Editor's note: This column is part of a series dedicated to looking at the digital strategies and tactics being employed in the U.K elections. This series will explore how each of the parties are using search and display advertising, social media, and other digital tools, techniques, and platforms -- as well as how they measure the results of their efforts.
So, the U.K. election is off and running. Officially! When I say officially, I mean because now all the three main parties have published their manifestos.
This is something the mainstream media gets very excited about. During a long news cycle it gives the press at least three "events" to cover, all well-choreographed, lots of photo opps, lots of material for the 24-hour news channels to fill up airtime, and lots of excuse for comment and analysis.
These documents are supposed to be aimed at the voter to help them choose and hold those they elect to account later. Yet all the evidence points to the majority of people either having no idea how to get hold of one or, more likely, having no desire whatsoever to plough through such a weighty tome in search of the bit that means something to them. This means the version people eventually get is the one that mainstream media and opposition politicians feel they should have.
Over here in the Labour party campaign, we've been thinking long and hard about how to reduce the barriers to this information and allow more people access. As the core strategy is to make the campaign the "word of mouth" election, we learned from the U.S. that the first thing we needed to do was to involve our audience in creating the product. For over a year we used a specially created site called Labourspace to encourage people to share their ideas for the manifesto.
This involved people discussing ideas, swapping information, and building support behind particular themes among themselves; as well as communicating with HQ about what they felt was important and, in many cases, offering well evidenced and worked-up policy ideas. Thousands of contributions were made and the author of the manifesto, Ed Miliband, read every single one.
We then used new media to create something complementary to the traditional weighty document that people can scrutinize to the nth degree. The solution is a world first for a political party. We've produced a set of interactive videos, hosted on YouTube and supported by a microsite, which allow viewers to explore Labour's plans for government for themselves; combining the accessibility of a video with the interactivity of being able to navigate the film almost like a Web site, with ability to click on the bit you are most interested in and be taken off elsewhere...by video.
To symbolise the importance of our online ambassadors in helping share both the content and messages, Ellie Gellard, a popular Labour blogger, introduced the launch. Gellard recently used Facebook to garner grassroots support to persuade the party to adopt a film that was popular among its members as a recent party election broadcast. Straight after the event, recognising that people want to receive an e-mail from "someone like them" rather than a politician, an e-mail from Gellard was later sent to party members.
The ultimate success test of whether these kinds of innovations work is how many votes you rack up on election night. But this move, along with others recently by all three parties, is exciting in the way technology is being harnessed to involve voters and find ways of removing the walls erected around the process.
Tomorrow on Search Engine Watch, Mark Pack of the Liberal Democrats will look at the role of traditional and new media in British politics.