Opinion: On Liberal Democrat e-campaigning

The internet is a regular topic on LibDem Voice and one of the most incisive comments I’ve seen about the how the internet applies to the Liberal Democrats was written here:

…at a local level – whether for council or parliamentary elections – email and Facebook, blogs and Twitter, websites and YouTube can each make a real difference to an individual candidate’s campaigning efforts, offering them the chance to motivate supporters, and communicate directly with voters. None of these are a replacement for regular Focus leaflets and door-to-door personal contact; but they are an increasingly essential addition to our traditional pavement politics.

A quick look at the best of the blogs section on Lib Dem voice reveals a number of powerful and persuasive voices in the Lib Dem community. Each with an individual website and – most importantly – individual and timely content. However, these blogs, on the whole, are preaching to the converted.

Having looked at many of them, I believe that the vast majority of local party websites – the ones that voters and Liberal Democrat members and supporters turn to when looking for information on Liberal Democrat policy and achievements in their local area – are not distinctive enough.

A minority of websites which represent local Liberal Democrat parties or Liberal Democrat activists have not been updated since the 2010 election. Some have not been updated with a locally generated story for months.

If we want to be taken seriously as a hard-working party focused not just on the national Coalition Government, but also on the issues in our local areas then we must not allow Liberal Democrat websites to look like outdated carbon copies of each other, with the same stories from the same sources and with little or no obvious connection to local politics.

If we are to increase the visibility of Liberal Democrat ideas and values across the internet Liberal Democrats need a literal explosion of local activists to start blogging and using social media tools. Yes, that means Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Flikr.

Each and every Liberal Democrat website, at the supporter, Councillor, PPC, Ward, Local Party, regional, national or European level should have it’s own set of corresponding social media accounts. Simply linking to the national party accounts on Facebook, YouTube and Twitter is not enough. Local parties and activists need to start using those tools to tell their own story in their own way on their own terms.

It is no longer an excuse to say that you don’t know how to do any of this. Get help and get it now. Luddism is not a badge of honour.

You know the drill. Potholes. Crime. Schools. Bus timetables. All this and more can be discussed on ward specific blogs. Ward Councillors – or prospective Councillors – should add stories and updates on specific campaigns to that blog on a regular basis.

A Liberal Democrat elected or hoping to become elected to any local, national or Party office, should regularly update a personal blog. A blog is a long-term enterprise and enables you to communicate your story quickly and cost-effectively.

It does require effort, but there is no excuse for not generating your own local stories. Publishing national news stories verbatim on a local party website is likely to confuse and annoy people who are visiting the website and who, quite rightly, are expecting information about issues local to them. Take a moment to think about how that national story applies locally, then adapt that story to suit.

Liberal Democrats have the potential to be both prominent and dominant in the digital space, but a failure to produce regular and unique content locally will mean that this potential is not maximised. Recycling somebody else’s national story is not likely to help you beat your local Labour or Conservative competition either in terms of increasing the share of local votes or in search engine rankings.

Google “tries hard to index and show pages with distinct information”. Perhaps we should question the wisdom of publishing the same stories as literally hundreds of other local Liberal Democrat websites and instead simply link to national Lib Dem news using RSS feeds whilst making local stories the true focus of your local party website. This technique has worked well for us in Reading, and can for others too.

Updating our online tactics today will reap dividends at the 2015 election when we will be able to rely upon an interconnected network of well established websites and social media campaigning at every level of government to hold the attention of constituents and involve them with Liberal Democrat views on a whole range of issues.

Think of the effort put in to building and maintaining local delivery networks for regular Focus leaflets. If we accept that the internet is becoming increasingly more important, then we must also accept that putting in the work to build an online delivery network of interconnected blogs and social media is just as critical.

Jason Mehmet is a Liberal Democrat activist in Reading and runs a web design, development and hosting company that specialises in helping political activists and organisations

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7 Comments

  • have always voted Labour ,since the last election but now regret my vote as i thought i would give Lib Dems a chance to make a difference, it now seems i,m someone who works hard to keep my family comfortable and live a normal life but now i am very worried, i have a son who is now 15 who will not get any help with EMA and is very bright what chance has he unless i spend every penny i have to help him not only that working tax credit i hear will stop unless you work 24 hrs or more which i don,t mind but i only do 20 will my employers give me another 4 hours, i don,t think so . I am so angry now i wish i just kept my vote for Labour i will know better next time, you will never get my vote again.

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