I have been having some interesting conversations with senior political journalists, new media leaders, digital & social media managers for press and broadcast organisations and social media political consultants in recent weeks. It’s part of a study I am doing, with The Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, on how social media might be used to engage people more in political debate and the forthcoming general election.
I will be looking specifically at engagement, as opposed to the media using social as just another channel to broadcast their coverage.
A dominant theme is control. Or loss of control.
Pre social media powerful media brands told us which way to vote. Who The Sun would back was almost as important an event in politics as the outcome of the election.
I still expect press & broadcasting to be a major influencer of how we make up our minds, but given the woeful state of political disillusion at the moment, it would be nice to see the media engage and inform more – and social media is ideally suited for that. An early good example is Sky News’ #Stand Up Be Counted, where the main party leaders faced questions live both from a studio audience of young voters and via Twitter and Facebook, and was produced in collaboration with Facebook. There was huge buzz on social media, from reactions to Ed talking about his career to Dave’s bafflement on tampon taxes.
Back to control.
Parties – and I speak as a former political spinner – try to control the dialogue and stage manage everything in a campaign. The media try to disrupt that. The most obvious recent example of control are the negotiations over the party leader TV debates.
The media in turn have liked to drive their often partisan views through their coverage and comment.
Social media has disrupted everything. I hope for the better.
Established journalists are no longer the sole source of information and views on politics. There are other voices now, other sources of information.
A gaff or offhand comment can now fly round the web in seconds on Twitter before established media even get their stories out.
The wrestling between the party campaign machines and the media, aside from the wrangling between the parties, was something we were spectators to. Now we can be players.
Friends and family have always been major influencers of how we vote. Now Facebook amplifies our take on the candidates and issues to our virtual friends and family. Hence the Conservatives spending over a million a year on their Facebook profile.
So the parties are losing control. The orchestration and spin will continue, but it’s just not as effective any more.
The media are losing control. They don’t dictate our views any more, and there are so many voices and influencers out there on social media.