Labour’s new online strategy

Twitter messageOver the last few weeks I’ve had several people ask me face-to-face (it’s still the best way to communicate), online and by email, what I think of Labour’s burgeoning new online presence in social media. The latest was a tweet (Twitter message) at the weekend from James Tutt in Microsoft UK’s PR team who asked ‘@stuartbruce as a Labour and Social Media guy, how do you rate Derek Draper’s foray into the medium?’

image It’s hard to reply in 140 characters so my answer of ‘@jamestutt @derekdraper is new to this and on a very public learning curve, his intention is right (I’ve talked to him), and will get better’ didn’t really do the question justice.

Derek Draper’s initiative has come in for a lot of flack from bloggers across the political spectrum, including the A-list Iain Dale and Guido Fawkes (both of whom I’ve met and respect, despite our political differences). I’m not going to single out individuals to dissect and rebut their criticisms, but instead make some general points.

Yes, the Labour Party is very late to this party. But so what, so are most big companies and organisations? The very factors that make social media easy for individuals can create enormous challenges for private, public and voluntary sector enterprises.

It’s all very well for the social media evangelists and the blogging glitterati to get all hot under the collar about ‘this is the proper way to do social media’ and ‘you must respect the netiquette’, but that’s not how the real world works. Netiquette isn’t set in stone and is constantly changing and adapting to suit the needs of the majority. A good example of this is the number of Twitter early adopters who aren’t entirely happy about the general population invading their private playground and breaking the rules.

Today it’s essential that organisations incorporate social media and online digital communications into the core of their corporate communications strategy. However, that doesn’t mean ditching everything else in favour of the laissez-faire of ‘you can’t control the message’ blogosphere. It’s very easy to talk about how ‘markets are conversations’, but very different to actually change age-old structures to do something about it.

What we tell all of our clients is that the most important step is to acknowledge the need for change and then identify ways (however tiny) of achieving it. It’s not always possible for a brand (in this case the Labour Party) to ‘do’ social media perfectly. That doesn’t mean to say they shouldn’t do it.

That’s exactly what Derek Draper is doing with LabourList. It isn’t perfect and never will be, but it is and will continually improve, that’s the point. Many of those throwing out criticisms are doing so out of naivety, ignorance or prejudice. It’s ridiculous to think that the party of government can learn about, adapt and respond rapidly to the changes in society brought about by the online world. The new Obama administration has the advantage of being able to do this as part of an opposition campaign that has made the transition to government.

It’s also important to realise that LabourList isn’t intended just for hard-core political bloggers. Far more important is to engage with the far larger number of people online who care about how the country is run and want to see how public services such as health and education can be improved. They don’t care about many of the criticisms of the hard-core bloggers, they just want an opportunity to engage in lively debate with people who care about the same things they do.


About Stuart Bruce

International communications consultant and PR trainer specialising in online public affairs, digital corporate communications, online PR and social media; frequent national media commentator and conference speaker.
  • http://twitter.com/jamestutt James Tutt

    Glad to see a tweet of mine mentioned in a post Stuart. I think all the points you make are valid.

    However, when he started to follow me I thought I would look to see a bit more about him and fairly rapidly saw him bringing the viciousness and personal attacks of the Westminster village to the social media world, and specifically Twitter. I've come across followers like that before but they have been random individuals not high profile party players – and easy to block.

    It just turns me right off and I think it is a retrograde step for the medium. Regardless of my own feelings, it is ultimately self-defeating if it turns people off and therefore all a bit pointless, IMHO, especially as he seems to be doing all this in order to engage people and attract them to the party.

    I'm not convinced by the argument that there is something inherently difficult for a party-in-power to grasp which is inherently easier for an opposition. In any case, there are plenty of good Labour bloggers including, of all people, John Prescott. Derek has chosen to take a different path.

    Its not just a question of early adopters jealously guarding their turf, its also about a community self-policing itself to ensure the best aspects of that community are retained.

    Ultimately though, my opinions are irrelevant. The cruel Darwinism of the follow/unfollow model will decide the value of his approach.

  • http://www.pr-media-blog.co.uk Mark Hanson

    All good points Stuart. All I would add is that people shouldn't focus excessively on labourlist as 'Labour's new media strategy'

    I blogged that here http://www.labourlist.org/politicians_on_the_web_-_youve_gotta_keep_it_real,2009-02-04

  • http://profile.typepad.com/stuartbrucepr Stuart Bruce – Wolfstar

    Mark, my original post referenced that, but it began to become quite long and rambling ;-)

    Time allowing I'm going to do a second post on the 'other' Labour stuff that is out there.

  • http://econsultancy.com/training michelle goodall

    Excellent points Stuart – you should 'pimp your posts' on Twitter more often.

    Particularly agree with your point about how rules change within mediums and how 'Nettiquette isn't set in stone'…this happened with forums and early virtual worlds back in the days when the geek army early adopters were joined by the early majority. It now is happening to other social media channels, Twitter included. Get over it everyone.

    Labourlist will evolve.

    'Doing social media perfectly isn't possible'….but doing it well is very achieveable and they have made a stride in that direction.

  • http://www.rock-star-pr.com Jed Hallam

    Hi Stuart,

    Just a few of my thoughts…

    The Labour Party most certainly isn’t a big company but it is our government and should be more switched on to what its people want. I understand that the blogosphere isn’t representative of our society, but it’s still a culture that the government have failed to engage with.

    (Hold on, who exactly do they engage with?)

    Social media is easy for humans, not for one-way communicators. (For me at least) the whole ideology behind social media is that it’s a human affair; people interacting with people. How difficult would it be to communicate if all you had to offer was the party message? Brands engage online every minute of every day and do so in a way that endears their audience more strongly to that brand – if it’s not a problem for them, why should it be for politicians?

    I agree with you to an extent on the notion of the glitterati getting all steamed up about netiquette – social media is about humanism, and like you say, the etiquette is fluid. All it takes is a simple ‘Hi, I’m new to this and so I might make the odd faux pas’ – I’m pretty sure that’s exactly how @stephenfry and @wossy started, and look how well they’ve got on in the space.

    The increasing attention that social media is receiving is both positive and negative; people are becoming increasingly over-excited about social media and thinking it’s a simple solution to all their problems. Social media isn’t a solution, it’s a tool.

    I don’t think anyone is asking the Labour Party to do things perfectly, from what I’ve seen it’s more so that people want the Labour Party to do things as humans. After all, people buy people and it’s this adage rings true. People are sick of being spoken to by the government and not asked – we need human interaction.

    I’ve been fairly impressed with Tom Watson and Derek Draper, but Draper took his transparency a bit far with this tweet –
    “@derekdraper: is iain dale an apologist for racism? read these private e-mails between me and him and decide for yourself http://tinyurl.com/c6py9v”

    The idea that LabourList is there to engage with general online users and not political bloggers is ridiculous; in my opinion Labour has seen the ascent to influence of politi-bloggers and feels that they’ve got to been seen to be involved. After all, if you were putting your best foot forwards into the online space, would that best foot really be Prescott?

  • http://chrispaul-labouroflove.blogspot.com Chris Paul

    Prescott isn't on LabourList, but he'd help engage more broadly. Beyond the blogospere. The greatest joke on Dale is that he believes that he gets beyond Tory adherents and to the masses. His numbers are of course good for political bloggers but still puny. About 25,000 unique readers who even attend once in more than one month seems to be the arithmetic. The other 600,000 over last year are presumably Google riff raff and don't return.

    Having said that Dale has a platform to get into the mass media. They don't understand blogstats and think he's bigger than he is.

    Derek Draper now has a platform similar to Iain Dale's or Tim Montgomerie's to get that MSM access. Other LL writers may also achieve that.

    Although I recognise the steep learning curve thing I'm not too impressed with the charging in to Twitter treading on toes, and the spat with Dale should have been boxed off. IMO.

  • http://www.mattwardman.com/blog/ Matt Wardman

    In my view in the first 12 months LL it is likely to be most powerful as a platform for the official line to get traction inside the party. I'd characterise LL more as a semi-official bully-pulpit than a discussion blog.

    Beyond that there may be a chance to engage some outside.

    I'd disagree with Chris and suggest that the "Google riff raff" *are* the wider public, and the trick is to *make* them return.

    I think that even the Huff Post and friends haven't engaged the general populus. ~3-4% reach only even for them. It will be about setting the agenda that the media may pick up on.

    More thoughts here:
    http://tinyurl.com/ddlabourlist