From the final debate to an “Ask Me Anything” on Reddit in less than 24 hours – welcome to the new reality of social political campaigning.
The fact that a candidate running for office in one of the world’s largest and most democratic economies is also making time to participate in an ‘Ask Me Anything’ session on the hyper-niche social news and entertainment platform, Reddit, shows how important social media has become in today’s election campaigns. It also shows that engagement across channel – both traditional and emerging – is what candidates are really seeking more than anything else.
But before we dive into the benefits and my take on the Prime Minister’s rationale for the “Ask Me Anything” session, let’s take a look back across a 24-hour period in last week’s campaign trail and understand how this entire event even came about.
First, last Wednesday evening both candidates locked horns to participate in the final televised debate of this campaign (I’m not sure how many viewers actually tuned in, but I am certain that there are more people tuned into Sky at any given moment than there are logged into Reddit in Australia). Then, on Thursday morning, both the Prime Minster and Mr. Abbott hit the campaign trail and continued their political jabbing and jostling as they headed into the final week of the campaign.
At approximately 4:45pm on Thursday afternoon with a simple tweet , Kevin Rudd did something that he had never done before; he agreed to participate in an unscripted, unfiltered, and unrehearsed ‘Ask Me Anything’ (AMA) session on Reddit (for those who are unfamiliar with the platform, you can get a crash course here and here).
His campaign team probably spent time planning this across the previous few days, or weeks even, but regardless of how much time they spent preparing for it, within minutes of his tweet hitting the twittersphere more than 300 questions had already been submitted.
Prime Minster Rudd admittedly needed to “have some help with the typing so I can answer as many questions as possible,” it was actually him sitting behind a computer responding to actual questions from real people. And so, for the entire hour between 6 and 7 PM on Thursday night, the Prime Minister, or KRudd Dog as he affectionately signed off to one user, answered questions ranging from housing affordability, to immigration, to drug abuse, as they were submitted online.
There will be those who’ll claim that this isn’t exactly groundbreaking from a political perspective, and pundits will surely point to the fact that President Obama famously did an AMA on Reddit to great acclaim during the last US election cycle. But that’s beside the point. It was groundbreaking for Mr. Rudd, and it hadn’t been done before in Australia.
What’s most important about the whole exercise is that in an era of increased political disillusionment where the average citizen feels mistrust and disconnection from their political leaders; it very tangibly strips away a layer of perceived restricted-access. By making himself available to the public, openly and transparently online, Mr. Rudd gained points in trying to appear to be just like any other Australian.
I’m willing to venture that the Coalition’s leadership and Abbott’s campaign team is questioning why they didn’t think of it themselves sooner.