ci creation interactive
                                              The digital strategy consultancy

United Kingdom ...
Creation Interactive Limited

Table of Contents


Creation Interactive Limited

The Internet has completely changed the world of media and communications. In t...
Creation Interactive Limited

Echoing the words of Naughton a ‘trick has most certainly been missed’ when the bulk of serv...
Creation Interactive Limited

understand the opportunities truly afforded by new media. It has not actively pursued the im...
Creation Interactive Limited

A remarkable aspect of the USA 2008 Presidential campaigns and candidature race is not how m...
Creation Interactive Limited

Presidential Watch’ 08 has made a comprehensive and ongoing analysis of the so-called ‘polit...
Creation Interactive Limited

       • Mail messaging (inbox)

       • Fund raising and volunteering tools

       • Dist...
Creation Interactive Limited

Naturally, there is also an online investment in keeping with Barack Obama’s commitment to s...
Creation Interactive Limited

Secondly, there is a real need for the party or politician to commit to creating an ‘interac...
Creation Interactive Limited

As Colvile clarifies in his pertinent report;

            “The most subtle, but perhaps most...
Creation Interactive Limited

quality. Other candidates video streams lost something in translation as they used the lower...
Creation Interactive Limited

About Paul R. Grant

With extensive knowledge in the fields of rich media, digital...
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United Kingdom Politics And The Online Opportunity


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United Kingdom Politics And The Online Opportunity

  1. 1. ci creation interactive The digital strategy consultancy United Kingdom politics and the online opportunity 1 July 2008 Paul R. Grant Creation Interactive Limited 53 Chandos Place, Westminster, London WC2N 4HS T +44 (0)207 812 6474
  2. 2. Creation Interactive Limited Table of Contents Introduction 3 Immigrants, revolutionists, and entrepreneurs 4 The Internet nation 5 Accurate pre-election indicators 5 Powerful campaigning through online volunteers 7 Global uptake of political online communities 9 The decline of traditional broadcast channels 9 Engagement and conversation with constituents 11 ‘User-generated’ content can be more effective 11 Conclusion 12 United Kingdom politics and the online opportunity 1
  3. 3. Creation Interactive Limited Introduction The Internet has completely changed the world of media and communications. In the past decade we have seen a revolution in the way businesses and organisations operate, resulting from technological and social advances possible using an international network. This ‘online’ world creates a unique opportunity that is shaping the way political campaigns operate. Politicians and political parties in the United Kingdom (UK) Government can learn vital lessons by observing the United States of America (USA) party candidature and Presidential race for 2008. The USA demonstrates to the world that they are the online innovators, willing to embrace the leading edge of technology and to formulate new ways of utilising emerging trends and platforms. This is in stark contrast to the picture portrayed by those UK industry analysts who have written papers in recent times, confronting the Government and public sectors. Robert Colvile (2008) explains that “The internet [sic] has already had an impact on politics. But in the UK, it is underdeveloped compared to many other countries, in particular the US.” 1 It is true that the UK Government has initiated a process of sweeping reforms for its information technology infrastructure and online portals through the “Transformational Government Enabled by Technology” strategy (Cabinet Office, 2005) 2. Nonetheless it is the politicians themselves that are still missing out on an opportunity to gain the competitive and financial edge over rivals, and are missing the great potential of successfully interacting with their constituents. Tom Steinberg is an active and engaged proponent of the Internet as a platform for meaningful interaction with constituents, who argues in collaboration with Ed Mayo “that government could now grasp the opportunities that are emerging in terms of the creation, consumption and re-use of information. Current policy and action is not yet adequate to grasp these opportunities.” 3 The online media and industry experts are also noticing and articulating the chasm between the familiar rhetoric of the UK Government and the hard to miss financial and statistical gains of the successful US-centric online initiatives. John Naughton of The Observer points out that the past “formula for [UK political] success has been to replicate what they do across the pond. All of which suggests that UK political parties are missing a trick or two… since 2004… it's been clear the internet [sic] was becoming a force to be reckoned with in US politics.” 4 The platitudes in the UK are well illustrated by the then Prime Minister Tony Blair’s speech to the National Policy Forum on July 9, 2005: “This is a time to push forward, faster and on all fronts: open up the system, break down its monoliths, put the parent and pupil and patient and law-abiding citizen at the centre of it. We have made great progress. Let us learn the lessons of it not so as to rest on present achievements but to take them to a new and higher level in the future…” 5 Ironically it is only in 2008 after leaving public office that Tony Blair has implemented his own advice. His own private website at takes advantage of now expected and commonplace technologies that are noticeably absent on most politician or party websites. The site includes an online diary (web-log or blog), syndicated news (RSS or ‘feed’), video (through a YouTube™ video stream), and a newsletter (email marketing). In spite of this the website does not particularly create an active platform for two-way communication, rather serving the purpose of keeping visitors or subscribers updated on the latest activities or speeches of Mr Blair himself. 1 Colvile, R. (2008). Policy, Politics, and the Internet. London: Centre for Policy Studies 2 Cabinet Office. (2005). Transformational Government Enabled by Technology. London: The Stationery Office Limited 3 Mayo, E & Steinberg, T. (2007). The Power of Information: An independent review by Ed Mayo and Tom Steinberg. London 4 Naughton, John. “Obama’s golden touch on the net eludes British politicians”, The Guardian, February 24, 2008, accessed February 24, 2008 5 Cabinet Office. (2005). Transformational Government Enabled by Technology. London: The Stationery Office Limited United Kingdom politics and the online opportunity 2
  4. 4. Creation Interactive Limited Echoing the words of Naughton a ‘trick has most certainly been missed’ when the bulk of serving UK politicians do not yet realise just how they are falling behind the times, and that their future career could be made redundant by those that seize the present opportunity afforded by embracing the new media revolution. Immigrants, revolutionists, and entrepreneurs In 1938 Franklin Roosevelt remarked to the Daughters of the American Revolution that the majority of citizens in the US “are descended from immigrants and revolutionists.” 6 The people of America are indeed largely a lineage of the many industrious risk takers, adventurers, and revolutionary entrepreneurs who once staked their fortune in the so-called ‘land of opportunity’. One can imagine the coastline of the British motherland shrinking into the distance, as these pioneers left behind all they knew to create a new world. At one time the UK ‘ruled the waves’, and by virtue of geographic reach ‘ruled the world’. In this new millennium however it is the entrepreneurial who rule the world, even if the ‘waves’ are now virtual rather than literal. Perhaps the UK is again poised for a new era of opportunity, one worthy of note. Dr Richard Florida (2005) explains that the balance of power is shifting away from the traditional industrial geographic global growth centres, and that the creative classes will migrate to any country or location with the ‘right’ opportunity 7. This new dawn sees migrants from all corners of the globe now seeking entry to the UK as the new millennium’s ‘land of opportunity’. The New York Magazine concedes this in a special report (March 2007); “If Paris was the capital of the nineteenth century and New York of the twentieth, London is shaping up to be the capital of the 21st… …To Londoners now, there’s a sense that the future belongs to them: It can sometimes seem as if there’s nobody over 30 on the streets, and that a great experiment in mass immigration and assimilation is under way. For a century, New Yorkers have taken it for granted that the most tired, the most poor, and the most huddled would bring their sharp-elbowed talents, their richness of spirit, to these shores. Increasingly, London may be their destination.” 8 Hence this vibrant, youthful and resourceful melting pot is being continuously stocked by a flow of competitive craftspeople and talented ‘future-savvy’ communicators. In the collective mind of this incoming population the world is one of interconnectedness and community, both online and off-line. The UK private sector is blatantly aware of the opportunity to harness the energy and enthusiasm of these migrants, and are themselves seizing these globally minded entrepreneurs in order that they themselves may somehow instil a momentum that will propel their companies into the social information age. It seems that advertising, television, mobile and other such sectors have renewed vigour and determination to establish the UK as the so-called ‘Hollywood’ of the future creative industries. So says Prime Minister Gordon Brown in an interview with drummer Dave Rowntree of the band Blur, as he announces the 'Creative Britain: New Talents for the New Economy' 9 policy. So on the one hand the UK Government speaks of the vision of a ‘New Economy’, yet it is on the other hand failing to 6 Woolley, J & Peters, G. “The American Presidency Project”. Santa Barbara, CA: University of California 7 Florida, R. (2005). The Flight of the Creative Class. USA: Collins 8 Eugenia Bell & Matt Weiland. “London (The Other New York.)” New York Magazine, March 18, 2007, accessed February 25, 2008 9 Cabinet Office. “New creative apprenticeships for thousands”, 10 Downing Street, February 22, 2008, accessed February 22, 2008 United Kingdom politics and the online opportunity 3
  5. 5. Creation Interactive Limited understand the opportunities truly afforded by new media. It has not actively pursued the immigrants, revolutionaries, and entrepreneurs that might create such a new economy, but rather sought to lock-down the borders of a nation which perhaps mourns its empirical history. One thing is for certain, whether in Silicon Valley or in UK Labour’s promised new economy, whoever rules the Internet waves will rule the world. Seemingly Microsoft™, Google™ and those many others have already caught on to the strategy. How long will it take for the UK’s long-established institutions? The Internet nation The ‘Internet nation’ is a particular evolution of the ‘online community’ culture. The Internet nation is not mere teenagers sitting in bedrooms but the middle-aged, the elderly, the career conscious, the voter. In essence it is a community made up of ‘global citizens’. Perhaps it is the ‘new economy’ that Gordon Brown hopes to somehow contain within the UK’s shores. The ubiquity of the Internet means that the traditional borders of the world have fallen and that any tyranny of distance is reduced to a ‘click’, at least in the developed world. A person’s right to voice their opinion can now create a storm which ripples across the planet, making even the most unlikely incident a powerful political event in the global arena. Consider Samantha Power, former foreign policy advisor to Barack Obama, who apparently spoke ‘off the record’ to a reporter from The Scotsman with some derogatory comments about Senator Hillary Clinton 10. Within hours the media was syndicating this news all over the globe, resulting in her resignation. A career in politics was once largely obtained by having a good education, a solid knowledge of relevant history, skills in the art of oratory, perhaps displaying an understanding of various philosophies or ideologies such as socialism, communism, capitalism and so on, all enhanced by having or knowing the right connections in the corridors of power. In this new age of global business and global citizenship the defining characteristic that will give politicians an edge is their ability to think and act in an entrepreneurial way. Today’s entrepreneurs inherently know that the secret to their success is to obtain the technological, informational, and relational advantage by connecting with the mass-market on a global scale. Aaron David Miller articulates this in his Citigroup lecture on Arab-Israeli peace: “In life, the world’s most compelling ideology… if you haven’t figured it out yet… is not democracy, it’s not capitalism, it’s certainly not communism, and it’s not nationalism. It’s success. That’s the world’s most compelling ideology. Because success generates power, and success generates constituents.” 11 UK politicians can have the ‘success that generates constituents’ by harnessing the tools that the constituents are themselves engaging with: In a global landscape; In an environment where for many success is determined by the number of ‘friends in your network’. This has certainly proven to be the case for users of social networking spaces such as FaceBook™, Bebo™, or MySpace™ to name but a few. Accurate pre-election indicators With the Internet success can be accurately measured with a variety of indicators. Indicators which shape an understanding of the demographic: In terms of the number of visitors to a website; In terms of the amount of time a person spends engaged with a community or website content; and so on. Indeed there is a metric or an analytic that clearly and comparatively tells a definitive truth that succinctly avoids all speculation or interpretation. This is not the age of ‘answers on a postcard’. This is an instantaneous age where the precise popular opinion, interactivity quotient and political polarisation of the people is evident by easily accessible statistics. 10 Peev, Gerri. “'Hillary Clinton's a monster': Obama aide blurts out attack in Scotsman interview”, The Scotsman, March 7, 2008, accessed March 9, 2008 11 Miller, A. D. (2006). “Is Arab-Israeli Peace Possible?”. Michigan, USA: Gerald R. Ford School on Public Policy United Kingdom politics and the online opportunity 4
  6. 6. Creation Interactive Limited A remarkable aspect of the USA 2008 Presidential campaigns and candidature race is not how many different platforms, channels or technologies are being used by the candidates, but that the uptake by the voting population is so measurable for anyone and everyone. This is real-time, hard statistical polling that opens a clear line of communication between the campaign team and the people that are engaged in a meaningful, interactive way. Sites such as allow graphical and statistical comparisons between candidate websites based on a sample of more than 200,000 US citizens (Data accessed June 30, 2008) Whereas artful manipulation of the mainstream media might once have enabled pollers to ‘swing’ elections, or with the clever extraction of selected statistics a campaign manager could bolster the appearance of momentum, it is now possible for even the ‘grass-roots’ punters to see the ‘truth’ for themselves. In 2008 and hereafter it is not only possible to measure the website visitor statistics of the candidates in the run-up, but it is also possible to see the impact and influence of the top independent news sites reporting on the campaign. Notable and supposedly unbiased ‘authority’ websites that are known for providing news and information on political issues can be clearly polarised and exposed for their influence, whether right-wing or left-wing. The map of the Political Blogosphere shows the interconnectedness and influence of carefully selected online authority sites in the presidential race (Data accessed June 30, 2008)12 12 Linkfluence™. “Presidential Watch ’08”, accessed June 30, 2008 United Kingdom politics and the online opportunity 5
  7. 7. Creation Interactive Limited Presidential Watch’ 08 has made a comprehensive and ongoing analysis of the so-called ‘political blogosphere’. It examines the amount of influence of more than two hundred hand-selected websites. Then it measures the quantity and quality of inbound and outbound links to the candidates websites, in the context of the most active and engaging conversations that might be happening on these influential blogs and news sites in the USA. Anthony Hamelle who is Executive Vice President of the French technology provider behind Presidential Watch ’08, explains the difference between old-school campaigning and the social web, where online conversations are taking place that significantly influence voter opinion: “In real life candidates go to schools, churches, factories, town halls or even homes to get their message across. Candidates don't just sit somewhere hoping people will come to them, they actually go where people are, they engage them. Conversations are now happening online, in all sorts of consumer generated media, blogs, message boards, social networks. And these have an actual impact on the minds of voters, as opposed to candidates' websites standing in the middle of nowhere. Candidates should absolutely spot the town halls, schools, homes and churches of the Internet where people meet, debate and influence one another.” In the years of 2007 and 2008 the world has seen Presidential candidates in the United States learning from and embracing the possibilities of online communities and strategic interactive marketing. They are not doing this merely in an effort to relate to a technological generation, but because it allows them to connect with genuinely motivated and interested citizens from all walks of life. Politicians in the UK may think that there is no need to imitate the United States politicians, or that it is not so important to be ‘hip’ with the younger generation. Whatever the case, it is a mistake to assume that users of the Internet are only young, or only ‘hip’, or are not likely to sway elections away from the traditionally ‘safe’ electoral seat. The simple fact is that the people of the first-world now revolve many of their activities around the Internet, whether at home or at work or on their portable device, and that the Internet is itself rapidly revolving around communities of like-minded people. Which is hardly so very surprising given that the human race are and will always be comprised of tactile and social beings, not ‘users’, ‘constituents’, or any other numeric quantifier. One of our species’ fundamental needs according to Maslov is that we feel a sense of belonging and acceptance 13. The Internet nation has opened the boundaries across the world, across gender, across language, across race, and provides new ways for people to belong and be accepted. Like-minded people are ‘flocking’ to each other to form new communities without the constraints of past eras. Politicians need to embrace this new constituency. Powerful campaigning through online volunteers A true success story for Barack Obama is the individual participation and subsequent revenue that has been generated for his campaign through small-time donations and activism from the user community. Visiting his website and ‘joining the cause’ is not a case of the simple ‘sign up for a newsletter’ level of engagement. In essence, a proactive democratic American can actually create their very own branded website portal at Here they can actively administer a campaign which itself becomes integral to the success of the overall Obama ‘08 campaign. Some of the notable tools at that have enabled campaigners to create social media communities are: • Blog (web-log), including video and comments • Personal custom profile • A points system rewarding engagement (accruing to incentives and recognition) 13 Maslov, A.H. A Theory of Human Motivation, Psychological Review 50 (1943) United Kingdom politics and the online opportunity 6
  8. 8. Creation Interactive Limited • Mail messaging (inbox) • Fund raising and volunteering tools • Distributed phone bank scripts and database • Event organisation tools • Networks, groups, browsing neighbourhoods • Of course not forgetting the ever-present and all-important “Donate Now” button. (Right) An interface which enables potential volunteers to download a list of calls and a call script for virtual, distributed phone banking. These social media tools give Mr Obama a competitive edge resulting from his team’s fundamental and strategic understanding of the power of the online medium. Apparently it is not only the Obama ‘08 team that understand the power of new media. Mr Obama himself testifies to his personal belief in the importance of the Internet when he unveiled a new policy agenda on technology and innovation, speaking to the Google™ main campus; “The Internet is perhaps the most open network in history. We have to keep it that way.” 14 The results of his online efforts are not only evident through the many volunteers busy with the campaign online, but that his team are seeing tangible benefits through additional off-line publicity and more importantly in revenue generation. The Washington Post describes the funding received for the month of January 2008: “A spokesman said $28 of the $32 million that Obama raised last month came over the Internet. Ninety percent of the online donations were $100 or less; forty percent were $25 or less.” 15 These are certainly not the donations stereotypically associated with lobby groups. These are ordinary citizens showing their support and rewarding the effort that Barack Obama is making by connecting with the masses. Indeed Barack Obama has turned this ‘grass-roots’ support into a campaign mainstay for 2008, continuing to appeal to his online subscribers for these small donations and attributing his success to their support. 14 McLaughlin, A “Candidates at Google: Barack Obama”, Google Public Policy Blog, Published November 15, 2007, accessed March 10, 2008 15 Vargas, J. A. “Obama Sets New Online Record”, The Washington Post, Published February 1, 2008, accessed March 10, 2008 United Kingdom politics and the online opportunity 7
  9. 9. Creation Interactive Limited Naturally, there is also an online investment in keeping with Barack Obama’s commitment to strategically using new media and online communities. In comparison to UK web projects it may seem high, yet it is still remarkably small relative to the revenue that is exponentially generated month to month. "Obama spent more than $2 million on hardware and software, paid the Internet consulting firm Blue State Digital nearly $400,000 and paid technology consultant Joseph Rospars more than $90,000." 16 These figures show the kind of return on investment that is possible when marketing budgets are spent in the online domain rather than on traditional off-line campaigning. Entrepreneurs know that revenue is not nearly as important as profitability. Mr Obama is in many ways more entrepreneur than politician. He is taking the risks, forging new ground, pioneering radical ways of embracing constituents. Now that he has succeeded, it will be commonplace for all US political campaigners to imitate, replicate, or innovate at least to the same standard if not into uncharted territory. The UK political parties, MP’s, and future candidates can certainly watch and learn from the mistakes and successes in the US. Without doubt those who actually implement these lessons will triumph over those who are slow to catch on. Global uptake of political online communities Younger nations, progressive nations, and some key political figures of the world are also wasting no time in capitalising on the lessons learned elsewhere on the planet, or adopting their own versions to gain competitive advantage. In her article for the BBC, Kathryn Westcott was (as early as January 2007) discussing the more progressive nations and individuals and examining their uptake of Internet tools for political advantage. 17 She explains how Roh Moo-hyun disdained the traditional forms of political campaigning and election hype to instead woo voters for the 2002 South Korean Presidency using elaborate email and online marketing strategies. We are told of France, where both Segolene Royal and Nicolas Sarkozy used the Internet as an integral part of the 2007 Presidential campaign. In particular the Desirs d'Avenir website (Desires for the Future) enables visitors to participate in online forums and topical debate. Westcott also points out that one “Jean-Marie Le Pen, has also invested heavily in the web and has gone one step further than his opponents by becoming one of the first European political leaders to open a headquarters in the virtual world of Second Life.” The race is to the swift. Even the most unlikely political candidate or party can find surprising success if they know how to engage the disenchanted through innovation. The decline of traditional broadcast channels How then should today’s UK politician or party embrace this ‘Internet nation’ and the lessons so clearly demonstrated from ‘across the pond’? In the first instance, it seems sensible for those interested in taking hold of the future to immediately acknowledge the poor adoption of Internet capabilities in connecting with UK constituents. 16 Delaney, C. “Is the Obama Campaign a Model for Online Politics?”,, Published February 3, 2008, accessed March 10, 2008 17 Westcott, Kathryn. “The power of online campaigning”, BBC News, Published January 23, 2007, accessed February 22, 2008 United Kingdom politics and the online opportunity 8
  10. 10. Creation Interactive Limited Secondly, there is a real need for the party or politician to commit to creating an ‘interactive strategy’ which outlines how citizens will be able to meaningfully engage with them online. This will require substantially more industry insight than a routine review of IT strategy or a systems overhaul. It will not be a glamourous advertising agency ‘big idea’, or a creative web design agency’s fresh look for existing websites. It will not be a case of simply providing the public with a ‘blog’. It will happen by first understanding the underlying behavioural needs or drivers of the particular constituency and then marrying the appropriate new media strategy, content strategy, and technology choices to satisfy those needs Gone are the days where the website for a political party or Member of Parliament (MP) could sufficiently serve its purpose by only portraying the party colours for the campaign along with some bulleted policy lines. In such times, political campaigns were principally driven by a core policy position and a whole lot of ‘propaganda’ which was presented through broadcast communication. From time to time said politician may have had the chance to meet their local constituents in the workplace or at a shopping centre or on a farm, albeit a limited amount of interactivity. More typically voters would sit in their living rooms passively accepting the various messages, perhaps reading newspapers on the train and in their lunch-breaks, although largely forming their opinions based on a popular consensus amongst their immediate network of influence. An IBM sponsored consumer survey in 2007 reveals global findings that overwhelmingly suggest that personal Internet time now rivals TV time and that there is a clear and present decline of television as the primary media device18. That said, it is unlikely that constituents will be won over for very much longer with televised propaganda advertisements. It would seem that the votes in ‘tomorrow's elections’ will have to be won online. Propaganda and spin elements may still factor to some extent in the current stage, but will likely not survive into our future’s elections. In the upcoming landscape the politician’s transparency and direct communication with the public will be key. Politicians will not be able to hide their ‘online footprint’, their past life, or their potentially shady record of promises which will be available for all to see. Tomorrow’s politician may therefore need to disclose controversies prior to running, for fear they could be exposed by any astute web user. Exposure and scandal have almost always been a certain means of losing the popular vote and there are very few controls to stem the tide of dissent in an online world. In early 2008 there were several notable instances where politicians were adversely affected by the information published online, including John Ward, a local councillor for Medway in the UK. In relation to his extreme views about ‘forced sterilisation’ of people that he believed were misusing the social security system, political writer Iain Dale said: “The problem is if you're writing a blog and you get angry about something, you're anger transmits itself from your brain through your fingertips on to the keyboard and on to the internet. "Ten minutes later, you might think 'maybe I've gone a bit over the top there', but it's too late. "You can amend what you've written, but it's already out there and someone, somewhere, will have found it.”19 So perhaps the most successful strategy for future candidates will be absolute transparency and integrity from the outset, combined with a commitment to interacting with the people in the places that they frequent. Not the shopping mall, not the workplace, but rather in their online communities and social networks. Voters are themselves becoming increasingly aware that they can participate and learn about real issues from a variety of sources other than the normal party-controlled channels. They can and will form opinions for themselves, and they will research the issues and choose a candidate who they believe will bring real and tangible benefits to their world. 18 IBM Press release. (2007). “IBM Consumer Survey Shows Decline of TV as Primary Media Device”, August 22, 2007, accessed March 9, 2008 19 “‘Extreme’ blog councillor resigns” BBC News, Published March 25, 2008, accessed March 25, 2008 United Kingdom politics and the online opportunity 9
  11. 11. Creation Interactive Limited As Colvile clarifies in his pertinent report; “The most subtle, but perhaps most powerful, change, will be to the public’s mindset. As we grow used to the instant availability of information online, we will no longer tolerate delay and obfuscation in getting similar information from government.“ 20 Engagement and conversation with constituents What MPs and political parties currently fail to see is that the people of the nation actually want to have conversation and meaningful engagement around issues and ideas. Sadly it is not only the politicians that are missing a few tricks. Leading up to March 4, 2008 the UK’s Guardian newspaper touted an exciting politics ‘live web-chat’ with Mr David Cameron. He was scheduled to appear between midday and 12:30 p.m. Registered users were invited to post their questions for an opportunity to talk ‘live’ with Mr Cameron himself. Remarkably, the time came for the big event and it became clear to all those ‘logged-in’ that the reality of the ‘live’ event was that it was little more than a 1990’s-style bulletin board, with Mr Cameron attempting to answer as many questions as he could with a somewhat constrained technology environment. By no fault of his own, Mr Cameron was only able to answer a few questions before the allocated time had expired and he was required to move on to his next appointment. In a classic statement demonstrating the chasm between UK implementation and USA implementation, David Cameron was forced to account for the slowness: “DC: Give me a break I am typing as fast as I can. there is quite a lot of formatting stuff that the Guardian guys have to do so that it all comes out right. I'll take some more questions home with me and try and post some more answers later.....” 21 In a succinct indicator of the times we find that long after the media circus had passed through and captured the official photo opportunity, long after the Guardian had measured the number of ‘concurrent users’ at the website for the event - the public continued and still continues to post question, question, comment and statement. It is possibly the first place for some time where many have felt that they can actually engage and be heard on the issues pertinent to them, even though Mr Cameron is no longer there. Despite the lack of ongoing response, the conversation continues amongst the constituents. In a reminder of the contrast, the website provides an exponentially growing multimillion subscriber fan-base with a suite of real-time tools and social stimulation, all packaged in a way that fosters participation and communication. ‘User-generated’ content can be more effective Whilst the UK government has in recent times begun to provide video content through YouTube™, Barack Obama’s team are themselves already not content with that common platform as a means to providing video for the controlled environment of their website, unless there is little other choice (in the case where content has come from other sources). They have instead embraced technology in use by the USA’s leading broadcasters 22 to give each visitor to the site an experience that is equivalent to watching television, rather than watching ‘blocky’ ‘one-size-fits-all’ Internet video. Mr Obama seems to rely on this as a complementary and strategic tool. His performances in live televised debates with opponents have arguably not always had the professional polish of his counterparts. Whilst Mr Obama may not have demonstrated the finesse in the televised debates, any web-based presentation of his ‘on-demand’ content is of the highest 20 Colvile, R. (2008). Policy, Politics, and the Internet. London: Centre for Policy Studies 21 22 United Kingdom politics and the online opportunity 10
  12. 12. Creation Interactive Limited quality. Other candidates video streams lost something in translation as they used the lower quality format from YouTube™, somewhat taking the edge off their otherwise polished TV performances. The equation for success multiplies in the Obama camp when consideration is given to some controversial but highly effective user-generated videos placed on the Internet by individuals not officially endorsed by the Obama campaign. The first initiative which attained significant press coverage was a ‘mash-up’ (edited version) of a sequence from the movie 1984 based on the book by George Orwell. In it the community sees a black and white image of Hillary Clinton as the Big Brother protagonist dictating in a positive reinforcement style of language 23. The video producer behind the anonymous ‘Vote Different’ video was subsequently sacked from his job, exposed infamously and apparently celebrated by the Internet community having nonetheless achieved significant damage to the Clinton campaign 24. The second significant initiative occurred when the popular of the band Black Eyed Peas decided to immortalise Barack Obama’s ‘Super Tuesday’ victory speech with a song, music video, and gamut of A-List star appearances 25. The style of the video harkened a time of the great oratory presidents such as John F. Kennedy and his famous monochrome televised speeches. This kind of organic grass-roots support creates a force of momentum which contributes significantly more towards winning the popular vote than any big-budget, agency-led, or campaign-funded television advertisement. Conclusion Now is the time for UK politicians to embrace the exciting opportunity afforded by new media. Staunch British citizens may scoff at the ostentatious trends of USA politicians and perhaps perceive their efforts as unrealistic for the UK audience. The truth remains that engaged citizens of this new Internet-age consider themselves privileged to be participants and contributors in the technological revolution. They are global citizens influenced by their many online friends from across national and international borders. Not only are they just a click away with their broadband connection, but they are also connected by speedy international flights. The world is getting smaller. The UK’s ‘Transformational Government’ strategy and the Central Office of Information’s commitment to implementing an effective information systems overhaul is only one small step in the right direction 26. The real question for politicians and parties as the world pushes toward the future is; “Do we have an interactive strategy?” 23 24 25 26 Cabinet Office. (2005). Transformational Government Enabled by Technology. London: The Stationery Office Limited United Kingdom politics and the online opportunity 11
  13. 13. Creation Interactive Limited Profile About Paul R. Grant With extensive knowledge in the fields of rich media, digital marketing and interactive strategy, Paul has more than 15 years experience working with Fortune 500 clientele around the globe. He has developed the field of digital strategy consultancy from his base in London and Kent, England. To help executives and marketing managers who are grappling with the issues of engagement in a digital age, Paul has created workshop and training materials which are inspired by his passion for the strategic use of digital media. With extensive international experience, Paul has written and delivered leadership and media training modules and spoken at media conferences in the United States, Europe, and Australasia. Contact: Paul R. Grant Office: +44 (0)207 812 6474 Mobile: +44 (0)7853 271684 About Creation Interactive Limited Creation Interactive is a digital strategy consultancy working with government and non-government organisations, and commercial brands. Consultants from Creation Interactive will partner with clients to create and implement interactive media strategies that accelerate the accomplishment of business and organisational objectives, ensuring ongoing success by analysing and measuring return on investment. Website address: Postal address: 53 Chandos Place Westminster London WC2N 4HS United Kingdom politics and the online opportunity 12