I got in touch with all of the Battersea candidates who aren’t publishing web feeds to ask them if there was anything I had missed. I only got a reply from one of them.
But that’s ok. They’re probably busy. Campaigning is a time-consuming business.
The response I got was marked as “not for publication” so I’m not going to quote from it. I’m not even going to say which of the candidates it was from. But I do want to paraphrase and reply to the main couple of points that were raised as I think they indicate a lack of understanding about digital campaigning that is probably more common than we’d like to believe.
Firstly, the candidate expressed a concern that starting to use something like Twitter would set up an expectation for two-way communication that would be hard to meet. And it’s true, of course, that I really like to see Twitter being used for dialogues rather than monologues. I’ve written about that several times. But given a choice between people using tools in ways I don’t really like or them just not using them, then I’m very happy to lower my standards. And it’s not like treating Twitter as a one-way medium isn’t even an unusual way to use it. Many people use Twitter like that. Here’s Tory MP Douglas Carswell telling me that he sees Twitter as a “RSS feed” – by which he means something that he publishes for people to read rather than something that he uses as a source of information.
Secondly, the candidate claims not to have the time to keep web feeds updated. And I think that just comes back to using the wrong tools (something else we’ve discussed on this blog). If your web site is run using decent software then it will be automatically publishing a web feed whenever you write a new entry. Tie that up with something like TwitterFeed and you’ve got an automatically updated Twitter account too. I know that the people standing for election will not usually be geeks who know this kind of thing but digital communication is important and I would expect that any candidate will be able to find a tame geek to help out with things like this.
The candidate heavily implied that “the old ways are the best”. That time spent knocking on people’s doors was far more useful than time spent playing with computers. And whilst I would never suggest that time spent knocking on doors isn’t useful and important I think that time spent playing on computers is just as important and has the capability of reaching a far higher percentage of the electorate far more efficiently. Imagine if candidates had reached a similar conclusion about campaign leaflets (“oh no, we need to actually speak to the voters – we can’t just leave a leaflet”) or party political broadcasts (“one-way communication can’t work – it needs to be conversation”).
It’s all about getting your message across to as many people as possible as efficiently as people. You might get away with it this election. But by the next one, a candidate who doesn’t use digital communication efficiently will look hopelessly outdated.