Australia has been slapped in the face

Australia has been slapped in the face
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Australia, you just got slapped by Kevin Rudd.

Kevin Rudd enlisting the help of ‘Team Obama’ to handle the digital strategy for the upcoming federal election is a slap in the face for everyone who works in digital in Australia.

There is no doubt that ‘Team Obama’, or the ‘digital attack dog’, has achieved incredible results in both 2008 and 2012 election campaigns. But why can’t an Australian agency or, better yet, the social media team at KRUDD HQ achieve similar results? Are we really that far behind America?

There is no doubt that ‘Team Obama’ has kicked some serious arse. Most notable is the 2008 campaign, where Obama went from a young politician – with much less experience and clout than his competition – to President. He did this through building an aspiration campaign centred around the need for change and the ‘Yes we can’ slogan.  This aspirational messaging was made powerful through enlisting the largest ever in-house digital team for maximum impact.

Sound like Rudd 2013? I don’t think so. And I know – I was there. In 2008 I was working in social media in Seattle. I posted a video of people celebrating in the streets when Obama was announced President. This win did not happen because Obama was on Twitter. It happened because he inspired millions to believe they could build a better country. His aspirational messages engaged people’s minds and hearts so that they shared them via social media.

The same passionate voters exist in Australia, too, with thousands of Australian Facebook and Twitter users changing their profile pictures to show their opposition to the PNG asylum seeker solution.

But if you follow Australian politicians on both sides of the political divide, one theme is pretty consistent: their accounts are boring. With the exception of the Greens, the major parties’ social media accounts are filled with bland information about policy, details about where a politician is and what they are doing. This doesn’t work for commercial brands, so why do politicians think it will work for them?

Successful social media portrays the heartbeat of your brand and a deep knowledge of the brand, which is essential. Kevin Rudd posting a photo of an early morning shaving mishap went viral as a simple insight into his daily life. It might not have been a deep insight, but it was real and Australians resonated with its authenticity. It was an inside view into the Labor party, albeit a shallow one.

For political parties to succeed in the social media landscape this election, they have to adopt an in-house fast-moving approach to social media that leverages the aspirations of a nation. They need to tap in to what is interesting, relevant and shareable.

Simply posting links to policy or a photo of a pollie at a hospital opening is not going to cut it (and touring the country kissing babies is also out). Voters want to see inside the political machine – they want to be inspired by the narrative behind policy.

This is exactly the reason why an in-house social media team who knows the brand inside out is key to creating an agile and engaging election narrative. The key to Obama’s success is his in-house team, strategists that live and breathe American politics.

Is an American going to understand the unique Australian ‘boat people’ debate or NDIS or the carbon tax?  The complicated asylum seeker dialogue goes back to ideologies created in 2001 by John Howard. Many Australians wouldn’t be able to articulate the nuances of the refugee debate, let alone shipped-in American strategists.

If Australian politicians want to win on social media, they need to create content and engage in conversations that are relevant. They need to create a reason for Australians to change their profile picture to show their support for their preferred party on election day. To do this they need to work with people who understand what motivates, inspires and scares Australians.

There is really no choice but to use a team who lives, breathes and understands the political issues facing Australians.

Richenda Vermeulen is director of Ntegrity, a digital agency in Melbourne specialising in social media. 

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