Politics and Social Media.

Do politicians really understand how to use social media?

Those of us versed in these new ways of online communication know that any political figure who can truly and completely adopt social media methods would have a formidable secret weapon in their arsenal. A weapon that would have to be adopted across all the battling parties or they would quickly fall by the wayside.

Obama has come the closest at showing the world how to effectively use social and new media in a political campaign with great success.

With podcasts, viral videos, twitter streams and Flickr groups there seemed to be no corner of the Internet where Obama wasn’t being talked about. Who knows how much of this was actually orchestrated by Obama’s people themselves? Does it really matter? The conversations were happening and it seemed Obama’s supporters were the most clued up as to how to keep the ball rolling.

Here in the UK, David Cameron, leader of the Conservative party has been dabbling in social media too. You may have seen ‘Webcameron‘ and his Twitter feed.

He certainly has the people around him capable of pulling this off. Hell, he’s even ¬†young enough to make it look like his idea.

Take a look at both parties current web presence though and you will see their pages filled with MySpace style jibes. Social media should be used more for engaging rather than bickering.

Reuters Auditorium

I’m intrigued to see whether Reuters‘ forward thinking in getting us in to exercise our social media sinew allows some of our uses of this tech to rub off on others.

After myself and Sizemore documented Gordon Brown’s visit to the Reuters head office in London. Ilicco (Head of Reuters mobile) thought we should take it a step further for a visit by David Cameron.

So, come the morning of the 15th of December (Tomorrow) at 10 am, a team of UK social media practitioners shall be in position to document Cameron and the day in more channels than are usually exercised.

This time the team has grown. Behind the scenes we will now have the technical support of two very well known social media mavens, Nik Butler (@Loudmouthman) and Phil Campbell (@PhilCampbell). As Nik uses some code he has built to trawl the twittersphere for questions and comments relating to Cameron’s talk, Phil Campbell will be at the digital helm of his invention Rezpondr at http://Newsmaker.Rezpondr.com. On the Reuters side of things will be @Chris_Parker and @MarkJones manning @Reuters_co_uk

Myself and Mike we be on the ground as last time. Taking pix, shooting film, streaming live and using our Mac’s to live blog the mornings event.

If we can get enough coffee inside us prior to Cameron’s arrival, between the four of us we should be able to extract as much as possible from the 60 minutes at our disposal.

I shall have my N95 for Qiking, my iPhone for tweeting pix, my Kodak Zi6 for HD video blogging, my Nikon D3 for raw pix and new to the arsenal a Nikon D90 equipped with an Eye-Fi SD card streaming photo’s straight into my Eye-Fi flicker account. Obviously it may be a bit of a struggle using all these devices at once and some will argue that I could consolidate some of this kit as certain items are able to multi task. That may well be so, but this is a test. We are once again undertaking an experiment in extreme social media. We are here to make mistakes and to learn from them.

It could be that I concentrate on streaming video and photos and save the rest for either side of Cameron’s visit. Who know what will happen on the day.

All I know is we have an amazing array of technology at our disposal and some hugely capable minds to tie it all in. All this so as the people excluded from the opportunity to participate can truly be a part of the conversation.

In the future this will be the norm and we will wonder why it took so long for politics and journalism to catch on to this.

Oh.. and in answer to my initial question. I think not.. but some of their aides will no doubt do it for them.


  1. says

    Looking forward to this big style, I got so into the last Reuters’ event and its immediacy. Not too sure whether I can take all the channels in at once but definitely interested in looking through it all after the event. I take it all the questions that are being sent in will be moderated? So if I pitch in I will do acceptably.

  2. says

    Christian, Mike, looking forward to working with you again on this.

    Nik, Phil welcome to the team, thanks for all your hard work so far, and it has not even started yet !

    looking forward to sparking interesting conversations and allowing those conversations to be heard inside the auditorium we will be using tomorrow for the event

    i believe this is a first of it’s kind – i am sure i’ll be told if it is not! – and am glad we can make it happen.

    if people want to submit quesitons, please do so on Twitter and add #askDC (which obviously stands for “Ask David Cameron”) we will be monitoring for all mentions of #askDC and will use that to seed the question and answer session during the event.

    good luck everyone

    ilicco (http://twitter.com/ilicco)

  3. says

    A great idea. I’d just like to see it being applied to something a little more interesting. Maybe you could make the experiment a little more interesting by tweeting/blogging/photoshopping that DC has just punched someone in the face and see how quickly the news spreads? Now that would be interesting!

    In all seriousness, I think that this style of journalism is the future but may have more impact in a “breaking news” scenario.

  4. says

    Well my mind is blown. Nice team work Christian and tthe @Gang. Such a wealth of rich data. My evolving traditional media mind set embraces with excitement this digital immediacy but I am attempting to process these new concepts and information channels. I’m now going to have to work out how I introduce my developing networks to this overwhelming accessible content. To start with pointing them to this site will be enough to wet appetites I don’t want to scare off new users so paths out of here will be crucial. Also a little top 10 of how to follow, engage and participate in these online experiences would be great. Do you feel like Pioneers?


  5. john says

    I thought social media was interactive, about the conversation. You createda bit of a buzz but we never seemed to engage with the subject. I might as well have watched News 24 or Sky and twittered. Not sure what value you added.

  6. says


    This social media input into a political arena gave a new refreshing slant to things. It’s great to know the wider general public can now become involved and even have their questions asked on their behalf to the people that matter.

    The webcasting technology is now allowing a level of communications only seen before by large organisations to be available to the humble internet user.

    However with this new technology must also come with some level of responsibility as people will only take this new group of commentators seriously if they adopt a mature approach to their inclusion.

    But it was great yesterday when Cameron took a question from Nik Butler (@loudmouthman) via twitter and then said he feared such a level of questionning.

    @documentally and @sizemore did a great job of keeping everything in context with the rest of the team helping to keep the technology in check. Well done everyone. What’s next?

  7. says

    UK Politicians are way way behind their US counterparts (with a very few exceptions). The Lib Dems seem to be the only ones who “converse” using twitter (though interestingly, I’m having a nice little twitterchat with @maggiethatcher at the mo). Others are just using it as a newsfeed – which has uses, but is a bit one-dimensional.

    The stuff you’re doing with Reuters/Qik etc is very exciting – hopefully will get the political parties thinking/doing a bit more.

    In the meantime, if you come across any other MPs using twitter than the 5 or so I’ve found – please do let me know so I can build up my list…http://bit.ly/WHY4

  8. says

    Hi ‘John’,
    I don’t normally allow anonymous blog comments with fake email addresses but i just have to say..

    I think you completely missed the point. These are baby steps we are taking into an stuck-in-the-past system that is not yet ready for the full force of social media. Give them time.

    You should at least be impressed with how Thompson Reuters are using social media to experiment with how they propagate the news.

    There is a long way to go and i would rather be walking there at a steady pace than on the wrong bus heading back in to the hills where the trolls live.

    Thanks for the comment.

  9. says

    What you guys are accomplishing is an amazing step in the right direction, I applaud your enthusiasm and commitment to the cause.
    As a newbie to the social media scene, I am learning every day how important it is from a business perspective to be Visible and Open to your customers and potential customers.

    This is true within all avenues of social media, Visibility = Credibility..

    Nice work guts and keep it up


  10. says

    Documentally , in response to John , John must have been watching some other channel .

    Because I am fairly sure that Mark Jones of Reuters asked two questions to David Cameron both from the Reuters_co_uk channel. What part of Social media did that interaction fail to deliver ?

  11. says

    John My question was asked through the Reuters channel so the system does work in the respect of allowing some people who would not otherwise have access to politicians to have their questions asked.

    I think there is an intrinsic difficulty in questioning politicians through social media channels, in that politicians by their nature are conservative with the truth and likely to be evasive – it’s what they do. Whereas the social media channel is one that is built on a certain honesty – “I’m asking this person and I expect an honest answer”.
    I think party leaders are too generalist as far as policy and answers go and very rarely give any insight into what they are thinking and doing. Whereas senior civil servants or ministers of departments are probably more able to engage. Perhaps these events should be totally SocMed based.
    I really enjoyed it and I thought Rezpondr was awesome and I don’t think I would of watched it DC otherwise.


  12. says

    Documentally – I hope you don’t mind me calling you that? Is it your real name? :-)

    I’m not sure why you are so touchy. You expect my email address? Isn’t that so Web 1.0?

    Seriously, looking at yesterday it was interesting but was indeed “baby steps” as you put it. Nothing more. Cameron announced that he would support the prosecution of irresponsible bankers. What did we see in response? A bunch of prepared questions. It reminded me of those Guardian online sessions with a celebrated politician circa 2001. With more pictures, and some vidjo.

    Next time connect me to Cameron. Let me (or anyone else) ask him a direct question based on his twaddle. For example “then do you support the prosecution of politicians such as yourself who have systematically supported such irresponsible behavior?”. And when he evades or asks for examples let us give them to him.

    Journalism that fails to expose political hypocricy is #FAIL, whether it is 1.0 or 2.0.

    Other than that I wish you all the best. When you stop falling on your bum, may you learn to run and jump. May you also take your nappy off, and learn to peepee standing up like a big boy.


  13. says

    Oh dear, O dear – I think the broadcast was fantastic and the rezpoders site excellent for pulling al the peripheral media into events like these – well done everyone involved. This is groundbreaking stuff and it can only evolve – I come from the educational side of things and think this broadcast technology would be perfect for use in 6th forms or younger agegroups to get students engaged and reflecting on politics. In fact I was filming 10 yr olds today using social media – I have to say that in their interviews and general use of the media involved, they exhibited a far more mature attitude and mindset to some of the anonymous commenters on here. Documentally, et al are building a whole new media environment for those children and he’s doing a great job. It’s world beating and it can only improve with time. I won’t rise to trolls but I will give a big thumbs up to this – some people have the vision – others can only snipe – I with the doers – more power to you Documentally – brilliant!

  14. says

    Just to respond to John’s post above:

    Let it be said that #JonFail has chosen his destination but has no comprehension of what it takes to get there – a journey of small complex steps indeed!

    I think you guys are doing a fantastic job to move this forward, and to be honest I think the guys at Reuters are really sticking their neck out to get this to work! I only wish #JonFail could recognize this fact.

  15. says

    Hi John,

    I agree that people should be able to question polititians as you say, but as has already been mentioned by Documentally in this thread, they are not ready for this yet…

    “There is a long way to go and i would rather be walking there at a steady pace than on the wrong bus heading back in to the hills where the trolls live.”

    It seems John as though your argument is slightly bi polar, one side wants to write an intelligent comment and the other side is so ashamed of your opinions it has top and tailed your statement with childishness which totally spoils the point you are trying to make.


  16. says

    Hi all
    great to see this conversation hapenning, we are constantly learning about how to best engage as many people as possible in our events and hearing all the views, good and no so good, helps us learn and how to make it better.

    I noticed from some of the comments, that people didn’t realise we asking for and taking questions on Twitter and relaying some of those questions as part of the Q&A section of our event.

    I apologise if that was not made clearer before the event, i will look into that for next time. I do not believe DC saw any of the questions beforehand, we did however introduce Mark Jones to him in the morning so that he knew who to call on from the audience.

    As it stood 2 questions from the folk on Twitter were posed and answered, and some of the comments that were being made were aired too. How those questions were answered is not for me to debate, my job in this instance was to get those questions from the Twitter audience, and find a way to get them to the Conservatives Leader.

    I believe we did that.

    We had the opportunity to ask 2 questions and as it turned out that is more than the FT or the Guardian asked on the day. In my opinion that is a massive step and not a baby one.

    I look forward to doing this again, and want to thank again those of you involved, both asking questions and helping to get them in front of the leader of the oppositon party.


  17. says

    Reading these comments, what is interesting to me is the expectations expressed by some of the people posting here.

    Let’s take a moment here to step back and look at what happened. [I’m not actually going to summarise – you can do that yourself.]

    Now let’s consider what was involved for all of the organisations involved. For Cameron and his crew, who know a differentiator when they see one. For Ilicco and the people at Reuters who are really experimenting with how this format *could* work. And also for Mike and Christian who, while filling the shoes of monstrous chancers, are both sharp enough to consider where they stand in terms of what professionalism means and how it applies to them in this context.

    Then gawp at the astonishing fact that this circumstance was allowed to play out, and that it played out well.

    When you look at the situation in these lights – in terms of risk, quantity to lose, and scope for backfire – idealism about what you would *HOPE* would be the format is beyond naivete. Baby steps is understatement.

    To move forward requires positivity about what could (not should) be the next step.


    PS: I didn’t actually read what anyone wrote.

  18. Mark Pack says

    Ahem, if you want to look at a party or politician using social media to engage, you could try looking at things such as Nick Clegg’s use of Facebook (where about one a fortnight he solicits views on a particular topic – and gets generally high quality responses).

    PS Isn’t the David Cameron twitter feed you mentioned an unofficial one run by someone else?

  19. butterbeep says

    What a fascinating conversation – it is so amazing to see so many grown men engaged in the political culture but also bringing with them a sense of play and experiment with these exploding technologies and modes of expression.

    It is always better to try and fail than sit on the sidelines and bemoan the great man for trying, and some of the playground dribble that finds its way into these conversations will only serve to consolidate the image of ‘geeks’ as stunted boys in men’s bodies. Which of course, for the most part, we are not.

    It gives me great hope for the future to see adult males operating in this fashion, and as a programmer and writer I will do everything in my power in 2009 to contribute to this wave. If we don’t own our media, it owns us, and the reason political parties are slow on the uptake is probably because traditional media is a form of control whereas social media used to its fullest potential is punk all over again, but punk with longevity.

  20. Helen Duffett says

    “both parties”?

    You’re missing a trick! Jo Swinson and Lynne Featherstone are two Lib Dem MPs who are regulars on Twitter and Lynne’s blog is an extremely popular way for people to hook up with her work.

    The Lib Dem blogosphere (see http://www.libdemblogs.org.uk) is the liveliest and the best at engaging all-comers.

    In fact Lib Dem bloggers frequently set up interviews with MPs. They’re welcome to come right out and ask anything and report back to their readers. I’ve been to lots of them and initiated a few myself.

    Using social media fits so naturally with our party’s conversational style that we don’t need to make it look like it was our idea!

  21. says

    Hi Mark Yes.. I realised it was a fake shortly after posting it but thought it more valuable leaving it there.. Maybe it will shame some people into adopting an online approachable/accessible face.

  22. says

    Hi Helen.. This is exactly how I feel in the UK that was a Freudian slip because I have actually voted Liberal in the past but i do wonder what kind of democracy we have when it always boils down to a choice of two.

    I would love to interview a Lib Dem or two about their use of social media.. What do you say?

  23. says

    Two thoughts:

    1 – The resources brought to bear on this by the independents seem to me to be more extensive than the trad media would manage.

    2 – I’d like to see this conversation happen *across* the media and political spaces routinely. At present that does not happen.


  24. GreenGiant says

    The danger of Social Media is that it becomes a tool to promote the “cult of personality”. Obama is a prime example, elevated to iconic status, a public flooded with endless cooing phrases and “wow, he’s so awesome” types of posts that made it impossible for much of the population to process any real information about the issues surrounding the man. In fact, they became conditioned to react angrily at anyone questioning their new “messiah”.

    This is a planned and coordinated process honed by Socialists over the past hundred years or so. It catapulted Adolf Hitler to iconic leadership status, same for Fidel Castro, Saddam Hussein and so many others. A society is permeated with endless “perception management”.

    It is impossible to alarm Obama’s supporters with the fact that the Constitution actually prohibits him from being President – unless he can show that he is a natural-born Citizen. They are unaware of the many lawsuits in many states, two of which have reached the Supreme Court, demanding he present the documentation. Obama refuses, counting on the Social Media to cover for him and to keep his sequacious followers in a state of starry-eyed joy at his ascension. Constitution be damned, they are overwhelmed by the overwhelming praise for Obama in the social media.

    This is in fact a Leftist Coup in America pulled off largely through social media in exactly the same manner these sorts of takeovers have been achieved in many other nations over the decades.

  25. says

    GreenGiant, what is wrong with your head? Going the Godwin’s Law route is the first silly thing in your post and essentially invalidates your entire point if you had one. The second moronity is that you still believe Obama is not a U.S. citizen. He was born in Hawaii, his birth certificate has been examined on numerous occasions — do you really believe the FBI, NSA and other institutions would not scrupulously examine his background?

    No, Twitter et al are not socialist conspiracies to enable a leftist coup, they’re services made by geeks for fun and profit.