Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Scraping Facebook - ouch! 18th May 2010

Last night's seminar, well-organised by Simon Jacobs, attracted an inquisitive audience, ready to challenge our speaker panel on the use of new and old media by the political parties in the recent General Election. There were champions for each of three different views - that television, print and online media had been decisive drivers of the result.

As always, I learned a great deal - some of it articulating what I knew but had never put into words, others a complete revelation. Here are some of them (a little tongue in cheek):
  • We change our government more often than we change our mattress; except when we need a new one, we take little notice of our mattress; a new mattress doesn't always deliver the experience we expect.
  • Programmes that "scrape" people's facebook pages, can pick up their sentiments by analysing their vocabulary. A different sort of opinion poll.
  • The Americans approach their politics very differently from the Brits: they like to join up, to act on behalf of their party or leader, to belong to the movement. The Americans spend significantly more on communications than the Brits and spread out their campaigns over a much longer period. We Brits are more cynical about our politicians ("politics is a blood sport"), more reluctant to believe the messages and our voting habits are very difficult to change. We tend to use media of all kinds, and our network of friends and family, to reinforce existing views, rather than to seek out new data that might change our minds. So the "Obama effect" would be much less likely to be replicated in the UK.
  • Typically 20% of seats change in a British general election. In marginal seats, typically 10% of voters are considered "swingable" and will find themselves heavily targeted. Over the 5 years of the last Parliament, the total Labour vote fell by only (very roughly) 1 million votes.
  • Young people tend to use the internet for entertainment rather than research.
  • All the parties had online strategies, but they failed in execution - not sufficiently flexible to respond to fast-moving events.
  • The most effective, memorable messages were either fun (e.g. Duffy) or contained a surprising fact.

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