Who’s winning the digital election?

This year’s General Election has been billed as Britain’s first truly digitised battle between the political parties.

Certainly it’s the first time that the parties will have fully considered how to integrate social media, digital content and email techniques into the conventional outdoor poster campaigns, door-stepping, policy announcements and “battle-bus” tours.

They’ll certainly have picked over the Obama campaign team’s skilled use of email to create grassroots, word-of-mouth micro campaigns and brilliant use of digital to energise specific sections of the electorate.

So how are they doing? Well in the phoney war stage of the election battle I reckon it is Labour 1, Tories 0 on the digital front.

The past week has been particularly telling. Labour appears to have installed a rapid response digital unit into its campaign team, which has shown real flare when it comes to manipulating content and engaging voters.

And they’ve had some great material to work with. The Tories kicked off the year with David Cameron’s airbrushed face peering from billboards across the country, which quickly translated into a deluge of digital spoofs and chatter. The term “airbrushed” also cropped up endlessly in references to possible Conservative policies.

Perhaps wise to the fact that the Conservative’s conventional advertising isn’t exactly on the money, Labour’s team were ready to strike when the Tory’s follow-up campaign emerged.  “I’ve never voted Tory before but……” is spoof manner from heaven of course and will certainly spook the Conservative campaign team – what if they get it wrong again?

But what is interesting is not so much the spoof ads themselves, it’s the Labour team’s use of user-generated content and social media to encourage voters actively engaged in the debate.

This is the first election in which you can get your hands on party campaign material and play about with it to reflect your own views. It’s no-longer out of reach. If they’ve had this much fun with posters – just wait for the party political broadcasts and live TV debates to break – one false move and they’ll be online hell to pay.

Labour also declared this election would be the “first word of mouth election” as it revealed plans to use Twitter feedback to directly inform the agenda of its national campaign.

Interestingly a director of a public affairs agency I met recently reckoned that the UK’s political parties are an election behind the US and we won’t quite see the levels of direct digital engagement reached in the 2009 U.S. Presidential battle.

The Tories however, are thought to be ahead of the game when it comes to data management and email electioneering, either way, it can’t be long before the Conservatives hit their digital stride and strike back.

How much any of this digital activity directly affects the outcome of the election is of course uncertain at this stage, but it will be hugely entertaining to watch and what’s guaranteed is that the techniques used will evolve rapidly in the process.

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