Opinion – Twitter: powerful campaign tool or waste of effort?

The simple tweet “F*ck” at 10am with the reply “Agreed” last Friday was the only source and all the evidence I required to know that Chris Huhne had been charged. Two words tied emotion with cognition. I followed Nick Clegg’s tax cut speech live through the medium of 140 character paraphrase: a sort of Focus-speak reduction I can only imagine would have the speech-writers crying. The utterance “Borgen – Danish West Wing” was all the persuasion necessary to watch it religiously.

Twitter is free, fast and tragic. And if it wasn’t powerful in facilitating the fall of dictators or mindless riots, governments wouldn’t consider using its censorship option. 39 of our 57 Lib Dem MPs use it and our party president Tim Farron assures me he can help us to improve on that. But should they bother with any new technology that isn’t proven to add value? Retweeting ICM polls from an iPhone won’t improve our electoral fortunes (but keep trying anyway). If our MPs want to replace paper with iPads perhaps they should buy their own and truly embrace CONNECT.

We can’t waste precious campaign time, every second invested should increase our returns at the ballot box. The more tangible gift to our residents in the form of a 4 foot pile of literature provides us with greater reassurance than online banter, assuming something more positive happened on the way to the round filing cabinet recycling box.

You can use social media to add value, through following or leading – to engage people as Julian Huppert does. He tests opinion through tweeting polls to his audience, such as “what do you want me to ask at PMQs?” and it delivers spot on results. That third-party testimonial is a ready-made Focus vox-pop.

Councillor Jamie Matthews represents students and aptly chooses to challenge poor internet service provision on their behalf over Twitter. Councillor Victor Chamberlain also regularly uses it to report back on his ward activities. We’re all probably familiar with “20 is plenty” speed reduction campaigns, yet there’s something motivating about watching the action unfold, leaving a digital campaign trail, from council chamber motion to action photo. This helps to spread best-practice activity among other campaigners.

We repeatedly ask “what’s new?” of our friends, family and now, followers. Irrelevant, old information just isn’t worth sharing. We merge communicating with the people closest to us with less deserving online strangers. Like-minded individuals are drawn to one another through statements, photos and web links.

Loosely-affiliated groups form around shared opinions, oppose other groups and do constant battle. Some win at the expense of another, opinions become exhausted, or expire to give birth to others. Groups disband and regroup, gaining some people formerly on the opposing side of another issue.

Whether using it as a blunt broadcast instrument, to shape debate through persuasion or gather intelligence, you alone are not going to make the country a better place through it. But your individual participation may help build the team to get us there.

* Alan Muhammed is Liberal Reform Co-Chair & works as a Management Consultant. He is a former Guildford Borough Councillor & Lib Dem HQ Campaigns Staffer.

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


  • Sue Doughty 10th Feb '12 - 9:31am

    With large numbers of MPs now on Twitter, campaigners should make sure that they are following and hoping to get followed. MPs, by the nature of the work they do, have a short concentration window and glancing through Twitter to see what is happening is always easier than ploughing through lengthy reports.

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