“I think it’s called the internet, isn’t it, or blogs or something. I’ve only just got used to letters…I haven’t got into all this new technology.” Ã¢â‚¬â€œ John Prescott, 6th July 2006.
It was admitted earlier this year that Tony Blair struggled to use a word processor, whilst his head of communications, Alistair Campbell, had never watched YouTube or networked on MySpace. Some politicians might even have grown up with chalk and slate at school, but if they want their message to get through to the web savvy generation they are going to have to catch up fast.
There is a popular theory that people have been bombarded with so many adverts and one way messages that traditional marketing techniques just arenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t effective anymore. People have simply stopped believing, or listening to, the hundreds of adverts they are exposed to everyday. The same theory can be applied to modern day politics.
British Politics has, for the last decade at least, been awash with the use of Ã¢â‚¬ËœspinÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ and manipulation of the media to strategically release news stories and influence voters. This has always been fairly easy to do. TV and newspapers are always hungry for headlines, and their front pages can always be directed by throwing them a few choice disclosures and Ã¢â‚¬ËœquotesÃ¢â‚¬â„¢. Elections are being fought by teams of PR executives and image consultants as much as they are by policies.
The problem that politicians now face is that a generation has grown up with Ã¢â‚¬ËœspinÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ enshrined in their psyche. This generation no longer accepts what they are told at face value. They have been fed so many false claims and massaged figures that they simply are incapable of believing anything a politician has to say. The double whammy is that they now have the resources to question and corroborate what they are told and discover when they have been lied to. This could have a major impact on the ballot box.
As with traditional marketers, politicians are going to have to learn how to engage with people online rather than dictate to them with one way messages. This means greater transparency and visibility into explaining how they formulate their policies and why. Otherwise their online presence is going to have a very short lifespan before it is discredited and abandoned as yet another vehicle for Ã¢â‚¬ËœspinÃ¢â‚¬â„¢.
Last weekend David Cameron launched his new blog, webcameron.org.uk, kitted out with YouTube style videos and a whole section for people to post their comments. This has been intended as a Ã¢â‚¬ËœriskyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ new way of engaging with the growing online audience and providing a new stage for political debate.
The first video presents an image of domesticity and casualness carefully stage managed to reflect sincerity and develop familiarity and trust with the audience. Any online marketer would be able to tell you that anything too contrived or polished would carry short shrift with the web savvy community. David Ã¢â‚¬ËœOne TakeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ CameronÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s videos are designed to give us an insight into who he is and what he stands for. But they will only succeed if their message is genuine and kept out of the spin doctorÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s grasp.
David CameronÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s blog reflects the growing awareness amongst businesses and institutions of the importance of a web presence, and using it to engage and interact with your target audience. More and more people are abandoning newspapers and TV and getting their news and information online. But it is not only the format that is changing but also the style of the content.
Marketing spiel and corporate claptrap donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t work on the web, and using Ã¢â‚¬ËœspinÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ has every chance of enraging enough people to create a tsunami sized backlash. The politicians are going to have to tread carefully as there will be plenty of people looking for when they veer too far from the facts. And will be eager to report it when they do.
It would be nice to believe that CameronÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s new blog reflects a shift in politics towards greater transparency, honesty and a clear move away from spin. His blog will only succeed as a political tool if he can provide commentary of substance and robust discussion. Unfortunately, substance seems to be where his campaign is receiving the most criticism at present.
By starting a blog Cameron is opening himself to be challenged by his online commentators. How he responds and presents himself will show whether he relies on shallow spin and point scoring – or actually has something to say.