In an age where seemingly almost everything can now be done online – from catching up with the news to buying your milk and bread for the week – so too has Scottish politics made the shift, supplementing everyday grassroots politics with the increasingly influential digital domain.
Barack Obama’s ground breaking political campaign of 2008 was as historic as its outcome was – it demonstrated to everyone else how best to use the internet and social media to both get a message out and simultaneously bring interest in. The company which masterminded that online feat is also providing advice to the Better Together campaign, headed up by Labour’s Alistair Darling.
For the Better Together campaign, getting “out there” so to speak was not an easy task. Without a distinct party-political backing, negotiating its online presence from the beginning was a deliberate ploy and certainly not an afterthought.
That’s not to say that Yes Scotland, their opponents in September’s referendum, lack tech-savviness; in fact, they too have a shiny new website and have a presence on all social media platforms. Both cater for the undecided voter, gently guiding them through their policies and ideas. Each side of the constitutional debate is acutely aware of the importance of their online reputation.
Knowing when to connect, when they should stand off, and where they must guide their potential voters is the key to managing their own reputation and finding political success.
New media allows for bespoke messages to target the right audiences and for those audiences’ reactions to be measured, allowing for even greater refinement in the future. During a time where online networks are playing an ever greater role in people’s lives, gaining support online, and maintaining that backing could prove to be the crucial battleground for the referendum.
Of course being online comes with its own risks. Whatever you post, like, retweet or follow is immediately available and there for everyone to see. Countless politicians, public figures and businesses have found themselves in hot water by saying the wrong thing online. However, when harnessed and used properly, social media can instigate dialogue, opinion and debate, allowing political campaigns to craft their messages in ways not possible before.
Politics is all about opinions and reputations – recent polling revealed that women are less likely to vote for independence than men are, young people are far more optimistic about independence than their seniors, and apparently most Scots don’t know who Johann Lamont is (leader of the Scottish Labour Party). Such opinions are of course subject to change over the course of this year, and it is through social media where either side can make the greatest strides towards their respective ideas of success.
Whilst both projects faithfully rely on the conventional routes of political campaigning, they understand that winning the online battle could be the key to securing the critical vote come September 18th.