U.K.: Labour's New Media Strategy
BY Mark Hanson | Monday, October 5 2009
Mark Hanson is a consultant to the British Labour Party on their web strategy, and we're pleased to have his perspective on what that party is doing on the new media front. -- the editors
Whilst here in the UK we are used to playing catch-up with our American cousins, things have ratcheted up several gears in the past two weeks. Firstly the purchase by Tory Billionaire, Michael Ashcroft , of the blog sites, ConservativeHome and PoliticsHome , for a mind-blowing £1.3 million and then today, the launch of the Tory organising site, MyConservatives.com.
As far as the incumbent Labour Party is concerned, the Tories are catching up on a journey Labour has been on for over 12 months , recognising that success is about the extent to which you can facilitate the members and supporters and help them organise around campaigns and specific areas of interest as well as what parties do centrally.
So what’s Labour been doing?
a) Producing the right collateral -- Labour has maintained a steady flow of widgets and campaign tools e.g. the virtual phonebank - an idea borrowed from the Obama campaign
The new grassroots organising tool, membersnet, modelled on my.barackobama.com. It allows people to advertise campaign events to members and non-members which they can then sign up to; see which events their friends are attending; suggests campaign events they might like to attend on the basis of what their friends are attending AND, it also provides a forum through which individuals can set up their own campaigning group. There is already evidence that people are using it.
Then there are other tools such as Web Creator, Email Creator and Text Creator which enable local Party groups to send emails, create web pages and text supporters.
b) Involving the grassroots - the new media team has recognised that not all the experts work inside HQ and has increasingly consulted the blogosphere on campaign activity
c) Encouraging the politicians to engage - whether this be Ministers making themselves available to the public or party members through webchats, forum Q&As or Ministers and MPs interacting properly on Twitter, this is an important dividing line with the Tories - whereabouts in the new media sphere can you question the Tory politicians?
Examples include Yvette Cooper with personal finance communities on www.moneysupermarket.com and Douglas Alexander in a special members webchat during the local election campaign (which was actually an idea submitted by a blogger)
We now have a politician who actually 'gets it' i.e. Kerry McCarthy. Through a formalised new media campaign role she is building a bridge between MPs in parliament and the membership via new media
e) The strength of Labour-supporting groups in new media -- There are many groups that are loosely affiliated with Labour and are really starting to innovate on the web.
GoFourth is a campaign group led by former Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, Labour’s Howard Dean, and it is a great case study of how to use new media to organise around specific issues and fundraising with tactics imported directly from the US
LeftFootForward, is a new fact-checking site from Will Straw, based on the best of the US blogosphere such as Media Matters, and Think Progress to essentially act as a bulwark against right-wing media bias. Then we have 38 Degrees, a newly-launched UK version of the celebrated US liberal site MoveOn.org
There are other, very interesting but informal groups springing up e.g. Northern Bloc - a group of Northern Labour supporting bloggers that group together to crowd-source and cross-promote stories.
The Ashcroft and MyConservatives announcements are essentially the Tories raising the stakes and demonstrating they can throw money at most things in order to win the election. But look more closely and there’s nothing new. The initiatives they’re adopting are strangely familiar. What’s more they still seem unable to throw themselves totally behind this newly adopted strategy: the Conservatives are still reluctant to put their politicians at the mercy of the public via social media and some of their recent new media investments have been criticised for their lack of returns.
The likely date of the General Election is eight months away but the campaign is well underway already. The degree to which either Party can master the ‘organise and engage’ formula will dictate who takes the keys to Number 10 Downing Street.