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.