So far, the major parties’ use of the internet during this election has been a bit average. I blame the media. And the parties. And the social media expert gurus (SMEGs). And the media again.
Labor and Liberal tarted up their websites, with slick carousels on the home page showcasing policies and candidates. Tony Abbott renovated his site likewise. The ALP has registered the domain juliagillard.com.au, but it lies dormant. The active sites all have the veneer of Web 2.0, with the now-obligatory buttons for Facebook, photo-sharing site Flickr, YouTube and Twitter. All allow comments in various places.
Yet none, so far, has become a venue where the candidates themselves interact with voters. Content is posted, the pollies broadcast their message — and then they walk away, leaving commenters to chat among themselves. Politicians talking, but not listening. And the key politicians never visit other online forums either.
At least the ALP has made an attempt by providing the Labor Connect Social Network, but a quick skim through the groups people have created reveals … tumbleweeds.
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The pace has been slow too.
Gillard posted one video blog item from Townsville. Nicola Roxon, Jenny Macklin and Tanya Plibersek have posted videos too — all women, is that ALP strategy? But there’s fewer than a dozen videos in total for the whole week. None of them move beyond making little speeches to camera. There’s no insight into the human, or into what it’s like to campaign. And just 11 photos have been posted to Flickr.
The Liberals are worse. Not a single photo on Flickr since the campaign started. Just four YouTube videos, all of them straight TV commercials.
As for Twitter, they might as well not have bothered.
From @JuliaGillard there’s been an intermittent dribble. Just 17 tweets in the past seven days, only five of them tagged as being by the PM herself. Most merely repeat the headlines of policy statements or link to them. The rest are such bland generalities that it’s hard to picture any human involvement. Gillard has yet to react to a single tweet directed at her.
Last night’s great insight was: “In tonight’s debate you will have a choice between moving Australia forward together or going backward with Tony Abbott JG #debate #ausvotes”. There’s a vote-changer right there, eh?
Meanwhile, @TonyAbbottMHR hasn’t said a thing since his two tweets on the day the election was called. One linked to a happy snap of his visit to Channel Ten. The other revealed his great secret, “This election is about giving a great people a better government. The Coalition will end the waste, stop the taxes and stop the boats.” The official @LiberalAus account is similarly a one-way broadcast of banalaties.
At least the Greens’ Bob Brown is interacting at @SenatorBobBrown, and former Democrat now Greens candidate Andrew Bartlett continues to leave everyone for dead in the conversational stakes at @AndrewBartlett. But they are, of course, a support act to the main game.
As I say, I blame the media. Actual dialog with actual voters is fraught with peril for politicians, especially Twitter. Any tiny mis-speak will become the headline for the day. Despite all the evidence to suggest that voters don’t care, journalists still hover in wait.
Then again, I blame the politicians for being gutless. Or is it spineless? As Gillard and Abbott’s body language showed in last night’s TV debate, they live in a perpetual state of fear. But why? Are they really so unconfident in their own policies, or their ability to hold a human conversation about them, that they’re forever anxious about straying off message? Apparently so.
But then again, I blame the SMEGs for imagining that any of this internet stuff, especially Twitter, is a vote changer. Social media marketers talk about targeting “key online influencers”, but mathematical modelling shows that it’s all rubbish. Ideas spread essentially at random. Your efforts are still best spent on broadcast media.
It still is the media’s fault though. Political journalists take the tour bus and dutifully report on the day’s talking points. Where is the reportage on what the voters are discussing in their own forums?
For me, the most fascinating moment of the week was ABC News 24’s panel of punters in the Penrith RSL last night — in particular the HR manager who said that from her perspective there really wasn’t much difference between Labor’s IR policies and the dreaded WorkChoices. She just wanted them all to make up their minds. Yet the journalist didn’t pursue that point. And it only counts as “the internet” because I was watching online.