Michael Dugher has called it the most personal election ever. Douglas Alexander and Spencer Livermore emphasised the importance of achieving personal conversations with the electorate in a recent National Executive Committee meeting. And we have an increasing number of channels through which to engage with people.
With a hostile media and plenty of apathy to contend with, personal conversations will be crucial to getting our messages across. We need to rethink how we communicate to engage those who have been turned off politics, both in terms of message and approach. As Alexander and Livermore have said, this means reaching out to people through social media and community organising. But, even more importantly, it means talking to more people on the doorstep about the local issues that will bring politics home to them.
Social media is becoming ever more useful, particularly when it comes to young and first-time voters. With half the UK population on Facebook and over half owning smartphones, social media sites are a constant source of information for voters. While the role of social media is often overplayed (it certainly is nt the be-all and end-all of election strategy), it does give us access to a wider group of people, who do not necessarily read newspapers or listen to the Today Programme. If used well, this allows us to get cut-through among groups who otherwise would ignore us, and to begin to have more personal conversations. We need to look at which channels our target audiences use and target different groups through different channels, tailoring our messages for each.
The people delivering the messages also impact on their effectiveness. People trust their peers and family members more than they trust politicians and campaign organisers. The message is more likely to reach its intended audience (ordinary voters) via an activist’s Facebook feed than Ed Miliband’s Twitter feed. While politicians’ social media accounts are useful for getting messages to the wider media and rallying the seasoned activists, most floating voters do not follow them on Twitter (unless they are Barack Obama). A personal endorsement from a peer goes a lot further than the distant voice of a politician. It is therefore important to ensure that our volunteers are using digital and know how to use it to its best effect.
Achieving more personal conversations also means reaching out to people on the ground. Community organising has a role to play as a way of engaging people in politics who otherwise would not necessarily see themselves as being ‘political’. We need to be taking politics to people by engaging them on the issues that matter to them and showing how the everyday issues link to our political system. We need to be going to the places where our target voters are – to youth centres, sure start centres and community groups – rather than waiting for them to come to us – and we need to be signing them up as registered supporters.
But, most importantly, we still need to be knocking on as many doors as possible and having as many personal face-to-face conversations as possible. Social media and community organising have their place, but they will not win us or lose us the general election. Doorknocking has been proven to make all the difference.
This may be the most personal election yet – and the one where social media, data and technology generally are more important than they ever have been – but the traditional methods remain the most effective.