In the 90’s politicians wooed the MTV generation in a bid to win the vote of Generation X. Now, the battleground has moved on: it’s all about social networks and garnering as much support as possible using the least expensive method.
The early stages of the US Presidentials have shown us the way things are going. The 2009/10 UK General Election will see a shift in advertising spends from the main parties from mainstream media to digital media with a marked increase on social networking sites like Facebook. The appeal of building a presence on these platforms is not difficult to get to grips with. One user can reach thousands of Ã¢â¬ÅfriendsÃ¢â¬Â within their network by adding an application that allows supporters to display their party allegiance, receive party updates and election briefings.
No serious US presidential candidate would be without these tools and in the UK both main parties already have their own Facebook applications. At present these have very few active users compared to their US counterparts; however, this will no doubt change over the next 12 months as we gear up to an election.
The London Mayoral race in May should be an interesting UK case study for this trend with Boris already having added his Ã¢â¬ÅBack BorisÃ¢â¬Â application to Facebook. A well designed and well executed little app that pushes users towards his campaign website, the developers have used e-bay colours to package their candidate:
The key to all of this, as with any campaign is money. For the cost of one TV or Newspaper ad, you could develop thousands of these apps and the likelihood that they will engage with the viewer is much higher than it would be in a newspaper as the viewer is one click away from becoming a supporter or campaign contributor.
One of the most extreme examples of the political power that these platforms now possess is the recent spoof campaign by Stephen Colbert to run for President. The star of Comedy Central’s The Daily Show has somehow managed to gather over a million supporters via networking sites like Facebook. One recent poll, (taken by Rasmussen Reports October 19Ã¢â¬"21) had Colbert receiving 13% as an independent running against Rudy Giuliani and Hillary Clinton. Results were particularly high among respondents aged 18Ã¢â¬"29, where Colbert received 28% of the vote among likely voters in a GiulianiÃ¢â¬"Clinton contest. One reporter commented that if Colbert continues “gaining over 10% a week”, he should be leading the field before November is out.
The Facebook group “1,000,000 Strong For Stephen T Colbert” claims to be the fastest growing Facebook group in the site’s history, having averaged 78 new members per minute surpassing one million members on October 26, less than ten days after its creation. Colbert’s group grew at such a rapid rate that it led one Facebook representative to tell the New York Times that the group had begun “overloading one of our servers.” The achievement has been given as an example of the networking site’s “uncanny ability to mashup the serious and the silly aspects of everything it touches.” As of October 25, 2007, the group was the most popular political group on the site, outnumbering the 380,000 of Obama’s “1 Million Strong Group”, the 500,000 of “Stop Hillary Clinton: (One Million Strong AGAINST Hillary)” and the 615,000 of “I bet I can find 1,000,000 people who dislike George Bush!”.
UK party strategists take note, the next election will be a whole new ball game.