Opinion: ‘Chris Ward likes this…’

Guildford Lib Dem Councillor and software developer Chris Ward explains why the ‘like’ button may could help win elections.

In 2007 I ran for local council. I vividly recall conveying to the campaigns meeting this incredible new craze called Facebook. Much like many online innovations, Lib Dem activists tend to proceed with caution. Today, many of those people are on Facebook themselves, justifying my initial worship for the networking site.

Back then I made a bit of a mistake. I believed that Facebook was enough in itself to get a substantial number of votes. I know now this isn’t true – unfortunately there are those within the party falling for the same myth. Facebook is not an end, it’s a means. You can bring people together, you can get your name out, and you can run incredibly successful campaigns.

I doubt I would have managed to successfully end a five-year safety campaign to install CCTV in a local underpass notorious for sexual assaults had Facebook not been there to let the Conservatives know exactly how many students were behind the campaign. But getting someone to vote for you is different to getting them involved in a campaign – they are two very different levels of engagement.

No matter how technology will evolve, no method of campaigning will ever replace face-to-face engagement with voters. Whether this be on the doorstep, at residents’ meetings, or even (dare I say it) at a bar! It is these physical interactions that bridge the gulf between voters seeing you as an entity to then perceiving you as a person. As Howard Dean aptly pointed out at the Lib Dems’ Spring conference, where we win elections we do so because we have never been ashamed or afraid of going up to somebody’s door and listening to what they want to tell us.

Having said that, Facebook is changing. The usual “OMGZ change nooo!!1111!!” groups pop up, and I have noticed that many of my Liberal Democrat colleagues have joined them. Facebook isn’t brilliant at coming up with a solution everybody likes, but I’ve never been massively averse to the changes. As an elected representative who uses Facebook as much as possible to its full potential in order to stay in touch with residents I prefer to spend my time adapting to the changes rather than waving my walking stick at it and telling everybody how back in the good old days you could poke somebody from a different network.

The one very simple addition to the new Facebook is a lot bigger as a campaigning tool than people think. I refer of course, to the “like” button.

What does the like button mean? Well, from the simplest level of course it means that people can leave a simple thumbs up on interactions occurring on the site. Posted items, wall posts, somebody’s status, etc. Like is an emotive term, more than just a comment, it is an expression of approval. You probably still don’t get why I think that this is critical to the political goals we may have in using Facebook. Well, I’ll explain.

Nick Clegg is on Facebook. As is Steve Webb. I don’t want to find myself in trouble for saying something that may not be true, so all I’ll say is that I am perfectly aware that at least one of those profiles is managed by the person himself. Steve is a Facebook convert; somebody who realises how important it is to be accessible on every level available in an online world of 24-hour news and opinions. I am unsure if Nick looks after his own profile, but I do note that it is often used to gauge opinion. He will ask a question in his status, and people will give their opinions. Fantastic, but we never see a response from Nick on any of the opinions given. It looks, to the casual eye, that Nick says something and people respond, but the debate appears to end there.

Imagine being an average voter, you have a few politicians as friends, and you’re about to run a safety campaign. You put in your Facebook status that you are to collect a petition for this cause, and suddenly it pops up that “Nick Clegg likes your status”.

Even take it down to a constituency level, your MP has clicked “like” on a status where you talk about something you care about. It breaks through the mould and the basic expectations of voters – because, essentially, they are used to going to politicians when they have a problem. They are not used to politicians coming to them, engaging with them, and (most importantly) showing that they are actually interested in what they think.

Leaving a comment on Nick Clegg’s page means nothing to the contributor if no response is given. Being told that your local MP likes what you have to say goes beyond what you have been able to do on Facebook before – with one click you have shown a person that you are not just a politician with a page on Facebook, but you are reading beyond your own page and taking an interest in what ordinary people have to say.

Facebook will never replace the doorstep, but every now and then it offers us something clever that we may miss. The ‘like’ button is an excellent opportunity to let voters understand exactly how Liberal Democrats care more about what the public have to say rather than just leaving a blog post unattended for days. It shows that, like when we open a gate and walk up somebody else’s driveway to speak to them, we are willing to spend time observing and acting on what our residents want us to do.

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This entry was posted in Online politics and Op-eds.


  • Rob Blackie 18th Apr '09 - 5:45pm

    Great article Chris.

  • “You need to get your act together, as the SLP (that’s us!) is taking your liberal, libertarian and moderate vote – we’ve grown to 250 members in just under 9 months of being a party.”

    Clearly there is much we can learn from such an organisation.

    Switching my irony off for a moment, a very random straw poll of the first 6 of my Lib Dem friends on FB shows that only 2/6 (2 Cllrs, an MP and a PPC) define themselves as Lib Dem with the other 4 being liberal/very liberal so I think this is a meaningless statistic.

  • How do you get those stats – I can’t get anything like those figures from searches on FB?
    Eg – “Liberal Democrat” throws up 25 people, “Lib Dem”, 6. (Which suggests I@m doing something wrong!)

    I don’t get your main point though – there are 5-6 million Lib Dem supporters in the UK (measured by GE votes) – only 60,000 of them are members so any FB figures are just a reflection of something that has always been the case.

  • “You are a party of 60,000 and yet there are half a million self-describing liberals who really ought to be members of a liberal party.”

    Fallacy alert – you assume that tagging yourself as liberal on facebook means your likely to want to join a political party. It doesn’t any more than someone who says they would vote LD in an opinion poll does.

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