The Role of Technology in Campaigning

In the UK at the moment we're in the run-up to a General Election, so we're being assailed in all sorts of different ways by various political parties. Given that some syllabuses require students to design a campaign, I think it's interesting to consider the ways in which technology could be, and sometimes have been, used.

Here is my 'back-of-an-envelope' list of ideas.

  • Website, containing essential information about policies and contact details.
  • Blog, updated daily -- not necessarily about the party or the person, but about relevant issues.
  • Twitter account, so that people can follow the person's activities and thoughts. Less maintenance than a website or blog in some respects.
  • Facebook fan page.
  • YouTube video channel.
  • Flickr group of relevant or pertinent photos.
  • Daily or weekly podcast.
  • Radio channel.
  • Emailed newsletter.
  • Digital magazine (which could be part of website).

That's a tall order for a single person, but for a political party it should not be too much trouble at all. The list is based on four principles:

  • It should be easy for people to find out what they need to know about the party or Parliamentary candidate.
  • It should be easy for people to be updated frequently, by whichever means they prefer.
  • Potential supporters should be engaged, not just talked to or, even worse, talked at.
  • What probably matters is a decent marketing strategy, to catch so-called 'floating voters' -- the people who can be persuaded to vote for one party or another if the arguments and presentation are right.

So on the subject of marketing, what is it that each political party is trying to sell? When it comes down to it, probably a set of values rather than a set of policies. Therefore, rather than try to inform the floating voter of the finer points of its manifesto, perhaps each party would be better off trying to create a viral video instead, or create a geocaching-based game of some description. Or some really great t-shirt designs with matching mugs.

So this raises at least three questions:

First, a marketing/philosophical/political question I suppose, rather than a technological one: does it make sense to try to sell a political party and its policies in the same way as you might try to sell a rock band or a can of beans? Or am I being incredibly cynical and ridiculous?

Second, in terms of the technology, what have I left out?

Three, if you're one of the people teaching a syllabus which requires students to design a campaign, what sort of things have they come up with that use technology in interesting ways?

This is an expanded version of an article published today in the Computers in Classrooms newsletter.