U.K. Conservative Party leader David Cameron has famously dismissed Twitter. When asked in January why he still has not joined the short messaging site – even though the Prime Minister’s Office account, DowningStreet, has nearly 2 million followers – he suggested the addition of yet another communication platform should not be taken lightly. It’s a legitimate concern, and one brand marketers themselves have had for years when it comes to establishing their own social media presences.
“The only problem I have is politicians spend so much time talking and making speeches and giving interviews and blogs and all the rest of it,” said Cameron in response to a plea from Tim Montgomerie, editor of conservative party news site ConservativeHome, to reconsider using Twitter. “It’s a question of every time you add to this great panoply of communication you have to think about, are you going to keep it up and whether you’re going to fully think through everything you say before you say it,” he continued.
The Conservatives, and Cameron himself, got negative attention more recently when the party leader told candidates earlier this month they would need approval for posts to sites like Twitter, Facebook, and other social media sites. The party stressed candidates only would be required to vet posts dealing with political policy. However, some observers, including Labour’s own new media spokesperson MP Kerry McCarthy, suggested the new requirement was misguided, missing the point of social media as a place where a lack of control is inherent.
More and more elected officials and candidates for office in the U.S. adopt Twitter every day, and several do their own tweeting. But the jury’s still out on whether using Twitter is really necessary for every political figure. And once that’s decided, there are more considerations such as, should he or she tweet personally, or rely on campaign staffers to do the job?
During his own re-election campaign, New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg tweeted himself only one day, relying otherwise on his staff to post to his account.
“We made the decision very early, knowing how [the] online audience, and frankly, the political press…would react to it not being Mike, pretending to be Mike…that the integrity of the campaign and the mayor’s image online demanded that we didn’t pretend to tweet as him when it wasn’t him,” said Jonah Seiger, lead digital strategist for the Bloomberg 2009 campaign. I had the opportunity to chat with Seiger recently at a Social Media Week event ClickZ put together along with Personal Democracy Forum. (Check out video of the full event here.)
Not only was it important that the campaign be transparent about the fact that the mayor normally did not post to his Twitter account, Seiger suggested the approach actually helped generate interest when Bloomberg finally did tweet himself for one day in August.
“That burst of interest in the mayor actually personally tweeting, I think was driven a lot by that,” said Seiger. “It was like, ‘Oh, what’s he going to say?'”
Seiger believes Twitter may have had a direct effect on getting out the vote and Bloomberg’s eventual win. The campaign estimated the number of people in New York City active on Twitter and Facebook in the final two days leading to the November 2009 election, and found one in 10 people using those platforms were exposed to people posting about how they had voted for Bloomberg and suggesting others do the same.
“We know that the value of stuff that was going on – people talking about Mike Bloomberg represented about 10 percent share of voice,” he said.
Of course, there’s no way to directly connect the Twitter effect to actual votes. Indeed, there’s no way of knowing whether social media tools such as Twitter will have any significant impact on the upcoming election in the U.K. However, if Cameron’s resistance to using Twitter is actually based on a concern that it should be done right or not at all, he should keep in mind that there isn’t necessarily a “right” or “wrong” way to do Twitter. The rules for using it in political campaigns have yet to be written.
As part of SES LondonSearch Engine Strategies London, Kate Kaye will moderate the panel, “Digital Media Meets Party Politics,” on Feb. 17, 2010, featuring Rishi Saha, head of new media, Conservative Party; Mark Hanson, new media strategist, Labour Party; and Mark Pack associate director, digital, at Mandate Communications and co-editor of Liberal Democrat Voice.