Making Government Personal

There has been an ever growing momentum of people reporting on Obama’s use of technology – myself included.  In the final few months of the campaign it clearly became a clear differentiator between the two camps with McCain and Palin never really grasping how to bring this power to bear.  In a way using technology badly is even worse than not using it at all.  It is not a good point when people are describing their efforts with Twitter as being creepy…. and that was from a McCain supporter.

The 2008 US Presidential race has effectively redefined how elections are going to be run from here on; Social Networking, Web 2.0 – whatever you want to call it is not going away. What interests me is not necessarily the technology they used – this will continue to change, but what did they gain from it, why was it such a differentiator?

Some of the advantages of the online campaign are commonly known advantages to the Web - scale, cost efficiency, agility; all reasons why companies have been utilising the web for far longer than politicians.  Same for Web 2.0,  someone once described Web 2.0 as ‘you supply the content, we take the profit’.  Although cynical, it has an element of truth – facebook, myspace, twitter are nothing without the content, of which they supply none.  So if you can mobilise 100,000’s of people to create a huge social networking presence you have gained a huge amount for nothing.

However, I think first and foremost it helped create a real connection with the voting population.  One of the most valuable skills that politicians have is being able to connect to people – I remember reading a couple of articles about Clinton that when you were talking to him he made you feel like you were the most important person in the room, that your opinion mattered.  If you can transfer this online, then you have effectively gained the ability to scale; and when you are dealing with a nation the size of America it is all about scale.

It is not as easy as setting up a Twitter feed or blogging, you have to do it right.  I found a new blog this morning which is the UK Department for International Development; instead of being a dry mouth piece of a Government department it is stories from real people on the ground helping people in some of the most dangerous and deprived area of the world – Ethiopia, Afghanistan, Iraq.  Congratulations guys, you have just given me an emotional connection to a Government Department – something I never thought that I would say!

So as the dust settles down on this election I think politicians and civil servants really need to start looking at how they can use the internet and technology to build a connection with people that goes beyond official blogs and web sites.



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