The Thick of It


Tuesday, October 19, 2010

How companies and politicians are using social media

When I'm not writing this I'm working at Metrica, where I write for the Measurement Matters blog. I write a weekly column Tim's week in social media where I highlight the most eye-catching developments in social media in the last week. 

My work involves helping companies understand the impact social media is having on them and helping them to work out what to do about it. Yesterday the BBC's Rory Cellan-Jones presented a short piece about this - in general, not about me - watch the short film below.

The lessons for politics should be obvious. Politicians and political parties have a brand image to protect and need to engage in the same way that the most forward thinking companies are with social media. In the past it was enough to talk at your target audience or voters but not necessary to engage with them. The benefits are the same: the more people are engaged with you and receive a positive response the more popular you are likely to be. You should not need to write a letter to your local representative or meet them at a surgery if you need help. Social media should make it easier.

Much has been made of Obama's use of social media to recruit and activate a huge volunteer base. Less has been said of politicians that use social media to engage their voters with their work ongoing. 

Mashable's account of how US politicians are benefiting from social media shows that by opening themselves up to feedback has added a human touch to communication and allows more of their constituents to communicate with them. It allows more people to see more from their representative and to communicate directly with them. Social media is creating a wider community around both brands and politicians that embrace it.  

Blogminster appraises the web presence if the UK's 645 MPs. This shows that there is a lot going on in the UK among politicians already. The best are taking part in conversations with the wider community while many more blog as another means of telling people what they think. 

Like any channel of communication social media is only worth engaging with if you have something useful to say and defined objectives. For the sake of it or because others are doing it doesn't count. Most politicians are missing out on an opportunity to speak directly with more of their constituents than they will ever reach by knocking on doors. 

Others like Vince Cable just look silly. "He" ran a Twitter account for the election, which he hasn't taken down. In a raft of posts he criticises his future Tory masters, including the gem about his current boss: "Osborne is totally out of his depth.

What goes online stays online. Cable shows that you need to understand what you are doing otherwise you'd be better off leaving social media alone. Poor old Vince. It wasn't meant to be like this. 

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