Okay, so it doesn't have the same ring as Winston Churchill's "we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender." But the British elections -- which are expected to be held on May 6 -- will be fought on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and blogs.
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According to Mark Jones of Reuters, "U.S. President Barack Obama's use of the Web on his way to the White House in 2008 has inspired British political parties to ramp up their digital campaigns for a general election expected in May." And many observers are already calling this Britain's first "social media election".
There was a remarkable preview of the officers who will be leading the digital campaigns for their respective political parties at SES London 2010. A panel entitled, "Digital Media Meets Party Politics," was moderated by Kate Kaye, Senior Editor, ClickZ News. The speakers were: Rishi Saha, Head of New Media, Conservative Party; Mark Hanson, New Media Strategist, Labour Party; and Mark Pack, Associate Director, Digital, Mandate Communications & Co-Editor, Liberal Democrat Voice.
All three were remarkable candid in their answers to such questions as:
- How will digital strategies and tactics popularized by the 2008 U.S. presidential election translate to the 2010 election in Britain?
- Will Internet marketing have an impact in this year's British election as great as it did in the U.S. in 2008?
- How do the approaches taken by Labour, the Conservatives, and the Liberal Democrats differ from what we've seen elsewhere?
After the session, Saha left the conference before Kaye could interview him for SESConferenceExpo's Channel on YouTube. However, she was able to interview Hanson and Pack.
Hanson described how the Labour Party is facilitating use of new digital media tools and more importantly, how pursuing a digital media strategy is not about your website, but is about your network. He said one of the lessons learned by the Labour Party after observing President Obama's victory was how easy you have to make it for your volunteers to become active in a political campaign.
Virtual phone bank tools, such as the ability to make phone calls from your own home and at a time you choose and to be able to track this data is a smarter way of using digital media. The Labour Party also integrates bloggers into their campaigns and give them exclusive content before it gets published elsewhere.
Pack told Kaye about how the Liberal Democrats in the U.K. are using digital media in the current election. For starters, there are big differences between the U.S. and the U.K. when it comes to fundraising for political parties.
While online fundraising plays a huge role in the U.S., it is less so in the U.K. Pack said this is because there is less money spent in political elections in the U.K., both because the country has lower limits on how much a candidate and a political party may spend and because of cultural differences in the UK towards party politics. He said, however, that there is much more potential for candidates and political parties in the U.K. to raise more funds via digital and social media.
Between now and May 6, Kaye and I will take several looks at the British Elections being fought on YouTube, fought in Facebook, fought in Blogs, and fought with Twitter. As Churchill said, "We shall never surrender."