It’s the 18th of May, I’m on the bus home from work and I think I’ll have a scroll through my Twitter feed to see what’s going on in the world and I am met by hundreds of retweets of Obama’s first tweet. He managed to rack up a million followers in under 5 hours which broke a Twitter record.
Which led me to ponder, why are more and more politicians suddenly so focused on establishing a social media presence?
It’s fair to say that the relationship between social media and politicians on this side of the pond picked up during the independence referendum and peaked during this month’s General Election. There are few UK politicians that haven’t spotted and embraced the importance of having an online presence.
An Ipsos Mori poll before the general election claimed a third of young people (18-24) think social media will influence their vote, but even my gran – who asked me what a local election candidate’s twitter handle was during the election – is online. Failure to acknowledge social transformation and reach out to growing audiences via robust social media risks simply being an irrelevance to core groups of voters.
Of course, for politicians, getting online is fairly straightforward. Having a positive impact on voters with smart, authentic messaging and content is harder.
Indeed, some, like Nicola Sturgeon, Kezia Dugdale and Ruth Davidson, are well-known for wresting control of their twitter accounts from advisers, while other take – shall we say – a more collegial approach to social media content generation. When asked about whether he posts his own statuses Boris Johnson famously responded, “It’s more the School of Rembrandt than Rembrandt himself.”
But with more than a million followers he has still established a platform and a direct line of communication with voters.
We live in an age where it is possible to contact anyone anywhere and anytime. Social media gives constituents a direct line of communication to their representative. Gone are the days of when ordinary people were restricted to writing a letter to their MP or trying to catch them at their surgery. Engagement can be continual and direct.
That said, now they can be barraged with tweets and failure to deal with requests or complaints from constituents are all there for the world to see, there’s still a lot to be said for a more formal, ‘old-fashioned’ approach to getting the attention of decision-makers.
It’s all a matter of context and while social media remains in the ascendancy, our MPs know that to get re-elected they will long have to continue to impress off-line too.