Looking back on the UK’s first social media election

Steven Cox
By , - Enabling DigitalGovernment

It’s now been 100 days since the first ever social media general election in the UK. The increase in social media activity since 2010 was striking, and testament to how rapidly digital services have evolved.

Political parties tried to gain an edge over their rivals in, what was for the most part, the most closely fought election contest in a generation.

The potential to reach and engage new audiences stirred the political parties into action, and of course for the first time ever, people were able to register to vote online. Twitter and Facebook both played a big role in getting people signed up, particularly those who were casting their ballot for the first time, or those who may have forgotten to register at all.

So, who used digital most effectively?

According to Bruce Daisley, Twitter’s vice-president of European operations, both the Green Party and the SNP “punched above their weight” in terms of how they used this channel.  The Telegraph reported that the SNP leader’s Twitter handle @nicolasturgeon was invoked 157,000 times between April 4 and May 4, compared to just 150,000 for @ed_miliband.

The small difference is actually quite impressive, considering the SNP were contesting just 59 seats, and Ms Sturgeon’s media profile is considerably smaller than the then leader of the opposition.

David Cameron, one of the most followed UK politicians on Twitter, stuck to documenting the campaign daily to his one million followers. The Liberal Democrats also had a go – even temporarily changing the name on their website to ‘Liberal Democats’ after Nick Clegg met Joey Essex.

Some campaigning politicians appeared to use Twitter to simply make announcements, or cascade the latest party message they’d been issued with by HQ, with little apparent personalisation or follow-on engagement – one could argue they rather missed the point!

Mr Daisley described Twitter as the “medium of truth” that quickly debunked stories, and this also rings true across other digital platforms.

People have an increasingly relevant voice online – and this has wide-reaching implications for the new Government. Citizens increasingly seek digital access to government services and Whitehall must move quickly to meet this rising demand.

According to Fujitsu’s Digital Inside Out report, government is the one sector where the public would most like to see improvement in digital offerings.

We found that one in five wanted to see improvements to central government digital services. On top of this, almost a quarter of central government employees strongly agreed that more investment in technology applications is needed. This represents an unrivalled opportunity for the government to transform the way it handles 1.5 billion transactions a year.

With government services touching everybody’s lives, there appears to be a widening digital divide between what they can offer digitally, and what the public expects. The numbers speak for themselves – around two thirds (67%) of people ‘always’ or ‘sometimes’ use the digital option when it’s made available to them, according to the research.

Fuelled by an explosion of smartphone use and an audience demanding digital more than ever before, there is a risk the public could become disengaged and disenfranchised with the workings of government if this divide is not addressed.

In my view, by (necessarily) championing digital services, central government is fuelling a demand curve that it finds increasingly under pressure to meet.

Central and local government will need to work closely together to ensure they meet this digital demand and to ensure that new customer-facing services are accompanied by changes in internal processes. This is necessary to realise the substantial cost savings that the government are seeking.

Cross-departmental data sharing and integration are essential to ensure a streamlined offering – ensuring that people don’t need to repeatedly enter the same data for different transactions for example.

When you tie all that back to the election, it is staggering to think that you can manage your finances and banking online yet it’s impossible to vote online.  Of course people will have to be convinced that government has properly addressed the challenges of security, identity, and data protection before everyone has confidence in digital voting.

Yet surely this is a worthwhile ambition, if we are to deliver a truly digital Britain?

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Steven Cox

Steven Cox

Vice President, Fujitsu Diversity and Inclusion Ambassador at Fujitsu
Steven Cox

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