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SOCIAL MEDIA – THE KEY TO 21st CENTURY ELECTIONS
The light hearted Lionel Bart song “Fings Ain’t What They Used T’Be” may become the unintended anthem for unsuccessful candidates in forthcoming elections both in the UK and throughout the world. To continue with the musical analogy, Bob Dylan’s pronouncement now captures the modern political landscape in that “The Times they are a-Changing”.
Political parties, individual candidates and indeed the whole democratic process have now been thrust into the digital age. It is therefore a surprising and frequently overlooked fact that the well known phrase, referring to the internet as the “Information Super Highway” was in fact coined by a politician – Vice President Al Gore. Set against this background, It is even more surprising that politicians have been notoriously slow to capitalise on effective use of Social Media in their political campaigns.
I headed the Legal Services function of a Unitary Authority for over a decade and officiated in senior roles at Elections. It is a well-known feature in local government that the general “turnover” of elected members at any election is around 33%. In other words, some will choose not to stand for re-election and some will just get voted out of office. The same was true at the last UK General Election in 2010 when the 227 new MPs accounted for 35% of the House. That turnover will doubtless increase in future elections as sitting Members, at all levels of government, fail to embrace Social Media.
I present our unique elected member seminar “Making Social Media Work For Councillors” throughout the UK, from which a number of recurrent themes arise.
Elected members are generally good at communicating with at least part of the electors within their wards, for if they weren’t, they would not have been elected in the first place. However, I have never met an elected member who was unanimously elected by every possible voter – and most councillors admit that they could always do with boosting their majorities at the next election. Set against that background, across the length and breadth of the country whenever I ask elected members what general section of their communities actually cast votes for them, I am always told that voters are probably in the 50+ age-group. The question arises then, if extra votes are always welcome, why Councillors seem unable to effectively connect with adults in the 18 to 49 year old bracket? What are they doing wrong in their communication strategies?
Generally, Members’ communication strategies will be around running surgeries and sending out occasional newsletters or flyers over the course of their tenure. They might have the odd sound-bite quoted in the local newspaper or a photograph taken when opening a fete. Yes, they all do have email addresses, telephone numbers and postal addresses – but such contact points are passive and rely on being contacted by constituents. Instead of simply waiting to be approached, Members must actively raise their profiles and show the work they do in real-time to a wider audience in their communities. They can easily achieve this through effective use of Social Media – and if they don’t – rest assured, aspiring politicians who will be candidates competing against them in forthcoming elections will already be using social media to further their campaigns.
The focus of a modern politician’s task must be regular communication – especially with the younger generation. Social Media readily and easily gives them that degree of audience penetration. Statistics show that 87% of adults in the UK below the age of 30 (that’s 9 million voters) have at least one Social Media account, as do 77% of voters in their 30’s and 65% of voters in their 40’s (a further 12.2 million people). Almost half of the UK adult population are below 50. There’s a huge and largely un-tapped political audience out there.
We all know the part that Social Media played in organising demonstrations against oppressive governments in Tunisia, Libya and Egypt in what became known as the Arab Spring. But Social Media is also playing a huge part in decision-making by political parties and our governments in the West.
When the UK Parliament voted against Government proposals to deploy military assets in Syria, the columnist Sue Cameron wrote a convincingly researched article in The Daily Telegraph entitled “How Social Media Delivered the Syria Defeat” in which she analysed the extent to which MPs were influenced by contact they had through Social Media. Last week, Labour MP Douglas Alexander, who masterminds his party’s General Election strategy, gave an interview, reported in The Guardian under the self-descriptive title “Social Media is Priceless in the 2015 Election Campaign”.
Gone are the days when the political parties set the tone, pace and agenda of election campaigns. They are now driven by (and often left lagging behind) the discussions of local, regional and national politics on Social Media. This is people-power in the digital age. It is just like the immortal opening words of the American Constitution – “We the People”. Indeed in the USA, there are a number of dedicated online political discussion hubs including http://www.volkalize.com/ – an interesting play on the German word for ‘people’.
Research undertaken by MHP Public Affairs into the 2013 Party Conference season in the UK revealed that there were 21,082 mentions of David Cameron on Social Media; 8,950 about Ed Milliband and 4,986 about Nick Clegg. One might ostensibly conclude that the Conservatives are leading the pack. However the drilled-down analysis of the content of all those Tweets, Blogs and Facebook postings revealed that the often those with the highest volume of mentions had postings which were unfavourable to them.
This is underlined by the important work being undertaken by American Universities, which have been analysing the impact of Social Media on the last two Presidential races. They identify that the key to effective use of Social Media is spreading good news. It’s plain old-fashioned word of mouth – but in the digital era. In essence, once a candidate gets a positive message out there, that is re-tweeted and duplicated by thousands of recipients. Each recipient is potentially a sort of unofficial ‘canvasser’ spreading the messages to immediately receptive family and friends. It’s almost subliminal advertising – and the message spreads like wildfire.
It has widely recognised that politicians whose personal Facebook or Twitter pages are ‘liked’ by people, tend to give voters the impression of a personal connection with that candidate. An affinity develops – which is often translated into votes. In 2009 Barak Obama’s Twitter account has just over 2 million followers. In now has more than 18 million.
The message is clear. From now on, politicians and aspiring candidates at every level will only be successful if they are trained to use Social Media effectively.
For details of our seminar ”Making Social Media Work For Councillors” visit http://www.excela.co.uk/id86.html
PUBLIC SPEAKING WITH CONFIDENCE
Led by a solicitor advocate of over 20 years experience, this lively, highly interactive and fun 2.5 hour training event is essential for today’s elected member and senior officer. Based around four informative modules – each packed with tips, advice and workshop exercises – the seminar will empower delegates with professional techniques to feel at ease and confident speaking in any public forum.
MODULE 1 – Building Confidence
Knowing your audience and venue. How to prepare. Understanding how to overcome fear and self-consciousness. Dealing with nerves. The importance of flash cards. Hands-on training exercises.
MODULE 2 – Technique
The secrets of a relaxed and professional performance. The right stance and creating an authoritative presence. Use of humour and anecdotes. Using theatrical techniques. Correct use of PowerPoint or Slides. A lively & interactive workshop session.
MODULE 3 – Pace and Tone
Learning the art of timing. How to pace your delivery. The importance of matching the tone and voice inflection to your delivery. Dealing with interruptions.
MODULE 4 – The Secrets of Success
How to deal with questions effectively. The importance of body language. Facial expression. How to be a likeable speaker. Deploying ‘sound-bites’ and key themes.
An entertaining workshop session drawing upon the experiences, techniques and learning from the event.
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STANDARDS, ETHICS & GOOD GOVERNANCE
A lively, interactive 3 hour training event for today’s elected member. Ideal at both introduction and refresher levels. Based around four modules containing exciting action-learning-sets together with a workshop session, the seminar will empower councillors to undertake their Council duties effectively.
Module 1 – Golden Principles of Elected Office
An overview of the Nolan Principles, what they mean and how they translate to elected public office. Members will gain an understanding, through examples of the key principles of selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty & leadership.
Module 2 – Your Code of Conduct
The historical context of the former Standards Board for England. An overview of Member’s code of conduct adopted by your Council. Delegates will engage in action learning sets, exploring through case-studies how the code may be engaged and what the pitfalls may be. The module includes an exploration of common areas of concern including the use of social networking platforms and the Data Protection Act. Members will gain an understanding of the need for disclosure of interests in the context of the Localism Act. There will be a discussion around how and when to declare interests at both Committee and Council meetings.
Module 3 – Code of Conduct in Planning Matters
An overview of the particular issues around Members dealing with often contentious planning issues, including probity and an understanding of the concepts of both pre-disposition and pre-determination. The module contains reference to concepts of risk management in the context of sound decision-making and reducing the risk of judicial challenge.
Module 4 – Equality and Respect
An overview of the main principles of the Equality Act and how it relates to Members. Delegates will gain an understanding of their duties to their community in the context of the various strands of the diversity agenda. There will be an overview of successful officer / member relationships.
Workshop Session & Questions.
An engaging and useful workshop session exploring and developing skill sets from the event.
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