The increasing impact of social media on the political landscape

I am not going to write formally about my views on politics in general but with Americans voting in Barack Obama for what is being hailed as a historic and landmark event in global politics, i feel i need to mention a few things and ask one of two questions.

It has been widely recognised that one of the key support tools Obama used during his campaign were the new and social media platforms that are available. These tools were simply not as widely supported before so their reach did not generate the same effect this time round. What is interesting about all of this, is i believe that politics and elections across the globe will never be the same again.  That for me is a good thing, because living in the UK i don’t think i have ever felt part of the US Elections as i have done this time round, due to the social networks that i belong too and the different means in which the media has been presented and shared across the world, for some reason, i felt i also wanted to vote, that is very powerful considering i am over 3000 miles away.

Jeremiah Owyang posted “Snapshot of Presidential Candidate Social Networking Stats” on the 3rd November which showed the following stats


Obama: 2,379,102 supporters

McCain: 620,359 supporters

Obama has 380% more supporters than McCain


Obama: 1792 videos uploaded since Nov 2006, Subscribers: 114,559 (uploads about 4 a day), Channel Views: 18,413,110

McCain: 329 videos uploaded since Feb 2007 (uploads about 2 a day), Subscribers: 28,419, Channel Views: 2,032,993

Obama has 403% more subscribers than McCain

Obama has 905% more viewers than McCain


Obama: @barackobama has 112,474 followers

McCain: @JohnMcCain (is it real?) 4,603 followers

Obama has 240 times more followers in Twitter than McCain

But if you look today (5th November) there is already an incredible increase in followers and supported for Obama. The main questions i have though is will these media tools still be used as pro-actively now that he has been elected?

The thought occurred to me, as i am sure it has with many people recently, can this be replicated in the UK for our general elections, or even local elections?  well i doubt it, whilst we (general public) seem to be fed more and more information by the media about the personalities and celebrity of current MP’s, it doesn’t quite seem the same to me, we don’t really vote for individuals, although “the leader” does play a part. Tony Blair being a great example of this. But the reality is we still after all is said and done vote for a “party” and a “view”.

Chris Reed posted on this very subject and highlights 4 examples of how it could be utilised by UK politicians  – he writes:

1) Motivating the supporter base. Preaching to the converted remains important. They’re the ones who help get the votes out on the day

2) Fundraising. We haven’t seen the levels of individual donations that the US elections rely on, but given recent ship-based discussions I predict that the parties will have to tap more voters (i.e. not just party members) than ever before in the next election

3) Policy development and argument. The internet is basically a pub. It’s where people talk, and clever people listen. Sometimes it’s an early warning system. Sometimes it’s an echo-chamber. But it provides unrivalled access to what people are actually thinking. Political parties of all shades should take note, and tweak their policies accordingly

4) The personalisation of politics. Rather perversely – being friended by a politician can sometimes be akin to being “followed” by a celebrity on twitter (@stephenfry anyone?) All politicians are looking for that “personal” touch. Using social media wisely can help to make individual supporters feel special, and, when used appropriately, can also help answer critics’ questions in a sincere and honest way.

In relation to the impact of social media on the US Election, it is hard to demonstrate exactly what impact is has had, but if you understand how social media and social networks are used then it can start to demonstrate the potential for increased communications and dialogue with people. A recent news release in Science Daily highlights research that Dr. Paul Haridakis, associate professor of Communication Studies at Kent State University is doing where he states “Many people, will watch videos and use traditional media like TV to acquire political information about the candidates, but they also are going to the Internet and using social networking sites to see who people they know support. The information gleaned from their social networks may be the information they find most credible and persuasive”  This basic level of peer to peer confirmation was validated in our recent consultation with young people, where they said social networks are places they meet and hang out with their friends. We are in a society where consumer empowerment is becoming increasingly more accessible and this will only get more pervasive as time goes on.

The impact of your friends views and the fact that by there nature social media tools are global it does raise some interesting questions about external influence from peers around the world on an individuals choice Dahna M. Chandler’s blog – Getting Social Media Savvy recently posted Social Media and the U.S. Presidential Election: What if the World Could Vote for US President?, This website shows an amazing result in favour of Obama:

Barack Obama        87.3% (758,041 votes)
John McCain           12.7% (110,103 votes)

So why such interest in the US Election? Is it because we all do really care who is in charge of one of the most powerful countries in the world, or is it because the tools we now use on a daily basis, which connect us to the lives of people who actually do need to make a choice and that in itself inspires our interest. Or is it something bigger, something more social.

The US Election has done a great things for social media and social media has done great things for the US Election, but has it changed the world, have we all started to realise more and more that we are truly one community connected by our interests and that our geography is no longer a barrier to networking. Has it also made big business and future political leaders sit up and take notice of the power of consumer/citizen engagement. Martin Bowling guest posted back in October on searchenginepeople How The US Election Is Changing Social Media, Online Rep Management & The World where he tsalks about 3 keys things that have occurred.

  1. The partisanship/overtly political statements that people are so willing to put out there without regard to online reputation management issues
  2. The effect of partisan/overtly political comments on the relationships that people have worked hard to form online and finally
  3. The transformation of twitter from a simple conversation tool to a full blown memetracker

If you want to see how much social media “stuff” is out there just for the election then Jarrett Martineau has posted Social Media Mania and the US Election: the Best Links & Resources

I am still left with the question, “will it all continue?” after reading all the websites i have read in the last few days about the impact, it would be a shame to loose the momentum that it has now gained from this event.

Finally, we do seem to be entering a period of change, lets hold on and ride the wave.

a Concept for Devon Online – version 2

My previous post on this topic sparked a number of great conversations offline with colleagues as well as some pointers to other interesting posts, one by Dave Briggs.

I was also made aware of the following interesting websites:

So here is my current thinking around a new blueprint and vision.

A pan Devon web presence that virtually brings together the wealth of information about and services for residents and visitors, that enriches their experience and online journey.

  1. Increasing visibility and profile of Devon, our people and communities
    1. providing opportunities to showcase Devon, our communities and people
    2. supporting platforms for community collaboration and community planning activities
  2. Ensuring aggregation and facilitating reuse and re-purposing of content (mash-ups and content strategy)
    1. making best use of existing data and content to ensure that it is presented in the right place, at the right time and for the right audience
    2. supporting a content strategy approach to best understand and manage the flow of information
  3. Enabling, supporting and encouraging online participation, community collaboration and e-democracy opportunities
    1. supporting and encouraging online participation methods which demonstrate added value
    2. encouraging more involvement in local “communities of interest” and providing a framework for wider democratic engagement
  4. Facilitating and supporting information exchange – Person – Community – Devon – the World
    1. enabling connections and providing greater opportunities to share and collaborate with others
    2. encouraging and supporting participation in the digital world e.g. through new and social media tools
  5. Focusing on the needs of users and not being bound by political boundaries
    1. ensuring that political boundaries are not a barrier to delivering an excellent online customer journey
    2. encourage and develop partnerships for service and information provision
  6. Encouraging Trust – Brand recognition, validity and reliability of content
    1. providing a clear identity and accountability of service

Outline Architecture

(non technical viewpoint) The architecture needs to support the separation of the “backoffice” and the “presentation layer”. This enables the delivery of widgets/mash-ups etc from locations outside of the main council platform to be integrated more effectively and within the overall style and design of the main site.

The basic principle is that the site is a hybrid mix of mash-ups and standard text and services.

The following represents the broad tools that are shaping my thinking in terms of functionality and user interaction:

  • Blogs—each member can have their own blog, and blog entries can be aggregated into collective views (e.g., most recent posts, most active contributors, highest rated posts, etc.)
  • Microblogging—users will be able to share there thoughts and ideas, as well as receiving updates from others about important information linked via SMS
  • Discussions—create threaded discussion forums where members reply to posts from other members
  • Wikis—a post from one member can be edited by another member, maintaining version and author history
  • Videos—upload and share videos
  • Photos—upload photos, embed images in posts, create photo albums
  • Calendars—mark events and posts on a personal or group calendar
  • Content Tagging—members can “tag” content to allow other members to find that content via “tag clouds” or through content aggregation
  • Geospatial tagging – content will have GPS data attached for location based content
  • Mapping—apply “geo tags” to display content or member location on a map
  • RSS feeds—use RSS to incorporate content from external sources, or create RSS feeds to syndicate content to other sources and users
  • Podcasts—upload and syndicate podcasts
  • Bookmarks—mark and share URLS with other members
  • Voting & Rating—vote on content and aggregate the results
  • Status-members can update the community and their friends on what they are doing

All comments are welcome (except spam)

Aggregation of Communities in Action

In Devon we have a number of things going on which attempt to support or facilitate communities, voluntary sector in the community planning process.

One thing we do to help support the co-ordination and communications is provide a database which is called communities in action. One of the ideas for this in moving it forward is how we can develop something which creates an automated approach to some of the data gathering.

For example, if a community creates a plan which has identified a number of objectives, then local groups of organisations can associate themselves to the objective and also receive information on who else is working to that objective. This would help joint working or collaboration at a community level on prioritised community regeneration or development projects.

So i guess i am trying to work out the approach, which is a bit like an aggregation of actions but how would it find them unless they were published to some consistent schema or associated by “tag”.

If anyone reading this has ideas or is aware of something broadly similar then let me know. i know i am probably missing something obvious here, but i am so far involved now i can’t see the wood for the trees.

A Case for Social Discrimination – Randy Hamilton

An article by Randy Hamilton on the social media today website is interesting as it talks about and highlights the challenges of mirroring “real” communities within a social networking or social media platform.

What Randy highlights is the fact that in real communities some people have more “weight” when there voice is heard because they are more active, have a reputation or are trusted. Contrast this to someone who might sit at the back of a room and speak only once and there only contribution is to be negative.

This isn’t to say that these voices are less important or less valid, but they need to be taken in context within the community setting. They may not have the breadth of knowledge that others have or they maybe intent of causing confusion or miscommunication.

So how do you replicate the real community within an online community to factor in that some people’s voices are worth more than others?

Are we ready to catch the social media train?

From what i can tell the people who understand social media, understand that it isn’t a community itself, although the people around it create a community of interest, but social media enables communities to connect, collaborate, communicate and empower action among other things as well.

So if that is the case, then from a public sector perspective the technology is irrelevant and only a means by which we engage. On that basis i can see why social media is placed at the back or to the side, because my perception is that public sector organisations don’t understand the communities who are using these tools yet (well not across the whole sector anyway).

So my challenge isn’t just getting my organisation on the social media train, it is in fact getting it to the station first?

Interesting, i have started getting parts of the organisation on the train, but i need to get the whole thing there so projects become easier….

I am working with our Youth Service, as previously mentioned on this blog, about youth participation via social networking sites, the easiest part of this was actually getting them to appreciate that this is where young people are, the hardest thing is to explain what our engagement in that environment looks like and how we will manage it.

We will be running a consultation event at a local youth service organised festival, where we aim to consult on 2 main areas, with the help of Tim Davies.

  1. Code of conduct (complaints, confidently & privacy)
  2. Engagement approach

The other area which i am working on, and for me this is far more significant from the organisational perspective is getting a corporate policy agreed at our corporate management board which allows all staff to formally access social networking sites in work time. This naturally presents many challenges to us in terms of managing risk, but not as risky as ignoring it and pretending it doesn’t exist.  I will keep you posted on the progress in this area as we move forward.

But back to the train in the station. One of the main challenges I face, is getting a greater understanding of all aspects of the business, so that I can then become a “Service Shepherd” who herds (i would prefer to say Lead here!) the service areas into the station and onto the train.

It will then be a challenge to co-ordinate the activities so that we ensure we benefit the communities we engage with or just simply listen to, as well as adding value and knowledge to the organisation in terms of understanding our many communities.