Labour Party out in front on Twitter
Things might not be going spectacular well for Labour, but when it comes to engaging on Twitter the party is way out in front showing how some of its MPs have taken to effectively harnessing the micro blogging service.
As if to confirm it I picked up this piece of research via Labour MP and Twitter user Tom Watson. Research showed that nearly 67% of all MPs that Twitter belong to Labour with the Liberal Democrats on 18% and the Tories who despite all their talk on 12% (no surprise maybe given David Camerson’s own goal comments recently).
Digital strategy in the next general will count more than ever with blogs, Twitter and social networks playing and ever larger role. Maybe not quite in the way that we saw in the 2008 presidential election for Barack Obama (the scale is so different), but it is going to be important.
That’s why it is such good news to see how Labour has taken to Twitter. What it does next will in part be down to Kerry McCarthy the Labour MP recently appointed as the party’s Twitter tsar (or is that czar?).
It’s going to be her job to co-ordinate Labour’s online presence and help Labour MPs, candidates and supporters use what’s available in the best possible way to try and stop Cameron getting elected (if the election was on Twitter Labour would have no problem – as Tweetminister research showed earlier this week).
One of those tasks that McCarthy is no doubt working on is getting those MPs already tweeting to tweet more often. As Labour might lead the race, but only 51 MPs are classed as regular Twitter users (out of a total of 645: poor) by the joint Plymouth and Bournemouth University research.
Although some of those who are tweeting on a regular basis are big names including: Ed Balls, secretary of state for children, schools and families; BBC basher Ben Bradshaw, secretary for culture, media and sport.
Although McCarthy makes some strong points in an interview on PR Media Blog about how it is important that Labour avoid the risk of positioning itself as the “social media party”, which she warns will detract from the real issues the public care about, not to mention the importance of staying away from the tactics used by right wing smear sites (the direction that Derek Draper almost dragged the part in with Red Rag).
As interesting the research project also indicted that Twitter could be more influential than blogs. That’s good news for Labour given the power and influence of Tory bloggers such as Guido Fawkes and ConservativeHome.com (although whether that site will be less effective under Lord Ashcroft will be interesting to watch).
Dr Darren Lilleker, of Bournemouth University said Twitter may be a more effective means of enhancing an MP’s representative role than blogs or other social networking sites (although there are good examples of Labour MPs integrating Twitter and Facebook to organise meetings and rally support).
Lillker says that because Twitter is quick to update, MPs can use it to regularly explain what they are doing on behalf of constituents. It’s another reason why McCarthy needs to help mobilise more MPs to get Twitter – its ease of use for time poor MPs is one of its major selling point. Of course Lillker points out that some care needs to go into the tweets to make it worthwhile.
“In a time of public scepticism towards politicians, Twitter may be more effective than other non face-to-face communication channels, but only if MPs’ tweets are seen as worth receiving.
“With MPs finding audiences hard to reach, Twitter may well be used more widely in order to speak directly to the public. However, Twitter cannot be simply a tool for broadcasting. MPs need to talk to others in the ‘Twittersphere’ and respond to questions if they are to gain a loyal, trusting audience”
More from the research
1. On average 27% of MPs tweet as part of an impression management strategy. MPs promote their activities, such as giving speeches, speaking in parliament, holding positions or launching a policy document to help build a positive impression of them both as a professional and as an individual.
2. 21% of MPs’ tweets are used as promotion of self whereby the MP seeks to present a ‘hinterland’ which shows them as human beings. This tends to include details of their personal life, personal interests, such as sport and music and the use of humour.
3. 14% of MPs’ tweets support their constituency service role where they explain what they are doing in the constituency, highlight local issues and mention local constituents.
4. Only 11% of MPs’ tweets are partisan in nature. So this means that MPs are far more likely to raise their own profile rather than that of their party!
5. MPs are using Twitter to provide the public with a ‘ring-side seat’ at major occasions. For example, when the new Speaker was elected on 22 June, a number of MPs sent updates from the Chamber during the speeches and voting – with Sandra Gidley, Lib Dem MP for Romsey, Hampshire, tweeting over 100 times.
6. The number of tweets made during June – the month selected for the purpose of the research – ranged from just one to 827 (Labour’s Bristol East MP Kerry McCarthy), while the number of followers ranged from 63 to the 4,441 reading the updates of Tom Watson, Labour MP for West Bromwich East.
7. MPs tweeting is not a one-way street. The number of other tweeters that MPs follow ranges from zero to over 1,000, with a median of 133. Twenty two MPs follow less than 50 others tweeters, while 23 reciprocated by following at least 100, and in some cases entering into ‘public conversations’ with followers.