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How the UK Labour Party missed an opportunity to amplify its 2010 conference though social media

BY jonworth | Thursday, September 30 2010

Every autumn the main UK political parties organise their party conferences - a week of policy debate, internal votes and, above all, networking for a week. Labour Party Conference concludes in Manchester today and some 10000 people will have walked through the doors over the course of the week. Literally hundreds of fringe events at more than a dozen venues have taken place.

So what about the use of the internet, and particularly social media in all of this?

Ed Miliband, new leader of the Labour PartyEd Miliband, new leader of the Labour PartyThe speeches at an event of this scale should be like a rock being dropped into a pool with the social media reactions being the ripples going out from that - weaker, but spreading further than the event itself, helping those not attending to feel part of the main event in some way.

So how did Labour Party Conference manage in this regard? Quite frankly it was useless, and I say this as someone who attended and actively tweeted and blogged throughout.

The tag on Twitter for the conference - #lab10 - was been so full of crude critique of Ed Miliband posted by opponents outside the Labour Party so as to make following the hash tage essentially impossible. It was all just noise.

The number of replies I received to my tweets containing #lab10 was minuscule, and I am not aware of any fringe event that managed to create a worthwhile debate online during or after sessions. This is all despite there being reasonable wifi or 3G coverage in nearly all the venues.

So why was it so?

It could be to do with the rather inward-looking nature of conference, and also due to the fact that this was essentially a political rather than a technological event. Few fringe sessions - with the exception of Labour Values session I helped to run - were live streamed. It would also be worth finding ways to narrow the discussion - separate hash tags for individual sessions for example - that could be published at the start in the conference programme? Panel moderators would then mention social media at the start of each session.

There was very little live blogging on the main Labour Party site during the conference and I heard no mention at fringe events asking for blog entries or tweets to be written in light of what was discussed. The party's own Twitter presence could have been used to help amplify the messages tweeted by others and genuinely create a conversation online around the event.

Being even more utopian it would be good to see the use of Foursquare and maybe even Layar at conferences in future, allowing attendees to work out what fringe events were good to attend, in real time. Could the requirement to print a programme on paper for every delegate eventually even be abandoned?

In essence we all live different party conferences, attending different events and seeing them through our own frames. Likewise the coverage of conference in the mainstream media that seems to bear little resemblance to how I saw things through my own eyes. Effective use of social media - both within conference, and as a means to virtually connect others with conference, could help with that - but experience this week has shown that is a distant aspiration just now.

There are 12 months to put this right before #lab11.

[Photo credit: Ed Miliband - CC / Flickr by net_efekt]