Wednesday, 14 April 2010

General Election Digital Fever

We all knew it was coming, but it has finally arrived, the biggest thing in media this month is the impending general election. When Mr Brown stood outside Number 10 announcing May 6th, media plans that have been in place for over a year were put into motion. So now we are off in the roller coaster of coverage that that will dominate all the media channels for the next month.

Over the next few weeks we will see many firsts in British politics. Probably the biggest of these in terms of audience will be the televised debates on Sky, BBC and ITV between the potential leaders. However if the successful Obama campaign in the US is to be believed, it will be the digital activity by the parties that will have potentially the biggest impact.

Since the last election our ability to access information and share with people, both friends and strangers, has changed dramatically. Direct mail from the parties used to be just leaflets and, at the last couple of elections, some emails, and this will of course continue. My recycling bin heaved at the last by-election for Norwich North with seemingly half of Thetford Forest being used to bombard me with leaflets from all parties on a daily basis. I suspect many in marginal constituencies around the country will suffer a similar fate over the next month.

This general election however will see all the parties using every digital channel they can from personal blogs and websites to Youtube videos, from Facebook campaigns to Twitter updates. We the hapless media of course are lapping this all up, Anglia TV has even given one of its reporters the lovely task of following all the local candidates digital output.

All these new digital tools can be seen as creating a new way for candidates to communicate with potential voters. Likewise they can also be a great way for potential voters to get greater access to candidates and parties to find out why they should vote for them. However there is always the danger of trying to be too cool for school and failing. David Cameron famously said “Politicians do have to think about what we say and the problem with Twitter, the instantness of it, I think that too many tweets might make a t***”. Unfortunately for the now ex Labour candidate for Moray Stuart MacLennan he clearly was not paying any attention to that. Although despite the Conservative leaders quite rightly apprehension regarding potential problems with Twitter, it is still widely used by his candidates, including a feed from Millbank HQ itself, although one would suspect a more closely monitored one than before.

Whatever the outcome on May 6th, this general election will be the closest, probably the most exciting and certainly the most covered and analysed, whether in column inches, airtime minutes or web pages. Compared with 20 years ago this election will give the voting public many more ways to find out what they need to choose which way to vote, a great many of these coming through new, digital routes. If this encourages more people to vote in an informed way that can only be a good thing.

Tim Youngman is head of digital marketing for Archant