Lib Dem digital guru Rathe talks to Guardian about internet communications

The Guardian has taken an interest in the deluge of emails being sent out by the Labour Party recently. Our head of Members and Supporters Austin Rathe is quoted in the piece explaining the difference between Labour’s approach and ours.

Most of what is being done by both party’s has been poached from the Obama campaigns.  But while Labour have been more indiscriminate in their approach, the Liberal Democrats have sought to build relationships with people. All those emails with pictures of cute babies that the Labour Party use to harvest your email address are not well used. Over to Austin:

They knew nothing about you except that you’re an email address,” says Rathe. “And they just throw everything at you. It’s a sledgehammer approach – it’s watching what went on in the States and learning all the wrong lessons, just thinking that you just have to send a lot of email. But you’ve got to talk to people about things they’re interested in, it’s got to be driven by that.” Rathe’s party uses email more to focus on achievable local goals than the big national picture. “We build relationships with people on issues that they care about,” Rathe adds. “And we give local campaigners the tools to do it themselves.”

Predictably, the comments thread has a fair few Labour types tearing Austin to shreds. I think he has a point though. I signed up to one of these Labour email lists just to see the sort of stuff you get. Probably the most useless thing I had was an email telling me to vote on the wrong day, but that could happen to any of us. I do feel that there is a bit more logic to what appears in our inbox from Liberal Democrats. It’s the difference between the scattergun and the laser. We aren’t quite at the laser yet, but we’re further along the road to understanding the people we are trying to communicate with than the Labour Party are. Don’t get me wrong – we’ve put out some absolute howlers to our own members – but we seem to be more efficient about tailoring our communications to our voters’ interests.

Our challenge for the next few years is to ensure that all our communications with the electorate are of sufficient quality to build deeper and more long-term relationships. Digital communications are not a replacement for getting out on doorsteps and on to street stalls and having proper conversations where we listen as well as talk.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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This entry was posted in News and Op-eds.


  • John Tilley 23rd Jul '15 - 1:49pm

    Ausin Rathe’s comments would be morempressive if I had not in recent weeks repeatedly received e-mails inviting me to join The Liberal Democrats.
    I have been a party member without a gap since the Liberal Democrats began and for twenty years before that I was a member of the Liberal Party.
    My membership subscription has always been by standing order — so there has never been a break in my membership. So why do I keep getting e-mails asking me to join?

  • Richard Underhill 23rd Jul '15 - 4:45pm

    John, please sign up a family member, aged 16 or over.

  • John- it is likely because your email address hasn’t been joined up to your membership. So if you have signed a petition/interacted with the party in some way using that email but not given them it when you set up standing order the two won’t marry up. I had a similar issue when I changed my own email- quite annoying but easily solved (at least it was for me!)

  • I got loads after I ceased to be a member. I still get some from the local party. None were particularly targeted at me. I honestly cannot say there is anything impressive about Lib Dem communications, either as a member or now, as an ex-member.

  • Think ours have been mixed, but regularish emails from Nick or Tim were useful. I sometimes replied and often passed them on if unsure if other members had seen a partic. useful one.
    Not had anything very recently. Is this odd or due to the system change?

  • Simon Banks 26th Jul '15 - 3:26pm

    I never particularly noticed anything was targeted at me except that I was being asked to help in Colchester (where I was already helping) and not, say, in North Devon. I must have got about six appeals for money and did wonder what this was doing to our less active members (I have heard some dissatisfaction expressed about this since).

    I wonder if we’re really at the stage that we can talk with arts people about the arts, people concerned about wildlife or the environment about environmental issues and people running small businesses about small business issues? If so, it must have all happened since the 2014 Euro elections.

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