Australian politics just went social

Australian politics just went social

The Australian Labor Party’s recruitment of “Team Obama’s” campaign heavyweights and “digital attacks dogs” for the upcoming election campaign is no surprise.

Political parties around the globe, with varying degrees of success, are embracing social media because they have seen what it can do. According to the Pew Internet Project’s Civic Engagement in the Digital Age study, conducted during the 2012 Obama election:

  • 39 per cent of all American adults took part in some sort of political activity on a social networking site (SNS)
  • 43 per cent of SNS users decided to learn more about a political or social issue because of something they saw on social media
  • Social media engagement leads to offline involvement, with 83 per cent of political SNS users also getting involved in political or social issues offline

Communications specialists from the Clemenger Group have come together to share their insights on the political move.


Patrick McClelland, Group Account Director, Porter Novelli Melbourne

“Kevin07”, “The Ruddster” or “Krudd” has long used social media to differentiate himself from his competitors, be it in his own party or the opposition, particularly leaders Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott.

His shaving cut Instagram images; Abby and Jasper tweets and “selfies” are all representations of Rudd’s target persona – a progressive, geeky, but charismatic alternative who “gets” real Australians; particularly younger people.

But do Australians buy it? This is the ALP’s challenge. Will it – can it be genuine, and if so, will the content be compelling?

If this content is deemed contrived, or fake, it will do more damage than good. The same goes for the Liberal’s social media strategy.

It could be argued that the impact will not be as great as that in USA. Compulsory voting means younger people are compelled to vote, a majority of which will be left leaning. In the USA, you win and lose on voter turnout. You mobilise an extra 5 per cent of young people, you gain a huge kick to your primary vote.


Alex Cramb, Director, Government Relations Australia

Twitter feeds, Facebook, Instagram, mummy blogs, bloke’s blogs and fund raising spam have created an instant live newsfeed that has propelled the news cycle into a 24/7 frenzy.

But all the mummy blogging and tweeting in the world couldn’t raise the Labor party’s primary vote during Julia Gillard’s term of prime minister.

But as a banished leader, Rudd used his mobile phone to keep connected to his base. Most importantly, he used his feeds to continue to tell his authentic story.

Rudd knows better than anyone that you need to know who your audience is and how to harness their emotional response to the political narrative. Support pages for “Kevin” on Facebook and hashtags joining the bandwagon have sprung up everywhere.

Their secret weapon, like Rudd’s is not lines of killer code (although that helps). It is the ability to tell a good story, inspire and energise activists. Convince people to donate to a cause they believe in and create excitement.

Website New Media Rockstars interviewed Laura Olin, who managed the social media channels for the Obama Team form Campaign HQ in Chicago. The article reports that during that election, 60% of voters between the ages of 18-29 voted for Obama. A lot of those voters got political news and information from Facebook and Twitter.


Rachel Mulholland, Marketing Executive, Clemenger Group

As well as boosting his online rating, Rudd will benefit from the “Obama effect”. Obama effectively wrote the social media playbook for politicians during his 2008 campaign and is said to have won the 2012 election because of social media. His team was expert at adapting social and cultural trends, giving Obama the edge in terms of ‘coolness’.

By hiring Obama’s digital SWAT team, Rudd is aligning himself with this image of a “daggy-cool”, forward-thinking, innovative politician. It positions him as politically savvy and on top of industry, social and cultural trends. This would affect attitudes beyond Australia’s youth market. 

The move will also help to ‘globalise’ the election. Obama received a lot of social media support from the global community during the 2012 election, which will have impacted opinions on the home front. Beyond international supporters, it will attract those interested in the impact of social media on politics. Let’s face it, that’s the business community in most Western markets.

A quick search for “Obama and social media” or “Kevin Rudd” on Google UK, Italy, Germany, Ireland and China returns stories about Rudd’s new digital hires. Clearly, in an increasingly globalised political, social and cultural landscape, social media has the ability to play a pivotal role in positioning Rudd as a global leader.


Tony Nagy, Director, Cosway Australia

The key question is how effective the Obama team will be as they ramp up social media campaigning here. Will they be culturally savvy enough to create messages that resonate and don’t jar? The messaging and ideas must be authentic to get traction: language and idiom is critical in getting a message to stick.

Australians have well and truly “got” the spin process and will see attempts at cheap manipulation for what they are. Unfortunately, former PM Gillard had some key messaging around “class warfare” and gender that many found clashed with the Australian sense of egalitarianism. Some blamed her communications director who had come out of British Labor traditions, where such issues have more natural traction. Whilst the issues discussed had substance, trust in the PM was so compromised that her rhetoric was constantly seen through the prism of “spin” – her messaging process had become the issue.


Les Timar, Managing Director, Government Relations Australia

My colleague’s analysis of the ALP social media strategy captures a lot of my sentiment. However, it’s worth noting that the Liberals have ramped up their social media strategy since the 2010 election and have been using digital and social media channels fairly effectively – YouTube, email subscriptions, Facebook and Twitter – over the last 12 to 18 months. This has encompassed policy-focused content, attack ads and satirical pieces (e.g. headless chooks).

Expect to see a more strategic effort from the Liberals on digital and social in the 2013 election compared to 2010.


Mandy Griffiths, Social Media Strategist, Porter Novelli Melbourne

Social media is change. It’s an alternative way of keeping up to date with news, staying in touch with family and friends, and provides a voice for people that did not and could not be heard through traditional media. It’s an alternative that very much rejects the establishment.

People wonder why Romney’s social media efforts didn’t resonate with the public, but he was using a new platform, one that promotes change and progress, to argue why things should stay the same. He came across as inauthentic because there was a disconnect between the message he was sending and the medium he was using.

Regardless of who is on your political team, if you are not prepared to look at the world differently from 20, 10 or even three years ago, social media will not work for you. 

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