
Imagine if a Coalition campaigner slowly travelled from one end of the Murray-Darling Basin to another, taking photos of people who were affected by the drought and uploading their stories to Flickr. Of course, the photos would be print quality and cleared for use by the press. The campaigner would find farmers and conservative environmentalists and video them for YouTube. They’d keep a diary of their travels on Blogger, and used Google Earth to map their journey and scientific data. They’d collected signatures as they ventured from town to town, finally stopping at Victoria’s state parliament. There, they’d camp on the steps, camcorder in hand, until they personally delivered the petition to the last Labor premiere to resist the Federal take-over. The result would have been months of online buzz, on-the-ground goodwill and priceless media coverage.
Meanwhile, Kevin Rudd must convince us he will invest in Australia’s future — economically as well as socially. Personally, I can’t think of a better issue on which Labor could brief members of Australia’s blogging community than its proposed National Broadband Network.
The Labor party could fly passionate, savvy bloggers from around the country to a Hunter Valley retreat. The bloggers would spend some of their time with Senator Conroy and his advisors, but they’d also mingle freely with independent experts and each other. During the day, the Labor party would reveal details of the plan that previously had not been public. At night, they’d hire a country cinema and screen sci-fi classics. From start to finish, it would be clear that the bloggers were free to write what they liked — or nothing at all. The Labor party would devote as much of the event to listening as to talking, and would keep the lines of discussion open with these bloggers long after the end of the event. Online opinion would shift sharply towards Labor.
Imagine wikis about weapons of mass destruction. Facebook groups for polling booth volunteers. The possibilities are endless, but instead we are being served press releases on MySpace and speeches on YouTube.
If either major party had treated social media as an essential part of their campaign strategy, they could be enjoying some extra mileage at the moment. Instead, they have approached it as a last-minute tactical add-on. In a few years, social media marketing will be ordinary and both parties will struggle to get an upper hand, but if either had stepped up during the 2007 election campaign, they could have had a clear run towards success.