Election 2013 media panel

So little time to develop social media strategy

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd set out from the election announcement to goad Opposition Leader Tony Abbott into a-debate-a-week schedule during the 33-day campaign.

The media-savvy PM and self-admitted “underdog” understands it is important to seize every opportunity to help the electorate to compare-and-contrast him directly with the main opponent.

He also understands these traditional, one-on-one debates provide spin-off fodder for the social media Twitter and Facebook platforms on which he comfortably roams.

The 2013 federal election campaign will be the first truly digital campaign in Australia to fully integrate social media into party messaging, through both advertising and direct messaging.

Since the nascent social media platforms started to be used effectively in political campaigning, most notably in the United States from 2008, their importance to the armoury of political parties has grown around the world.

In recent weeks, the Australian Labor Party has parachuted in campaign advisers with experience of Obama-style electioneering, a move welcomed by Mr Rudd for enabling the party to “draw upon the best brains in the world.” But they will have little time to convert the real weight of their experience into ballot box results.

Mr Rudd has proven, whether from the front benches or in exile, to be an adept and keenly compulsive exponent of social media. His Twitter following is estimated to be in excess of one million.

The ALP, quite possibly, would have ramped up the social media aspect of its campaigning no matter who was its PM.

Had Mr Rudd, however, been longer in the top job he could more strongly have driven a multi-directional social media strategy, including one critical aspect he touched on when announcing the poll date.

He issued an Obama-style call-to-action for followers to donate to the ALP through a website which makes it possible for them to contribute as little as $5 or up to $1,000.

The site notes the differences that various sums could make to campaigning: for example, “$100 pays for 90 targeted phone conversations with voters in marginal seats.”

Policy and principal aside, all political parties need funds to wage a competitive campaign. It will be no surprise, however, if the ALP’s coffers are depleted due to the confrontational relationship the government has had with big business.

If Mr Obama can build a war chest of hundreds of millions of dollars through social media rallying and fund raising, it stands to reason that other political parties can use his model to do the same.

But Mr Obama didn’t start canvassing support just a couple of weeks before polling day and this is why Mr Rudd and his team will fall short, despite his appeal to the grass roots social media demographic.