This article is from the July issue of Total Politics
The last mayoral election was a re-run of ‘Boris versus Ken’. What did we see, digitally, that was different this time?
Twitter, for one thing. During the 2008 election, the Boris campaign did have a Twitter account – I think the person who ran it tweeted about 20 times.
It was one of those things where, if you mentioned Twitter, people looked at you like: “Ah, okay. Back away slowly. I don’t even know what that word means.”
So, within the space of four years, you had a complete transformation of the social media space. It was a huge change in the way that the candidates could communicate, particularly with young supporters.
What was the most successful element of your digital campaigning in the election?
Having our online community that enabled people to create their own events within their local areas.
It was done very successfully in 2004 and 2008 in the US by Howard Dean’s campaign, and then Barack Obama, although it hasn’t taken off as much over here.
There are higher barriers to entry in terms of people willing to give their personal information online, and the level of activism because of the different structure of the local parties. Things like that.
But by the end, we had about 20 to 25 per cent of all of our signed-up email list taking part in our online community. And, of that, there was an active 12 to 15 per cent who were creating events right across London.
Every single weekend we had over 100 events that were created by local people engaging.
Both Boris and Ken are huge personalities. Is that a disadvantage?
It’s both a benefit and a disadvantage. The nature of the position of the Mayor of London demands personality.
The fact that Ken Livingstone was the first Mayor of London created the feeling that the job needs a big personality. It needs someone who, regardless of what the party in government feels, is able to stand up to that party and yet work with it constructively in order to get concessions for London.
Boris is very well-known, and while that’s a disadvantage in that people see him as a celebrity, it’s also an advantage in that it gives us an ‘in’ to a community that wouldn’t necessarily engage in politics otherwise.
How do you see the digital side of campaigning developing over the next few years?
It goes back to micro-blogging and things like Instagram and Storify. We didn’t use that a lot during this election cycle, but photo micro-blogging sites are going to be one of the next big things.
It will become easy for people to take a really cool photo and check in at a place.
As more and more start to use the geo-location and photo sites – and they merge together – you’ll be able to have an app showing instantaneously who’s there and the pictures they’re taking. That will enable people not only to better tailor the message but also to make them feel involved.
We still use a writing system for ‘Get Out The Vote’ in the UK. When are we going to see tablet and smartphone-based GOTV apps updated in real time?
Well, you almost saw it at this election. We talked to a developer in Canada. It was so exciting. We tried our best to get it over here. There were some party constraints.
The party was willing, but there was an issue with the technological background that goes into it.
Surely the party that implements that first will have a significant advantage on election day?
That was one of our arguments. If we could do this as the Boris campaign, it’s a fairly substantial trial run so we’re willing to assume a risk on that. Then you’ve got that base work.
I agree 100 per cent that the party that does it is going to be the party that has the biggest advantage at the election. We tend to be two to four years behind the US.
Time and time again, we hear this is going to be the ‘internet election’. What does that mean to you?
That’s a false phrase. People said it about 2010, and then everyone was enamoured with the television debates. As an American watching it, I was like: “We’ve done this since 1960.”
The internet election didn’t happen because something else came along that was new to the UK.
People said similar things about this mayoral campaign. You’ll see more cross-pollination between old media and new media, and it will just naturally progress.
We want to see a more efficient marriage between old and new technology, because new technology enables us to reach wider audiences but not leave behind the people who have been so active in associations and politics.
Our offices in Westminster Tower Shane and Bethany watched the Jubilee river pageant from a 10th-floor vantage point and brought a picnic along for the event.
What they drank Coke Zero for Bethany (she’s pregnant) and berry cider for Shane.
Bar snack Chicken and ham pie.