Do Facebook ‘likes’ and 'hashtags' exert influence over serious-minded politicians?

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Time and again, people ask:  what does digital have to do with public affairs? Surely, Facebook ‘likes’ and comedy 'hashtags' don’t exert any real influence over serious-minded politicians, officials and regulators? Maybe not. However it’s worth noting that the last reshuffle was announced on Twitter and acknowledging the expanding digital operations at the heart of each of the parties. They care about digital, and so should you.

Put simply, digital is fundamentally changing the decision-making environment:

  • Politicians are taking to Twitter and similar platforms to engage directly with the public, with prime examples being Stella Creasy, Sarah Wollaston and Julian Huppert MP – who have between them over 84,000 followers;
  • Business leaders are also getting in on the act. A recent study showed that the average CEO has 3,900 followers on Twitter;
  • Journalists go to Twitter both to source and break stories, and certainly it is where they gauge the mood. In a recent survey 80 per cent of journalists said that Twitter and social media is where they go to read about potential newsworthy stories;
  • A new breed of political activists is exploiting the benefits of sharable content. Online campaign platforms such as 38 Degrees can whip up an online storm from nowhere (as can the Twitterati) which can spread into adverse press coverage and thousand of emails being sent to politicians;
  • Ordinary people are being empowered by digital to create campaigns and movements without any organisation instigating them.

All of this means that not only are traditional decision-makers listening to public opinion via digital channels, but that they are also increasingly open to pressure from these sources.
 
Don’t panic, but don’t just carry on
So what does this mean for public affairs? It means that digital can no longer be a bolt on, it has to be part of everything that we do. This is based on a new approach of:

Creating a bespoke digital public affairs strategy for every project by:

  • Auditing a client's digital footprints and mapping their stakeholders online;
  • Finding those individuals and the organisations who engage with and influence their stakeholders and create the ‘weather’ for the issues that matter to them;
  • Reviewing the online environment they face - assessing the risks and opportunities that are presented from engaging and not engaging online;
  • Creating plans for emergency and crisis communication situations;
  • Benchmarking them against competitors and potential partners.

This strategy will need to be brought to life by:

  • Adapting messaging so it is suitable for social media and digital platforms;
  • Taking this messaging and creating the right content for the right platforms and forums;
  • Creating an online home for this content by creating hub websites;
  • Executing a proactive digital engagement plan focused on stakeholders;
  • Monitoring these groups and platforms for items that need responses;
  • Bespoke training to support clients in this engagement.

The continuing revolution

We are not suggesting that a digital-only strategy is the solution - traditional skills and approaches are still vitally important. What we are saying is as digital platforms and behaviours evolve, so will the ways in which they need to be harnessed. It is better to lead the change rather than be forced into it.

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