Will this be the "social media" election (part II)?

Not according to research showing lack of new media engagement among ordinary voters

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Following my post yesterday questioning the fashionable view that this will be the "social networking" election, some interesting research has just dropped into my in-box:

The General Election will not be decided online because most local party candidates in winnable seats are paying only "lip service" to Twitter, Facebook and other platforms rather than exploiting their full campaigning potential, according to new research.

The study, undertaken by Apex Communications and GetElected, surveyed the online activity of candidates in 100 parliamentary seats. It found:

Only 10% of candidates have no personal website

54% of websites have no links to the candidates' other social networking sites such as Twitter or Facebook

Less than half of all candidates are on Twitter and most of those have low levels of interactivity

Only 29% of candidates use a blog

Candidates with a national profile, including party leaders, dominate online platforms - 62% of all Facebook supporters and fans of candidates come from the top three most popular profile pages

Local candidates from the three main parties are equally inactive - and independent candidates and smaller parties like the BNP and Respect appear to be exploiting online techniques more effectively

The research was undertaken through February 2010 and measured the preparedness of candidates of all parties in the run-up to the General Election campaign.

Commenting on the findings, Carlo Gibbs, Head of Online Engagement at Euro RSCG Apex Communications, said:

"This research is striking in that it shows that much of the claims that this election would be the online election have been overstated and exaggerated.

"None of the parties have properly exploited the huge potential for online, interactive campaigning with local voters and are likely to miss out on any benefit during the eleciton. We found that even where candidates do have online platforms their use is patchy and irregular. The impact of such activity is likley to be minimal."

James Knight, Director of Get Elected, said:

"This election is certainly not going to represent a fundamental change as a result of online activity despite much of the commentary over recent weeks and months. Amazingly, one in ten candidates don't even have a personal website."

"Interestingly, it is the smaller candidates and independents who appear to be embracing online campaigning most effectively. This should act as a warning to all the mainstream parties as we approach voting day."

As I said yesterday, it is the message, not the method by which it is conveyed, that will determine the result of this election. (PS: you can "follow" me on Twitter at www.twitter.com/james_macintyre.)


James Macintyre is political correspondent for the New Statesman.
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