Local pollies should take note when US President Barack Obama launches his online campaign ahead of the November elections, following the poor social media attempt made by Australia’s major parties in the 2010 Federal Election.
Web profits, an online marketing agency, managing director, Paul Sprokkreef, said despite over 10 million active Australian Facebook users and an estimated one million using Twitter, Australian politicians are still struggling to engage and communicate with voters through the social media platform.
According to Sprokkreef, they should follow in the footsteps of former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, who has close to one million Twitter followers.
“When Kevin Rudd has something to say, he has close to one million immediate listeners, he said in a statement. “While they might not always agree with what he has to say, he has that direct communication channel open and there is nobody near him in the Australian political landscape.”
“Prime Minister Julia Gillard had a slow start to adopting social media, but is now regularly tweeting and updating her 100,000 plus followers about what is happening.”
Opposition leader Tony Abbott, on the other hand, who tweeted just once in throughout the month of May, only has 34,539 followers.
Sprokkreef said the aim of any politician is to gain as many votes as possible and that online and social media are highly effective in achieving this, especially with younger voters.
If politicians want to grow a network of followers, they need to provide regular quality updates, be genuine in all communication and engage with voters.
“Most of our politicians are failing to realise that social media is a great platform for two-way communication – where they can communicate directly with voters and find out public opinion, and where voters can raise their concerns directly with policymakers,” he said.
The company’s head online strategist, Alex Cleanthous, said when it comes to Twitter and Facebook, Obama has led the way.
“If President Obama, with all the resources at his disposal, is only focusing on Facebook and Twitter, then why would you spend any of your own resources on anything else?” he said.
Obama’s main Facebook page has in excess of 20 million fans while another eight million follow his tweets, both of which he uses to share updates on his campaign through articles, commentary, YouTube videos while asking for feedback and contributions from voters.
“Obama’s strategy hasn’t changed much since 2008 – build up a database, grow social media followers, encourage donations, build credibility and trust through ongoing and sincere communication.”
“Australian politicians could learn a lot by following his lead.”
In future campaigns, Cleanthous recommends politicians develop an effective website, drive voters to the website using social media and advertising, build a relationship with the site visitors using email marketing and social media, and also to engage further using mobile devices.
Throughout the 2010 Federal Election, the Australian Greens, who took a “less is more” approach to social media, were commended for their strategy which focused more on engagement rather than a creating a one-way “cookie cutter” distribution outlet.
The party’s web and new media coordinator, David Paris, told Computerworld Australia at the time that the party did not have a social media strategy, instead leaving it to the individual candidates to use their Facebook and Twitter accounts as a form of personal contact.
This type of interaction was typified by the Liberal Party's social media presence which was patchy at best, and described as 'broadcast'-style, with Tony Abbott barely taking the time to tweet.
The party as a whole had official accounts on Facebook, Twitter and Flickr plus a Youtube channel which it uses to 'talk at' followers instead of engaging in direct conversation. The Australian Labor Party (ALP) on the other hand had a shot at creating its own social media platform, Labor Connect, however participation was minimal limited interaction between many of the members. Follow Chloe Herrick on Twitter: @chloe_CW
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