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Joined-up engagement missing along the UK online election trail

Tanya Goodin
Tanya Goodin
CEO
25 May 2010

Now that the election dust has settled, I thought it would be useful to look back over our Political Search Index (PSI) series that we launched last October. The four white papers were certainly a revelation for me and the research teams here and in South Africa.

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I also think there are lessons that will help our clients, partners and prospective customers understand much more about what makes an online search and social media strategy click with consumers.

Crucially, the research shows that an integrated online campaign is not about instant wins; it’s about comprehensive, patient, expert engagement led by a conversion strategy that understands:

  • where your consumers connect
  • what questions they are asking
  • what key words they use
  • what they say about you
  • what their needs are
  • where they’ve come from
  • where they are going
  • how to guide them on the journey

Within that spread of tactical touchpoints is the need to protect and enhance your online brand reputation – through connection, conversation and conversion. You will be part of a multi-voice dialogue and you need to know how, where and when to respond, even to lead what’s being talked about.

Your integrated conversion campaign will also need agile, flexible tools that include a responsive website, designed accurately to match the consumer journey and which is alive with relevant, updated content. Your SEO toolkit should also include social network gears that enable you to deploy your spread of tactical elements most effectively.

The goal is always conversion, whether that’s sales or building a network of brand evangelists. We think that’s true of the commercial as well as the political spheres.

We’ve just published the fourth PSI in this ongoing series, which took a last look at the major political parties’ online engagement campaigns before the polls on May 6th.

The aim of our research was to measure key elements of the parties’ search and social media campaigns because, after the phenomenal success of the Obama campaign in the US, the 2010 battle for Downing Street was clearly marked as the “first online election” in the UK.

We certainly caught the mood and this was reflected by our three Sky News interviews, featuring Neilson Hall, Associate Director Search at Tamar along with national newspaper, marketing magazines and widespread online coverage.

Our PSI teams, led by Head of Research Robin Fishley and Social Media Strategist Milly Diaz, focussed on how effective the major parties were in: meeting voters’ needs, engaging in the online political conversations and having relevant answers to people’s policy questions.

101009We also measured how effective the party leaders were at protecting their “online personal brands” and how they engaged at a personal level through the social networks, a decisive element of the Obama campaign, in the run up to the UK General Election.

We haven’t got a political axe to grind here and at Tamar we have no professional affiliation or client interest in the political sector so there is no spin on our findings that the major parties, and the leaders, did “too little, too late” to engage, discuss with and convert people online.

This was a unique opportunity to learn from the Obama campaign, engage personally with voters and raise funds but the parties seemed fixed in the old ways of one-way communications, particularly in the early months of our research.

The four PSI’s indicated that:

  1. The parties had no clear, integrated online strategies
  2. They failed to start their online engagement with voters early enough
  3. Their websites failed to communicate the right messages early enough
  4. The messages were not communicated consistently across all online social networks
  5. The party leaders missed opportunities to develop a “personal” voice and connections with voters online
  6. The leaders failed to protect their “online personal brand” reputations

Every success at online political engagement in the UK is welcomed and we identified some of those during our four Political Search Index reports. Mark Hanson, part of Labour’s online campaign team, has pointed to some of those successes.

The fact remains, though, that the UK parties did not reproduce the Obama effect. The President’s campaign was breathtaking in its reach and engagement, not only creating a new constituency but also proving extraordinarily effective at responding to voters’ concerns.

gordon-brown-450-818796933We were surprised at the lack of leadership engagement online and our research indicated that the online campaigns of all the major parties kicked into action later than expected, with subsequent lack of traction in the social networks.

There are lessons that the parties can learn from this election and develop integrated online strategies before people go to the polls again.

Both the Labour Party and the LibDems in particular need to use online campaigns much more effectively to raise funds – their coffers are drained following the General Election and they should be preparing for the next election. The Obama campaign raised over half a billion dollars, much of it from online small donations in response to the phenomenally successful engagement with voters/supporters.

Our research, which is ongoing, found gaps in connection, conversation and conversion over seven months up to the General Election, which we think is a missed opportunity.

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