THE BLOG

Political Parties' Failings Seen in Use of Old and New Media in Election Battle

01/05/2015 15:44 BST | Updated 01/05/2016 10:12 BST

David Cameron, Ed Miliband and all the other party leaders will be jostling for voters' final decisions over the coming week in the lead-up to 7 May but on social media, one of their key communications tools, I feel they've got it all wrong.

Facebook and Twitter have replaced old-style billboard posters as the message channel of choice for political parties - but while everyone is doing plenty of talking they simply are not doing enough listening.

As we enter the last week of election campaigning it will be interesting to see how the political parties use different types of marketing communications, particularly in this 'call to action' final stage, where getting footfall into the polling booth will be vital.

Up to now indications are that the major parties have used social media whilst actually not really understanding that it is an interactive medium, but rather seeing it as just another device to put a message out on.

Gone are the days of daily poster launches, where party figures would appear on TV, unveiling the latest 48-sheet advertising poster with a snappy headline. Now we have slick YouTube videos and social media campaigns.

But how successful are they? Has there been anything in this campaign to rival the Tories' 'Labour's Tax Bombshell' poster campaign in 1992, which claimed Labour's plans would mean tax increases of more than £1,000 for the average voter, and are attributed as being successful in swaying opinion for the subsequent Conservative election.

Social media provides plenty of 'quick wins' as parties send out messages but billboard posters were in some ways more effective in getting political messages across. A cursory glance at any of the major parties' social media channels sees a prolific flow of messages, pictures and video content being pushed out but how much of a difference is it making? Is it all noise and how are they connecting with voters?

Social media creates a constant flow of data, more akin to a river. But as the Chinese proverb states 'you never enter the same river twice', which means that tracking and analysing digital data is a 24/7 job, requiring huge amounts of computing resource and expertise to analyse the data to gain that one nugget of insight that will give the edge over your competitors.

Having the data is no guarantee of success, as can be seen in the grocery giant Tesco, with data drawn from its millions of loyalty card holders but £6 billion losses.

Perhaps old-style media like posters do have a part to play. Indeed the inference in the days of the daily poster launches was that this design would soon be appearing on a poster site near you, as part of a large-scale campaign.

In fact it only ever appeared on that truck in front of the TV cameras, to catch that day's news bulletins, to be replaced days later by another design on the same truck in front of the same TV cameras.

That's not to decry the power of posters. In fact, used correctly, it could be said to be more useful for parties than the constant deluge of messages through social media we are now experiencing.

Today, the old-style poster could be used in tandem with social media to amplify the publicity, but we haven't seen that happen.

You only have to look at the 'Are you beach body ready?' campaign to see what type of reaction this London-only campaign kicked off across social media.

However, 'Are you ready for Government yet?' might not be quite the line any of the parties may want to run. But will it be a question our social media-savvy public will be answering on 7 May?