Photos by bitospud on Flickr, here.
Saturday’s Progress conference ‘Labour 2.0: campaigning for the net generation’ was a big success. With distinguished leaders in the field speaking and sharing ideas, including Joe Rospars, Greg Jackson, Sue Macmillan and Tory Trolll – as well as a productive debate between ConservativeHome‘s Tim Montgomerie and LabourList editor Derek Draper – many attendees left with a new sense of vigour and enthusiasm for what Labour people can do online.
The main theme of discussion was that Labour’s online presence needs to be more reflective of our grassroots activism, more open, and more innovative. Below are some of the highlights from the day’s discussions.
Opening Address – Douglas Alexander, Labour’s Election Coordinator
Douglas Alexander started the discussion, saying that new media is not a substitute for a message that resonates with the public – rather, it is a place to give new impetus to old ideas. He urged Labour supporters to continue to knock on doors, make phone calls and organise the events that would help spread the Labour message. But he also urged activists to get online and follow Barack Obama’s example of communicating community messages through regular email updates, because ‘new technology is lowering the barriers to entry.’ Douglas’ remaks can be read in full here.
Keynote Address – Joe Rospars, Blue State Digital
Obama’s new media director echoed Douglas’ message, saying new media must support and reflect the ground operation of the traditional campaign. He provided one of the day’s early highlights with this remarkable video about the ordinary people who led the Obama campaign on the ground.
He said afterwards: ‘what we saw in that video was not people sitting at computers and talking about politics on the internet – it was people out in the communities, knocking on doors and making phone calls and doing concrete things. 13 millions supporters gathered online and communicated through a relationship, through events organised online to bring people together – but to achieve offline things – house parties, door-knocking. Our targeted emails meant people knew when there were events in their communties in which people could hit the streets. Of 200,000 offline events, about our staff coordinated with about 5% of them. That means 95% were not organised by us – though we could track what they were doing, and they could arrange them, through our online tools’.
What will the future of internet campaigning look like?
The first session was chaired by Luke Pollard, Labour PPC for South West Devon, who led the discussion between Tangent‘s Greg Jackson and Andrew Chadwick, Director of New Political Communication Unit at the University of London. Ben Brandzel, Director of MoveOn arrived late and flustered. Andrew stressed the importance of allowing our online presence to reflect our values, but also of loosening up and relinquishing control to the community online. Greg Jackson said that Labour’s web strategy needs to reflect that people now live and breathe on the internet, so it needs to be innovative, snappy and quick to react.
Mobilising the centre-left blogging community
Tory Troll‘s Adam Bienkov remarked that the right-wing bloggers may have been more widely read over the years, but that this doesn’t mean that their work is better. The session quickly morphed into a discussion on why women are not blogging in the same numbers as men. Tom Barry from BorisWatch said that there can be a lot of aggression and nastiness in the blogosphere, which can put women off contributing regularly. At the end of the session, Chair Alex Smith called for women volunteers to record a spot to camera on how we can tip this imbalance. The video will feature on LabourList next Monday, as we celebrate International Women’s Day.
Fundraising and voter ID online
Stella Creasy gets the internet like no other politician. She knows it’s a platform for sharing stories and communicating, and although she says she’s not very technical, her campaign in East London is clearly at the cutting edge. She stresses that the most important thing about working online is email. By sending an email to Walthamstow constituents once a week, Stella has developed an authentic online dialogue, to direct people to and engage people in community events and to answser their questions quickly.
‘That relationship is not possible offline’, she said. ‘We can’t get 2,000 leaflets delivered each week, but we can do that with email. In the emails, I ask “please share this with other people”, and that helps you build a relationship.’ She also says it’s important to focus on single issues in campaigning. ’200 people signed up this week alone because of a local issue – the closure of a local cinema – that people really care about. With these emails, we have to communicate the difference that Labour makes otherwise it’s just self aggrandizing.’
‘We send a Working for Walthamstow email to 2,000 people a week. It’s about what’s happening in the community – local Sure Start initiaitives, local jazz clubs – real community events. That email every week shows Labour’s activity in the community and how we are part of the local fabric. Importantly, most of the content is generated not by me, but by local party groups.’
Stella also stressed how important it is to continue with this relationship outside of election times, so that people know where the Party is coming from when there is an election.
The other panelists, Jag Singh and Gavin Shuker, were equally insightful and helped the conference to really gain focus.
Jag said it’s important to work outside the party structure, that the internet has enabled individuals to create their own structure at a fraction of the cost. He also said that connecting online has to be character-based in order to bring people to the table and develop a narrative online that adds value to people’s lives: ‘Does anyone want to have dinner with Frank Dobson? No. But I’d have dinner with John Prescott and I’d like to have dinner with Derek Draper. It’s about authenticity. It’s about the people talking and the politicians listening – that’s the future of politics’. Jag also said it’s not worthwile comparing Obama’s campaign to a PPC campaign – ‘that’s not going to work. Fundraising here needs to be compare to congressional races, so set realistic targets’.
Learning from the private sector
Adrian McMenamin, charing the discussion, said that – since YouTube didn’t exist in 2005 – the next election could be the first internet election in Britain. Simon Redfearn, of Fishburn Hedges said that brands are now more trusted than people and that, because word of mouth is becoming much more of a key driver to websites and brands, we need to think about how we communicate. ‘Most people need to hear a message between 3 and 5 times before they start to believe it – but not necessarily from the source. In fact, brand messages need to be reinforced by other consumers, and brand trust has got to be echoed by a whole gamut of people who have to make the connections and drive the messages.’
Simon also directs us to a great example of this idea, the ‘Coke and Mentos craze’. Mentos embraced the craze and developed a new relationship with the public as a result, by Coke disassociated themselves from it and were criticised. He also points to the Open Source success of the internet campaign to bring back the Cadbury Whispa.
Simon’s key lesson from the private sector is that communication needs to be with an individual, not an organisation. We would all rather talk to Richard Branson than a faceless Virgin rep, he said. Likewise, people would rather talk to Alastair Campbell than Labour per se, because developing a human relationship also develops trust: ‘I was walking home in the snow past Russell Square, and it was beautiful, so I wanted to get into the square, but it was closed. I Twittered that I couldn’t get in and got a Tweet back from Camden council twenty minutes later saying ‘our park keeper couldn’t get in today because he lives outside London’. The next day, Simon got another Tweet from Camden council, saying ‘we’ve opened the parks – hope you enjoy them.’ Simon felt a ‘real connection and I was really grateful with Camden for that’.
One of the most eagerly awaited speakers of the afternoon is Oliver Rickman from Google, who says that Labour – like Google – need to capture the feeling of the party and its volunteers. ‘Big won’t beat small anymore – fast will beat slow’. He says Labour can replicate Google – who have chucked out the idea of a business plan. ‘We launch early and we launch often. We gather feedback to then make our relationships and our systems better. We have a scheme called 20% Time – people who work at Google have the right to work on new exciting, wacky initiatives, and this empowers everyone in the organisation to think creatively. Google News started this way. So we need to think about making structures that are free enough to allow this in the Labour Party’.
‘We know the Labour Party, as it tries new things online, will take a hit from bloggers and then the mainstream media’, Oliver said. ‘But the cost of not trying something is far, far greater. If things aren’t working out, we can’t chuck the baby out with the bath water. It’s important to stick with it, rethink it. Nobody knows if what we are trying to achieve will have a real impact on the next election – but the structures certainly will have an impact in the election after that’.
The session is one of the day’s best.
Transforming Labour’s campaigns and communications through new media
The University of East Anglia’s Nick Anstead, frankly, gave an overly academic ‘lecture’ on the difference between the new media and the traditional media. It was an odd decision, coming as it didat the end of a day dedicated to harnessing new media. Adrian McMenamin, in particular, took umbridge to the notion that the old media is not important anymore, saying that such an idea was both ‘politically unhelpful and wrong – millions and millions still read the newspapers’.
Nonetheless, Nick’s thesis had some useful indicators: ‘Information is harder to control now, so it’s more difficult as a party to reach voters. This means traditional campaigning – ‘shoe leather’ – will become even more important. Our communications must now be a dialogue. One way communication is no longer acceptable’. It never was, Nick.
Matthew McGregor, MD of the UK arm of Blue State Digital, said email is the foundation of all engagement online between the party and supporters. ‘It’s the fireline through which people direct supporters’ activity – more than Facebook or Twitter or any website. Email is very personalised and very action orientated. You can motivate people by email, and communicate more’.
Case in point is the recent BSD-powered campaign, Hope not Hate. After the BNP announced they’d march through Liverpool, BSD ‘had an email directly tailored to our list within an hour. We asked all our members to sign a petition, and to spread the message to their friends. Hope not Hate contacted tens of thousands of people, and partly as a result of their petition, the BNP cancelled their march. ‘Within an hour of that, we had another email to our supporters letting them know they’d won. We were talking to them in a personal way’.
Paul Simpson argued that the term new media is a misconception, because it’s not new and it’s not really media: ‘instead, it’s about what we do as individuals all the time, day in, day out’. Paul also announced that the Labour 2.0 Twitter HashTag had become the 2nd most popular HashTag in the UK for Saturday.
Sue Macmillan reiterates that email communication is the single most important driver of success, and admitted that ‘it’s the area in which we’ve most struggled. We know how you do it, through unique content online and capturing addresses through unique events offline. She said, ‘we’re spending time doing these things, but are we spending enough time telling people that we’re doing these things?’ Labour’s new phone banking capacity, for instance, has been used by hundreds of members up and down the country in recent weeks, to make thousands of calls, even at parties, where young people are getting together for pizza nights, with their laptops and mobile phones, to make calls.
Sue finished the discussion saying ‘we need to use email addresses to mobilise people to get to work on the ground; not just be social networkers for its own sake, but be proactive, and get others to invite people to do the same. Facebook events must be brought into MembersNet. There must be a greater degree of openness for our non-members – we need to encourage more volunteering and open up our events to non-members. Our general election campaign is not about getting one candidate elected, but about giving our 650-odd candidates the full support they need, the tools and the strategy to do these things for themselves. It’s not just about the technology, it’s about doing things to get the most out of new media, as a way of contacting people on a one to one basis and reflecting our grassroots acitivism’.
More on the Labour 2.0 conference:
“It was a fantastic day with lots of good ideas and with over 100 activists turning up” – Jessica Asato, The Progressive
“Labour will push ahead with developing a number of new ideas for communicating over the internet following this weekend’s new media conference” – David Singleton, PR Week
“It was a really great day and bought together all strains of practitioners, campaigners, bloggers and academics working in this area and supportive of progressive political aims” – Nick Anstead, NickAnstead.com
“Despite some teething problems, LabourList isn’t all that bad. It is beginning to include a diverse mix of articles. If DD can cut out the student politics he might turn LabourList into something significant” – Tim Montgomerie, ConservativeHome
“I couldn’t help but feel optimistic about Labour’s online future” – Luke Cholerton-Bozier, The Progressive