Barack Obama’s campaign for the 2008 US Presidential race demonstrated a new and groundbreaking approach to how digital can be employed for political campaigns, yet the impact of digital campaigning during out own general election in 2010 was comparatively limited.
I would argue that the impact and achievements of the digital approaches used by the two main candidates in the London Mayoral election were also underwhelming, with neither camp delivering hugely impactful digital campaigns.
(As of 03/05/12)
Whilst Ken had more followers on Twitter (by 18,634), Boris led on Facebook (by around 134,000). The fact that Boris' campaign Facebook page had been used for his 2008 campaign and throughout his years in office since (to update followers of his achievements) goes some way to explaining the gulf in numbers.
Both candidates campaigns were highly active on Twitter. There was some controversy in March when Boris's camp came under criticism from Labour for transferring the official Mayor of London account into his name, including linking from the account to the Back Boris 2012 website. The Boris campaign backtracked and Boris had to forgo the 250,000+ followers on the account.
Below we take a quick look at how the candidates Twitter accounts were used.
Ken Livingston official - Ken4London
- Personal tweets from Ken, prefaced with a ‘K’
- Huge number of Tweets focused on criticism of Boris
- Campaign proposals/ ideas/ plans
- Campaign trail - news on where they were going to be, photos, updates on who’s joining them e.g. Well known Labour MPs
- Live debate updates
- Retweets of support from well known Labour MPs and celebrities
- Tweets with links to pro-Ken articles
- Campaign marketing material e.g. campaign videos
- Ken on the campaign trail
- Well known Labour MPs (Ed Milliband, Yvette Cooper)
- Images of campaign marketing material including leaflets and adverts
- #Fairdealtuesday- on the day when the Ken team led a leafleting campaign, they used the hashtag #Fairdealtuesday to promote it and tried to get it trending
Boris Johnson official - BackBoris2012
- Retweets of supporters comments
- Campaign trail - news on where they were going to be with photos and updates
- Information and updates on policies
- Re-tweets that criticised Ken's record - many that used the hashtag #Notkenagain
- Some re-tweets support from Conservative MPs, although less than Ken4London
- Mainly photos of Boris on the campaign trail
- Using the hastag #AskBoris, Boris answered 23 questions over the course of 40 minutes live on Twitter in April- it proved very successful, #AskBoris was the top trending topic in the UK and fourth worldwide and reached one million.
- Interactive Campaign Timeline - that provided supporters with information on where Boris was visiting that day on the campaign trail
- Boris Backers Map - where supporters could plot their support for Boris on a map of London along with a reason why they were backing him
Ultimately, neither candidate seemed to employ innovative approaches to garner support for their campaign online. It will be interesting to see whether UK political figures will employ similar digital tactics to their US counterparts in future elections.
It's possible that cultural differences between the UK and the US play a role in how far we are willing to embrace and integrate digital and social media into our own electoral campaigns. Does the UK simply favour a more traditional approach to elections, meaning we're less keen on allowing digital and social channels to dominate the political process?