This year I was given the choice of attending the Labour, Liberal Democrat or Conservative Party Conference to speak on the main stage about Citizenship education and for my purposes at least, decided on #cpc11. For all those who don't know, #cpc11 was the clever little hash tag that gave Twitters the opportunity of expressing their opinions on Conservative policy during the conference and if searched electronically, acted as a central hub for all discussion points, most noticeably the Home Secretaries comments on Immigration.
The wizardry of the hash tag/Twitter combo is now everywhere, uniting opinion on many fronts from party politics to #whitegirlproblems, whatever they may be. In terms of the internet democratising us, I feel this social network has by far come the closest to achieving that aim. Forget the clutter of Facebook, the Twitter hash tag is a prefix used to group tweets together and as a result, people can instantly share a single, collective thought and grow networks based on similar values.
I spoke to a number of Tory MP's at the conference earlier this week regarding this glorious piece of digital tech and as expected, I encountered a lot of blank faces and limited responses. It seems as though the MP's enthusiasm for Tory Twittering didn't quite match the organisers enthusiasm for splashing those six digits on nearly every surface imaginable.
Hanging signs, coffee mugs, conference guides and of course, the main stage itself were all blanketed with this hash tag. However, after all the talk about modernising the Tory brand and its approach, they seem to have made the same mistake both Labour and the Lib Dems had made during their respective conferences and that is simply acknowledging the fact that these technologies exist isn't enough.
Political parties, especially in Britain, need to go beyond that and engage with young people on their own terms and by using the platforms young people have come to master. It seems to be yet another case of missed opportunity as during the party conference season, hundreds of thousands of young people were channeling their thoughts toward what seemed to be a bottomless pit of digital nothingness, this being the party conference hash tag!
Shamelessly plugging their own agendas, all I saw from the three majors was a constant flow of information and nothing in the way of dialogue. This old fashioned approach of exploiting a free communication tool to promote ones selfish interests does not belong in a digital world made up of a billion tiny conversations. Instead, Twitter is dependent on people's efforts to exchange knowledge, Tweet, ReTweet, Mention and Direct Mail one another so that you "encourage feedback" as opposed to simply consuming information. If you don't stick to the rules then Twitter itself becomes pointless and this is probably why all three major parties suffer from a distinct lack of follows and might explain why party memberships for young people are at an all time low.
Here's a tip. President Obama or the "Social Media President" as he's also known recently ran a Twitter Town Hall with questions being generated by people Tweeting their thoughts to #AskObama. This gave ordinary Americans the chance to instantly communicate with the worlds most powerful man and for an hour at least, the President responded to questions selected by Jack Dorsey, Twitter's co-founder and executive chairman. We know that the Obama administration has a social media team in place that operates his networks but events like this one have made Obama the fourth most followed person in the world on Twitter (10.4 million followers) with many commentators saying that his social media presence will probably win him reelection just like it won him the election in 2008.
David Cameron's Twitter account doesn't exist, unless you count the 50,000 followers the Conservative Party Twitter account has but when you consider that two-hundred thousand people follow the ITV1 show The Only Way is Essex then that starts to paint a rather sad picture wouldn't you agree.
Follow Danny Bartlett on Twitter: www.twitter.com/whosbored