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The Politician Of The Future Is A Digital Politician

06/06/2017 12:23
Anatolii Babii via Getty Images

Much discussion has taken place in Silicon Valley and whatever the Old Street roundabout is renaming itself now about how politicians use technology and they are not wrong to be talking about this. Things are changing. London will be getting its first ever Chief Digital Officer working out of the Mayor's office. Currently, there are over 3000 parliamentary candidates here in the UK with a Twitter account and the territory is fertile.

Just imagine if it really did go down in Theresa May's or Jeremy Corbyn's DMs.

'It', of course, being engagement. Social media provides the public an opportunity to express themselves directly to politicians, and they are doing it. MPs in the UK receive hundreds of thousands of tweets and Facebook messages a week. What then, can politicians do to harness this traffic of questions and opinions and facilitate engagement surrounding public policy online?

They have to do it right. Social media, it's claimed, gives us a window into the real people behind the soundbites and press teams. Politicians have certainly embraced social media as a way to try to look normal.

It's been a mixed bag. If we think back to November 7th 2016, Hillary Clinton executed in my humble opinion, a rather successful stab at the Mannequin Challenge to Rae Sremmurd's 'Black Beatles' the night before the election.

Elsewhere, less so. We all saw the pictures on our timelines of Theresa May devouring chips on the campaign trail last month. Ed Miliband had similar problems with his gastronomic optics in 2015.

But for some reason, British politicians just haven't cracked it yet. Perhaps Corbyn, finding refuge in the digital world from the storms of the dead tree press, is our best example. Anna Soubry, Tim Farron and Stella Creasy are all really good too. But it is no wonder that so many people want their favourite celebrity to run for public office. It is their varying degrees of openness when communicating with their fans that so many people admire and want to feel even closer to. Perhaps in the future a savvy politician might take a few leaves from their playbook:

Do pick your battles - Much of the web is mindless chatter. Politicians should represent and reflect the values we dare to believe in. Politicians on Twitter should embrace and welcome debate and use this platform to affect positive change in and on behalf of communities.

Do know when to log in and log off - A few years from now we need to consider that it could be fact that politicians that aren't online are out of touch with the community they are trying to reach. These interactions may not convert to higher turnouts at the polls, but that's where we broaden our definitions of democracy and diplomacy, where everyone can participate at the touch of a button. You can't however replicate a face-to-face emotive conversation between two humans. Fostering strong relationships where trust is the key ingredient makes for a solid foundation a digital presence can only enhance.

Do encourage the public to know more about politics beyond the polls - How much do we actually know about social research? Methodologies? The rationale on why research occurs in the first place? If the answer to this is not yes to great extent, then our politicians need to be encouraging us to think in this way. There are think tanks doing research about us. At the 2012 Democratic Convention, actress and activist Kerry Washington said: 'you may not be thinking about politics but politics is thinking about you'. That was five years ago and always sticks out to me. There are people working in creative ways at public affairs firms to help companies better understand politics, all to reach us. If our politicians were more engaging with us, especially on social media, we make marketing research more focused to meet ends that we desire.

Don't be reckless in your delivery - The person who makes the strongest case against a positive use of politicians on Twitter is Donald Trump. Policy makers and state leaders internationally cannot be discouraged by one leader's use of social media. Let's not confuse popularity or a large amount of retweets for creating a strong positive awareness of policies that will go on to affect generations to come. There is plenty of space for digital diplomacy - the idea that tangible peace making across international boarders is possible primarily through technology - to thrive on social media platforms.

Don't reinvent the wheel - Make it your own. The digital politician is the one that doesn't underestimate creativity and most certainly, never overestimates their self. These days Black Twitter can make or break the credibility of politicians, celebrities and others in public life - particularly by way of our favourite reality TV programming. Politicians who take their weekly surgery further by doing a Q+A on Twitter for an hour or so have peeped the game.

The political battlefield is no longer in Westminster or all around the country as we're seeing in the run-up to Thursday's election, but on a modern, thriving, digital turf.

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