Mixed Messages: 2015 preview

Earlier this year I wrote about the erosion of command and control in political communications in the UK. Back in march I suggested party leadership had a choice to make, either refuse MPs access to their own accounts and ban political messaging using the digital platforms (probably even more unworkable than it sounds) or find a way to get your MPs on board and start disseminating core messages via their online profiles (hideous for those of us who follow/friend/like etc politicians.

Now, neither of these options sounds particularly pleasing. The fact remains however that party leadership could lose control of their key messages. Research by James Donald shows that those MPs in marginal seats are more likely to tweet than those for whom re-election is more likely. One conclusion is that these MPs recognise their precarious position and are working to establish greater reach and recognition. Equally however, they make have been elected in the first place because of their advanced digital messaging techniques. The reasons behind this phenomenon are neither here nor there; the real question is what will party leaders (and the great machines supporting them) do in the run up to the election to ensure the campaign is run according to THEIR programme and get those crucial votes?

With traditional media increasingly referring back to digital platforms for news (how many newspaper articles have you read this week that refer to tweets instead of getting comment?!) we face the very real prospect in 2015 of disparate individual campaigns within parties, albeit following a similar general theme but with the potential to contradict central messages and undermine the direction of the party.

Of course candidates will always campaign on local issues that we would never expect to hear mention of in the leadership debate. At the same time however these candidates can tweet these messages and reach anyone, anywhere. These MPs now have immediate access to a national (nay, international) platform from which to declare their commitment to this, that or the other, much the same way as the leader does. While most ambitious politicians will want to cosy up to the leadership this does not mean that all will, intentionally or not.

We approach 2015 unsure if we will see a majority Government and unsure how parties will manage their digital communications or indeed whether they will even recognise the need to. After the election it will be useful to examine social media use along party lines and see if there is a correlation between voting behaviour and how well parties have reconciled their messaging.

We await the campaign with interest.

Do too many tweets maketh the Tw*t?

MP tweetControl over political messaging is something successive Governments have sought and in some instances, achieved.   While never fully in control of the nations various media outlets, Governments have found ways of controlling the national agenda, if only for short periods of time.

 

Key to this has been the centralised control of published messages.  Yes, an MP could find a newspaper or a television broadcaster and suggest the leadership is unfit for purpose, or that a new strategy is needed. However he amount of time afforded to this MP would usually be, unless they had a fairly major proclamation, tiny. 

Now though, Mps are able to publish their opinions on a whim, often with little time taken to consider the consequences through social media.  As an earlier post on In a Spin has noted, many have declared this shift the ‘death of spin’ with control over messaging taken from the Party HQ press office. 

 Recently the Conservatives have been encouraging MPs to share tweets published the official David Cameron account. Emails have gone out from central office encouraging this behaviour. 

Equally however there has been a plea to MPs to stop undermining the party’s leadership and direction in tweets. As you can see above, this did not go down to well with the more vocal among them…..

The question here is what are parties to do? There are two clear cut options:

-Bring in centralised rules governing output on Twitter.

-Equip all MPs with ability to communicate central messages.

The party seems to be following both options, perhaps confusing rather than clarifying.  Obviously if you restrict output once it has already become established you run the risk of cutting off those you are communicating with. Perhaps more shockingly for the leadership, you run the risk of APPEARING not to care by cutting off those you are communicating with.  Once a communication channel is open, its damn near impossible to close it.

Equally however, equipping all MPs with the means and knowledge to tweet central messages could be very damaging.  You run a dual risk, both appearing draconian in your approach to control of communications (which of course you are, but you don’t want them to know that!) and perhaps worsening the situation by mobilising lots of MPs that hitherto have had no interest or idea how to use Twitter.

Cameron has brought in Lynton Crosby as campaigns chief to tackle the problem of communicating campaign messages in a clear, coherent and productive way. In this case I don’t believe the solution is will be found in a comms handbook, at least not in terms of communicating (or not as the case may be) with the electorate. The real problem is that the disagreements within the party or not superficial, they run the core and this is the reason the messaging is so disparate and disconnected online.

A failure to address the issue of transparency and access when social media first emerged has not helped the issue.  However, the internal squabbling within the Party is mainly to blame.  One can only imagine what we would have been privy to during the height of the Blairite/Brownite struggle had the Labour MPs of the day had unfettered access to twitter.

#SocialMP analysed

A few weeks ago I compiled a #SocialMP league table, taking into account the Klout and Peer Index scores of all of the UK’s sitting MP’s.  At the time I promised an analysis of the results was to come – and here it is…

The Party representation breakdown in the league table is as follows:

Labour:                  16                          64%

Conservative:          4                          16%

Lib Dem:                 3                           12%

Green:                    1                           2.5%

Respect:                 1                            2.5%

Labour make up roughly 39% of sitting MPs, but a massive 64% of the league table.  The Lib Dems are also over represented in the table with 12% while occupying approximately 9% of seats in Parliament.

Meanwhile the Conservatives are under-represented in the league with 46% of seats in the House of Commons but just 16% of the top social MP media profiles.

Both the Green Party and Respect show 2.5% representation in the table, a figure much higher than their actual representation in Parliament, both 0.1%.

Before we go any further it needs to be noted that in the case of the Government particularly, that is the Conservatives and Lib Dems, many prominent figures such as Prime Minister David Cameron  have taken up official social media profiles belonging to their position, rather than pursue their own profile.

This could go some way to explain the under representation of Conservative MPs in the table. The fact that their showing is so low in the table however suggests there may be other factors also at play.

Opposition

One suggestion could be that social media is a more effective and useful tool in opposition.  All three parties not in Government are over represented in the table.

It has been argued that social media has provided opposition parties a way gaining visibility among supporters and the wider electorate to an extent that has previously been not possible.

With the dominance of the Labour Party in the table it might be suggested that this is the first time HM official opposition have recognised and capitalised on the opportunities for visibility that social media offers.

Who are they?

20% of the MP’s in the list are female, which is roughly equal to their representation in the House of Commons (22%).

Just 4 of our top 25 are new to Parliament (since 2010) , George Galloway of course was elected this year but is no new comer to the House of Commons.  The remaining 20 social MP’s are all experienced politicians with at least 7 years in Parliament years under their belts.

The average age of our Social MP league table is 47, with ages ranging from a sprightly 31 right through to a respectable 69.  The average age for the House of Commons as a whole is 50.

Clearly there is very little difference between the average age of league table and the average MP age nor can we look to an influx of new MP’s to explain the league table.

Other factors?

I have looked briefly at the make-up of the list compared to the demographic breakdown of the House of Commons in the hope of identifying trends for social media use.  In my opinion the ‘opposition’ argument is far more convincing and certainly explains Labour’s dominance in the table.

I have barely scratched the surface on this topic and no doubt will be back to add more. In the meantime however I’d love for everyone to contribute their thoughts to the analysis, either comment below or tweet me : @bexramsdale

Occupy Obama #2

A month or two ago I posted a short article about the Chinese takeover of Obama’s Google+ page and the inherent dangers of having global reach when your publics are very much domestic. Well it has happened again; this time to Obama’s Facebook page.

The page has been inundated by requests for information from Egyptian supporters of Conservative Islamic Presidential candidate Hazem Abu Ismail.  Ismail’s Mother holds dual US and Egyptian  citizenship, effectively destroying his chances of being elected due to strict rules for candidates relating to nationality of family and place of birth.

The Anti-American supporters have taken to the streets in Tahrir to protest at what they claim is US conspiracy to discredit their candidate. Others have bombarded the US President’s Facebook page leaving messages, as many as 15 per minute calling for Obama to back their claim that the immigration paperwork for Ismail’s family is fraudulent.

As with the Chinese ‘occupation’ of Obama’s Google+ page, we see external sources taking ownership of a social media profile and diverting from it’s intended purpose, in this instance to communicate with supporters and campaign for the upcoming 2012 US Presidential Election.

The interference in messaging must be a headache for the Obama comms team but raises even wider questions about how to keep your social media presence on message.

#SocialMP update: Galloway Returns

The election of Respect politician George Galloway in Bradford West last week was somewhat marred by his announcement on Twitter that :

“Welcome to the 6000 new followers. I will try to live up to your expectations. Shattered but happy after the Blackburn triumph.”

Despite this very public faux pas (claimed he had been hacked), Galloway has used social media very well throughout the by-election campaign.

Labour MP Michael Dugher suggested that with Galloway’s prominence on Twitter and Facebook compared to traditional door knocking from the major Party candidates we saw;

“possibly the first by-election in history that was fought and even won on social media”

Galloway’s strong following across social media paltforms has hurtled him into the #SocialMP league table in 13th position, with Labour MP Kerry McCarthy falling out of the top 25 as a result.

Ranking MP Party Score
12 Andy Burnham Labour 53
13 George Galloway Respect 52.5
14 Chris Bryant Labour 52

As promised in previous #SocialMP post, analysis of results to follow!

Boris in Twitter-gate scandal: the ethical problems of social media ownership

As the dust settles on Boris’s very own Twitter-gate questions are raised about the ethics of social profile ownership. Yesterday Boris Johnson (or his comms team we were later informed) changed the @mayoroflondon twitter account to @BorisJohnson, gaining 250,000 followers as we enter the final months of the mayoral campaign.

Queue widespread outrage.

Official political accounts are used widely, the @number10gov profile for example passes from Prime Minister to Prime Minister. The issue here was that the Mayor apparently claimed an official account, run by communications staff in the GLA for his campaign, potentially exposing 250,000 followers to partisan communications.

The account was set up in 2008 and belongs to the GLA, despite claims from Boris’s camp that it belongs to Twitter, and secondly, that because it was set up for Boris it is his to do with as he wishes.

Boris’s campaign team have since set up a separate campaigning account @BackBoris2012 clearly recognising that the previous efforts constitutes as misuse. To some extent it is the speed and ease with which a twitter account can be set up that is the issue, very little regard need be taken of the ethical or legal implications of account ownership or indeed the needs or expectations of the followers.

Perhaps more guidelines are needed in the case of Public Information feeds, ensuring followers are not exposed to partisan messaging and that there is continuity of communications, where political continuity is absent during elections.

 

#SocialMP League Table

The Telegraph announced last week that Louise Mensch MP and Luke Bozier (blogger) would be teaming up to establish a political social media consultancy called ‘Menschbozier’. Mensch, who was elected in 2010 as the Conservative representative for Corby told the telegraph that she was the perfect partner for Bozier;

“I have reached my friend limit on Facebook, so it seemed like a natural choice to try and do something more in the area.”

Always one to question the claims of our great and good in Westminster, I set a about looking for proof that Mensch is indeed the most #socialMP. Upon finding virtually no information on the subject I created a #socialMP league table, using the social student formula, Klout + PI and halved for the top 25 after narrowing it down according to twitter and Facebook use.

Ranking MP name Party Over All score

1

Tom Watson Labour

67.5

2

Ed Miliband Labour

67

3

Louise Mensch Conservative

60.5

4

Julian Huppert Lib Dem

58.5

5

Nicholas Clegg Lib Dem

56.5

6

Grant Shapps Conservative

56

7

Luciana Berger Labour

56

8

David Miliband Labour

55.5

9

Diane Abbott Labour

55

10

Chuka Umunna Labour

54

11

Tom Harris Labour

53.5

12

Andy Burnham Labour

53

13

Chris Bryant Labour

52

14

Harriet Harman Labour

50

15

Douglas Alexander Labour

46.5

16

Ben Bradshaw Labour

46

17

Jeremy Hunt Conservative

45

18

Sadiq Khan Labour

45

19

Andrew Gwynne Labour

44

20

David Lammy Labour

42.5

21

Caroline Lucas Green

41.5

22

Vincent Cable Lib Dem

39

23

Eric Pickles Conservative

37

24

Edward Balls Labour

36

25

Kerry McCarthy Labour

35

Analysis of league table to follow shortly.  Please feel free to add your comments or contact me regarding this post.

note : While it may be unchairtable to point out, the fact the Mensch/Bozier failed to register their new enterprise on Twitter leading to a string of Troll accounts using up possible names does plunge into doubt the true worth of their combined social media credentials.