Last Thursday’s election left the country in a state of limbo and yesterday we finally had a view of the government to take over the UK reigns, and work for the first time in many years as a coalition. This is the final post in our three part special, reflecting on the first UK ‘social media election’ as well as considering the impact of the outcome, one which was pre-empted with scepticism prior to its announcement due to both the nature of coalition and the pairing of these unlikely bedfellows.
Last week’s post from Mat talked about the brand perception of the political parties in the run-up to what was a historic UK parliamentary election. The post considered the impact of ‘Brand Obama’ in the approach the UK parties took towards the election. Paul’s post on Friday explored how improved focus on gaining loyalty in voters would help parties achieve a majority result culminating from a longer-term relationship rather than the ‘mad dash’ month long campaign. Today, we again consider how the US ‘social media’ president influenced our election, and query if the UK got it right in respect to their channel use for voter engagement. The public seeks engagement tailored to their preferences, the parties did not present an integrated channel strategy and social media has failed as a successful catalyst for the parties in this election. Discuss…

Consumers are increasingly sophisticated. Week by week, service and product providers are offering us a wider range of channels by which we can communicate, identifying a complex and tailored channel mix as a key component for driving desired customer experience. Although we don’t ‘purchase’ a government, the same rules apply to secure an individual’s vote. We want providers to engage with us in a way that suits us and allows participation in a dialogue. The challenge for a prospective government is that their segments cover every demographic, need, and value set across the spectrum that is the British public, so they truly do need to offer something for everyone, or risk exclusion. The biggest shift to the customer relationship has been heralded by the growing popularity of social media. Estimates today state that 24.9 million, or 78%, of the UK online population are active users of social media. With the advent of smart phones – over 11 million UK subscribers – much of that access is instant and on the move, making communications more accessible than ever before.
A channel strategy for both a private and public organisation should take into consideration the preferences of its segments, create a clear brand and key messages to be weaved consistently throughout all channels and provide the customer with a 2-way engagement – this may be via the internet or by traditional face to face meetings, in this example, door to door campaigning. The result will be a consistent and integrated channel mix which delivers the same messages to customers through their channel of choice, and also uses that channel to interact with them and answer any questions that may be a barrier. Did any of the political parties follow this method? It seems not. Even the disconnect between the national PR campaign focused on the leaders is disconnected from the communications from local MPs. The messages coming from the parties are so frequent and varied that they are becoming lost and it’s hard to truly differentiate between them and understand the key differences. A stronger and clearer platform would be the first step to ensure that the message is consistent, and the second would be to ensure that those are digestible messages delivered using common language across all platforms.
A brief analysis of the channel mix from this year’s election would say that it ‘dabbled’ both successfully and unsuccessfully in social media, although more prominently as the latter. The blogosphere is rife with reports of gaffs by politicians, whether via their own posts or as a means to share parody, prime example was the video created post ‘bigotgate’. Some observers feel that social media has created a vehicle for spreading criticism and ridicule rather than positive engagement. Thus is the risk around social media, take a wrong step or put an ill-formed driver behind the mouse wheel, and it can cause much greater harm than good, are you listening Nestle facebook page? Our own Jenna Paulat wrote last September, about Obama’s successful use of social media involving citizens throughout, a tactic which he has continued since his inauguration providing the public a voice. His use of the platform acted as a support to his campaign activities and provided succinct and useful information to voters throughout campaigning. It seems our parties have attempted to emulate his approach without success due to unclear messages, inconsistent messages and the human error gaffs providing an online distraction.
Linking back to Mat’s article on brand – if there was a clear and positive brand evident through each channel, then the parties would minimise the criticism that they are open to and allow them to use social media to create the engagement that voters do require. This author’s advice for the next election, would be to take lessons from 2010, create a more positive brand and understand how the undecided voters, not the party faithful, want to be engaged in the lead up to polling day. The toe has truly been dipped in the social media water and how the parties take forward this channel will be telling for their future success.
As we move into a coalition the ability for the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats to further cement their brand and customer loyalty is called into question as they need to balance the conflict between presenting a view representative of one party with that of a cooperative and cohesive government striving for an improved United Kingdom. When the next election opportunity arises, how will these parties be able to distinguish themselves from one another without seeming negative about their fellow cabinet members? Perhaps now is a key opportunity for the Labour Party to rebuild their own brand and voter relationships in the aftermath of yesterday’s quiet departure from Downing Street.