Slogans are not enough
A view from Sue Unerman

Slogans are not enough

Ian Katz, the editor of Newsnight, wrote recently about an impasse in journalism, suggesting a deal to allow politicians to get their point across in traditional media and be less defensive.

As the general election approaches, I think politicians should focus on their direct channel to the public – social media.

At Twitter's new headquarters, the presenter Rick Edwards and the former spin doctor Alastair Campbell explained how the platform can enthuse people about politics. They agreed that no British party leader is doing Twitter particularly well, and everyone is amateur compared with Obama. We were reminded of the effective use of social media in the 2008 US election campaign (as explained in To Be President). Will the 2015 election be UK politics' year of social media?

Edwards said the Prime Minister's Tweets are just "tell" at the moment and need added interaction with followers. Twitter is for conversations and expressions of humanity – it is not a loud hailer (the same, obviously, is true for a brand's use of social).

Campbell suggested the key is authenticity (as for all modern marketing – see Tell The Truth) and explained that, during his time at Downing Street, it was still possible to have a command-and-control attitude to the news agenda. Not any more. Politicians need to catch up with the fact that social can be a better gauge of the public’s views than a newspaper columnist.

In 1960, John F Kennedy and Richard Nixon squared off in the first-ever TV debate between presidential candidates. It is widely believed that this changed the course of politics. Kennedy's greater visual appeal won voters over and it was much harder after 1960 to win if you were not at least remotely photogenic.

Could the UK general election change politics again? Instead of how good you look on TV, could how well you come across on social media be the decisive factor?

When I asked them, neither Edwards nor Campbell were entirely convinced that this is the breakthrough year, but social media is changing things fast. In the town of Jun in Spain, the mayor made all public services accountable via Twitter. Meanwhile, social media was crucial in India's 2014 election. The politician Rajeev Chandrasekhar commented: "On social networks, politicians cannot hide from scrutiny and interactivity."

Exactly. One hundred and forty characters. It tells you a good deal about someone's character.

Sue Unerman is the chief strategy officer at MediaCom 
@sueu

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