At some point, somebody will say this is the most tweeted Scottish election ever. They probably already have but I’ve missed it while writing a new blog posting, replying to a question on Facebook or sending out a press release. I’ve heard commentators talk about air wars (using TV and radio), ground wars (leafleting) and cyber wars, with every candidate pumping out messages through one social media or another. I’m as guilty as the next candidate on that front, so don’t think I’m criticising anybody for it.
However, I’d still say that most people get their information from the television or radio news, closely followed by what they see in the newspaper. While I enjoy using social media and think Twitter is a very democratic form of communicating, I know that it is a limited tool. Some say its influence is over-exaggerated and that it is still a minority tool. I would say they’re right – not everybody feels the need to use an application that gives you constant updates on what people are doing. In fact, there are days when I have to make an effort to use it, simply because I’m too busy doing the basics – travelling round the region, handing out leaflets on the street and putting them through letter boxes. Having said that, I have received positive feedback on my use of it.
You can quickly gain followers on Twitter, but sometimes that involves luck more than content. Sure, post something controversial, follow loads of people or use every trending topic under the sun and your follower count will rise. Is that worth the effort? You get followers but they’re not interested in what you have to say. I’m not saying wonderful things can’t happen in cyberspace and quickly. You saw it with the reaction to an article about Stephen Gately’s death. People were angered, expressed how they felt and more people learnt about it, adding to number of complaints. A good cause or someone’s sponsored event can be passed around a large group quickly, helping to raise funds for their chosen charity. Send it out to a celebrity user and they might pass it on as well, further adding to the money raised.
One of my favourite musicians, Amanda Palmer (@amandapalmer) once managed to take over Twitter on a Friday night. She sent out the following message: “I hereby call THE LOSERS OF FRIDAY NIGHT ON THEIR COMPUTERS to ORDER.” Thus was born the hash tag #LOFNOTC. For those not familiar with them, hash tags are words or phrases prefixed with the hash symbol, #. You can then create a search to see everybody who is using the hash tag, follow the conversation and join in. Trust me, it’s a lot more fun than sounds.
Anyway, back to #LOFNOTC. After the call to order, people started answering her and participated in the group conversation. During the night she designed a T-shirt, took orders and made $11,000 (£7,000) through its sale. Remember, this was just a sketch at this stage, nothing more solid than a felt-tip drawn design that was photographed and sent around the world. Ms Palmer even wrote a post about the night for her website – Twitter & the Beautiful Losers. We had a wonderful Friday night and have had many more since. I’ve made some good friends through #LOFNOTC, people who’s company I’ve missed during the campaign.
Why did it work? Ms Palmer has a loyal, large following of folk who use Twitter anyway. If I did something similar tonight, it wouldn’t work. Why? I don’t have hundreds of thousands of followers and also the ones I have are probably asleep just now. You need that base to build something quickly, or a long time to reach a capacity. There’s nothing more complicated to it than that. Or you spam well-followed celebrities until one of them retweets (or sends on, also called RTing) your message. Or you’re lucky, as a certain seven-year old, dinasore (sic) sheet owning laddie was last week. That’s great if you want fame, notoriety or are building a music career, not so much if you’re trying to convince people to vote for you.
For all the tweeting, sharing, posting, linking and everything else that I do, there is no substitute to getting out there and meeting people. Talking to them, explaining my ideas and explaining why they should vote for me. Nobody ever won an election sitting in the front room tapping away on their keyboard or their mobile phone. I happily spend time talking to people I meet on the street and they go away with my flyer, mulling over what I’ve said to them. One thing that they will remember though is that I spent the time with them and we talked – they ‘know’ me. If they like what they’ve heard, they will tell their friends, which again has a knock-on effect. Can you measure that effect via website hits or followers on a social network?
Hard work, old fashioned word of mouth and something people agree with – that is what will win you an election. Hopefully. At the end of the day, while everybody’s talking about the new media, it’s still rock and roll to me.