The Copywriter's Crucible

How Politicians are Being Taught to Engage Online

The political world seems to be in a similar predicament to that of advertising. People have been bombarded with so much spin and deliberately ambiguous language that they have simply stopped listening to political messages. Less people now vote in the UK elections than they do for TV talent show contestants. People have simply lost interest in responding to political campaigns that appear little more than contests between marketing and PR departments.

But over the last year we have witnessed the impact of the connected internet world on politics. Political bloggers have been able to set the agenda, by pushing stories onto the traditional media, and we have recently seen an unprecedented 2 million votes being cast in a government e-petition. The time is ripe for the political world to start understanding the changing mindsets that the internet is creating, and to be aware of the possible repercussions of failing to engage with their voters online.

I was notified of a research project, to teach political bodies how to engage with voters online, by a post from Stephen Davies aka PR Blogger.

The Digital Dialogue study was launched last year to assess how the internet could be used to improve and promote communication between politicians and the public.

The study observed various government departments as they got to grips with blogs, forums and webchats. The aim is to assess how they could be incorporated into the political process and assist politicians to become more responsive and more in touch with public opinion.

The study is being carried out over two phases of six months. The results of the first phase were released last December. These were some of its key findings:

The second phase of the study is now in operation and due to be completed by the end of spring. The study’s organisers will be aiming to further develop the practices explored in phase one, and expand them into using wikis, podcasting and audio-visual blogs.

It remains to be seen how seriously senior politicians would absorb the input of the general public. The complexity behind many government decisions would make it irresponsible to decide policy simply based on the public clamour.

The Digital Dialogue study does, however, demonstrate how more businesses and institutions are learning to get to grips with the new mindsets being created by the connected online world. One way communication is dated and dying. Two way engagement, transparency and responsiveness are on the rise. Now anybody in a democratic society with an internet connection can have their own soap box to say what they think. And now more politicians are learning that they have to be able to listen, as well as to dictate.   

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