Labour online comms: needing to do more than wringing the last little drop of activity from our members
Obama taught us one major thing in how to use the net for politics: done the right way, online activism can be a great way to engage and motivate people who are already – largely – on your side. The Obama team had a rather wide appeal; European efforts to replicate his 2008 efforts have been narrower, but not without their uses. Take YourKen and the accompanying e-mails as an example – once you’re in the embrace of the Ken campaign you cannot possibly fail to know about every single canvassing session or campaign activity, so much so that you’re almost shamed into doing something for him.
But shaming people is only one part of it. That’s not why we joined Labour. That’s not why so many of us spend our hours engaging in debate with friends and foes, online and offline, about a whole series of policy issues we care about. These are the areas that online comms has failed to reach in UK party politics so far, at least in Labour. Look at the vibrancy of Dave Hill’s Manifesto for a model mayor project on The Guardian’s website if you’re in any doubt that interesting and participative policy debate is possible online. If you are a Labour person looking to engage in Dave’s project (or indeed any other debate on a policy issue online) Labour is not exactly forthcoming in providing information to help. The main Labour site does not even seem to have a policies section at the moment!
This then is the challenge for the new Communications Executive Director in Iain McNicol’s internal reorganisation of Labour’s HQ. Labour’s communication online needs to be both about activism and policy, and making a connection between the values of the party and practical outcomes the party is pushing for. Online communications in the 2000s mean the command and control of New Labour in the 1990s will not work; a more values and community management approach is going to be vital now.
So what should the new Communications Director do? Here are a few, very rough, suggestions:
- Learn from Norway – I’ve written about their eCanvassing system here before, but Til Deg from Norwegian Labour is also one of the sweetest public web campaigns I’ve seen from a political party. Plus with Labour leader Stoltenberg as Prime Minister, clearly something is going right for the party.
- Learn from the Berlin Pirates – they got into the state legislature in Berlin and are polling high enough to have a chance at getting into the Bundestag as well, all on the basis of online networking. Liquid Democracy might be a step too far for Labour just now, but there are lessons here. Going along to re-publica in Berlin in May might be a good start.
- The more open the better – MembersNet is clunky, has low levels of activity, and needs to be looked at. But why does so much actually need to be in a password protected section of the Labour Party site? If something’s there I can’t Google it, and any internal search is going to be worse than Google. So if in doubt stick something on the public web.
- Target e-mails – the quantity and patchy quality of e-mails to members from Labour needs to urgently be addressed. It’s like Peter calling wolf – when something really needs my attention I am going to ignore it because I’ve already been swamped by previous dour messages. Learn from NGOs and their targeting systems.
- Foster and help MPs, MEPs, councillors – there and some good elected politicians in Labour (everyone has their favourites), but some assistance, coordination and training of web comms of Labour’s elected representatives would be most welcome. The tech is the simple bit. The message and conversation are the more complicated parts – the focus should be on these aspects.