Politics and Social Media: Does it Work?
I often feel sorry for our elected representatives, especially those in the House of Commons. They regularly work over seventy hours a week, even more if they hold a ministerial portfolio, often have to deal with highly charged constituents and get accused on a daily basis of thievery, as a result of the expenses scandal of 2009. But MPs also cause themselves unnecessary trouble, by making sudden changes of opinion to further their career (e.g. Gordon Brown on Iraq), failing to attend parliamentary debates (e.g. Gordon Brown since 2010) and coming across as out of touch. (e.g. George Osborne and errr… Gordon Brown) In addition, they’ve also been known to misunderstand the power of social media.
For the purposes of balance, I will use Aidan Burley, a Conservative MP in Staffordshire as my first example. Remember him? Yes, he was the one that used Twitter to describe the London 2012 Olympic opening ceremony as ‘leftie multicultural c**p.’ More recently, another Tory in Bedfordshire, Andrew Selous, said that he ‘strongly supported the loss of benefits unless claimants lean English.’ Then there’s good old Anthony Weiner, a congressman in New York with a rather unfortunate surname, given that he tweeted several half naked images of himself…
Then there are MPs who confuse updates and direct messages. This is something which caught out everyone’s favourite points swapper Chris Huhne. In October 2011, he tried to undermine his then cabinet colleague Theresa May, by suggesting to a Guardian journalist, correctly as it turned out in the end, that a speech she was making about the Human Rights Act had been partially taken from UKIP’s Nigel Farage.
The biggest problem however are inactive and exceptionally boring MP accounts. My local representative for instance, Hugo Swire, doesn’t post any updates which promote businesses, events, news or upcoming surgeries in East Devon, only tweets about his work as a minister in the Foreign Office. Yes, its right and proper to share his sympathies about the most recent earthquake in New Zealand, but why can’t he combine this with some updates about his constituency work. I suppose he’s in a safe Conservative seat though, with a majority of over 9000, so it doesn’t really matter what he does.
What makes good politically related social media account then? If its a elected representative, it should include what I mentioned in the previous paragraph, plus posts about their particular political interests, whether it be the Arab Spring or the use of acupuncture in the NHS. There should also be an emphasis placed towards interaction, whether it be through answering constituent enquiries, replying to journalists questions or undertaking surveys. Who’s good at this you might ask? Personally, there’s too many to list, but the ones that stand out for me are Sarah Wollaston, John Prescott, Tom Watson and Tim Farron.
Outside of parliament, accounts that could be followed include the Guido Fawkes blog, Owen Jones and BBC Question Time. But why I haven’t included the three party leaders and cabinet ministers? There’s a simple reason, it’s because they have very little input, their support staff almost certainly do it all for them. This can have awkward consequences too though. Remember Gideon’s recent posh fast food photo?
In summary, Politics and social media can work, but think before you press the send button and most importantly, keep your audience interested!