Leaders could face up to voters with a full web debate
We are all familiar with the television debates between the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition that occur in the lead up to a Federal election - but are Australians ready for online election debates?
Last month, NSW held what was billed as the first election debate on Twitter between NSW Premier Kristina Keneally and NSW Opposition Leader Barry O’Farrell with mixed results including descriptions of it being chaotic, and confusing.
The increasing “US Presidential” style elections in Australia, with the focus almost entirely on the personality of the leader, suggests that other important developments in the US will be taking place here.
In the US 2008 election, Democratic White House contenders went online for the “mash up” debate - which was a web-based video forum that allowed viewers to pick and choose what they wanted to see. Interviews with each of the eight Democratic candidates were cut and posted online by topic and candidate. The target was focused at potential voters, particularly young people, who are often turned off by the traditional debate format that subjects viewers to long and detailed discussions.
Inspired by President’s Barack Obama successful 2008 campaign, the Labor party has launched Campaign iQ, which it claims to be the first of its kind for Australia. The interactive platform overlays the existing Labor portal allowing for direct communications members and supporters and creating a forum for community advocacy, including social networks for supporters, and a ThinkTank where communities can participate in policy discussions.
In the 2007 Federal election, the Liberal and Labor parties reportedly spent around $15 million each on election advertising with only a small proportion of that spend going towards digital media. However that allocation is growing.
Also expect political strategists to take full advantage of leveraging the online media, through viral campaigns, influencing online discussions, blogs and short videos, where minimal costs are incurred. Even managing discussions on social networks can be an enormous challenge. In the recent British elections, it is estimated that the Tories had a team of around 30 people managing social networks alone.
The main point of difference of digital media versus the traditional methods is its precise element, you know exactly how many people are watching and viewing. In the more traditional form of media you only have an estimate and hope the audience is paying attention.
Technology has dramatically changed the electioneering landscape, everything from raising donations, to broadcasting messages, recording radio grabs and emailing them digitally to media outlets, and empowering voters by allowing them to directly ask questions to those whom they may be voting for.
Who can forget that viral video in the 2007 Federal election campaign, when Kevin Rudd was portrayed as the all-conquering Chairman Mao? I think this campaign will bring another memorable moment. We’ll see.
Founder of the company I now work for, Microsoft, Bill Gates said: “As we look ahead into the next century, leaders will be those who empower others.”
The growing influence and advent of the internet is doing just that, empowering voters, and the online debate may be Australia’s ultimate next step to empower the ordinary punter.
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