As the nation takes to the polls for the closest election in a generation, the true winner of the first digital election has already been identified as social media.
Following its influential role in Barack Obama’s 2008 US election campaign, the key party leaders have all identified Facebook, Twitter and YouTube as ways to engage new voters.
From The Conservative Party’s ad takeover of the YouTube homepage today to Labour’s application which enables supporters to update their Facebook and Twitter status, this general election has identified how important this new medium is to political campaigning.
While the first ever election TV debates drew audiences in excess of 10 million, social networking has engaged audiences on a global scale providing a critical arena where politicians are questioned directly by those entering the polling stations and not just in the studio audience.
By identifying online opportunities through their media specialists Windfall Media, the Liberal Democrats (who boasted the most Facebook friends) felt they were able to better understand the online audience and their needs. As a result of listening to voters through blogs, forums and micro-communities, ultimately they felt more able to convey their message. Whether they have done this effectively remains to be seen…
Of course with the benefits social media has brought there have also been repercussions, with candidates falling foul of inappropriate tweeting and the immediacy and transparency social media offers.
Fundamentally, as users become increasingly concerned with engaging with each other, and disinterested with the political parties who represent them, Twitter and Facebook have given the power back to the voters and now must be an essential part of any election campaign.