There’s been a lot of discussion lately about just what online strategies could be most effective for political parties in getting their message across to the voters. I’ve run across a lot of interesting views, and thought on them (in between reading chapters of HP7) so here’s a summary of major points.
Disclaimer: I’m not a member of any political party, but I do want the Liberal-National coalition to lose government, or at least lose control of the Senate.
Political parties in Australia don’t have to “get out the base” i.e. motivate them to turn up at the polling booth. The voters already have to turn up or face a fine – so the message isn’t about making them want to get out the door, it has to be tailored to where they’re actually going to put their mark, and tempt them into being an active supporter who volunteers time and money. Thus the recent efforts from pollies of all stripes to suddenly get themselves pages on the social networking sites like MySpace and YouTube, some more impressively than others.
So how do the high-profile parties in Australia (i.e. the parties who already have successfully elected federal parliamentarians) stack up in attracting the attention of the casual political websurfer, and how do they rate in funnelling them towards a firmer voting intention and maybe a donation of time and/or money?
All images below are taken directly from the websites of the parties, and are what you get if you make a 100 pixels wide thumbnail of the banner-logo image which highlights the party’s name. Some web-designers have obviously thought this through more than others (though none of them provide a handy little graphic widget that can be easily embedded in online content – why not?).
Need a majority, either alone or in coalition, of the 150 seats in the House of Representatives.
Liberal Party of Australia
75 House MPs, 33 Senators
Fairly clean layout, poor navigation. Easy to sign up for e-newsletter/e-bulletin.
So. Much. Howard.
The content presentation is not welcoming, but they do make it easy to find out how to volunteer or donate money.
Australian Labor Party
60 House MPs, 28 Senators
Excellent layout. Easy to navigate around the content. Easy to find the donate/join stuff. Easy to sign up for e-newsletter/e-bulletin.
But when your party’s face is Kevin Rudd, should your webpage really be that grey? Reassuring business that you’re not a raging red is one thing, but looking drab is quite another.
12 House MPs, 5 Senators
Uncluttered, bright and friendly-looking site. Animated graphics and text annoy me, these aren’t too intrusive. Information is easy to find. The obligatory party face, Mark Vaile, is used to good effect.
No obvious link to e-newsletter/e-bulletin.
Need to block either LibNats or Labor gaining a majority of the 76 seats in the Senate. Would welcome any seats they might pick up in the House of Reps as well, of course.
0 House Members, 4 Senators
The Democrats seem to have the only site which truly reaches out to an e-savvy readership. The information layout is so easy to navigate, their Senate Watch section in particular is exemplary, as it should be when it appears to be the major focus of their re-election campaigns. Easy links to e-newsletter/e-bulletin.
They have direct links on the front page to Lynn Allison’s YouTube channel – the only party whose website acknowledges the social networking flurry of recent weeks. The grassroots emphasis of the party is reflected with less elevation of a party “face”.
0 House MPs, 4 Senators
Crisp template, clear layout of content and navigation. Easy to find donate/volunteer/join, also easy to find main campaign points. Less emphasis on the Senate than the Dems, as the Greens push harder on running candidates for state legislatures and local councils whenever those elections arise. No link to e-newsletter/e-bulletin.
The Greens emphasise Bob Brown more than the Dems do any of their Senators, but it’s still at a much lower level than any of the government-seeking parties.
0 House MPs, 1 Senator
Outdated template with amateurish graphics (very annoying main page animation). Clear info layout, easy to navigate to areas of interest, not too much Steve Fielding. News releases are kept up to date, but very poor content turnover for getting out the buzz online: there is only one entry on the blog, from September 2006. No obvious link to any e-newsletter/e-bulletin.
All the party sites make it easy to find more information about donating, volunteering or joining the party. They’re not all so successful at making it easy to engage with the policies and candidates for those who are sympathisers but not yet firmly intentioned voters, and this is exactly the information needed to bump firm voters up into the donor/volunteer/member tier as well.
So far, although Howard, Rudd, Brown and various front benchers and Senators have MySpace pages and YouTube accounts, they seem to be treating the social network sites as if with asbestos gloves – there are links on the social sites to the main websites, but not vice versa, except for the Democrats. In one way, this is understandable as the point of having a presence on the social networking sites is to drive traffic to the main sites rather than vice versa, but it’s rather alienating for someone who’s been excited by what they see on MySpace or YouTube to come to a party site which seems to be hiding their presence on those networks as if they’re ashamed of slumming or something. It certainly doesn’t help generate material that inspires blog posts and thus blog discussions in the polblogging arena.
The parties, and MSM pundits, might well ask why they would want to generate blog discussions? For exactly the same reason they want to get speeches and interviews reported in the corporate media – propogation of talking points and getting the message out there to move people more deeply into identifying with your party than they currently do, and it will make them want to come to the party’s site to get material from the horse’s mouth. Anyone who comes back to the pollies’ sites regularly will be a talking-points repeating machine, just the same way that it works with people who watch/listen to the corporate media: the talking points seep in. Whether it’s in boozy chats on Fridays at the pub, in the work tea room waiting for the kettle to boil, or holding forth in online forums and blogs, the talking points are disseminated as we are seeing right now with the discussion about the US Democrats YouTube debate.
These discussions once they’re out there are beyond the parties’ control, which is probably why Australian parties seem lukewarm on online outreach and especially interactivity. The success of a site like GetUp in generating grassroots political activism shows why this regressive control paranoia is shortsighted. If your site has engaging content and easy interactivity to generate email forwards and blog commentary, then people will become motivated, so long as they are not rigidly bound around by antiquated notions of party oversight. Who will be the first Australian political party to fully embrace the role of reliable dynamic content supplier for interactive political discussions that they can’t control?
Crossposted to Larvatus Prodeo