Labour’s iPhone app mobilising supporters

Mzl.edgauvsh.320x480-75 There’s a great blog post from Stuart Bruce about Labour’s iPhone app that serves as a timely reminder that new media and the Internet isn’t primarily about ‘social meeja’.

Stuart’s post come as uber-Tory blogger Iain Dale writes in the Telegraph that this so-called Internet election isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be.

Of course, it was largely the media that set the standards for the ‘Internet election’ and Iain’s blog post seems to argue that because candidates aren’t blogging and Twitter is "useless as a campaigning tool" then the digital election is a failure. But let's not forget it's also meant to be the Mumsnet election as well but everyone seems to have forgotten that already.

As a timely rebuttal, Stuart observes that when it comes to creating virtual networks of activists, then the Internet is doing a great job, thank you very much.

In fact, many political activists I know argue that what really matters at an election is  feet on doorsteps, canvassing phonecalls and ultimately crosses on ballot papers.

And let’s face it, until we have some concrete evidence to prove otherwise it's widely accepted Twitter or Facebook aren’t necessarily going to deliver these – although that’s not to say they don't have other important roles to play too.

And this is the mistake the media and many others in the PR world seem to make. They look to Obama and say: "it’s social media wot won it" and make the logical progression that we aren’t seeing that campaign replicated in the UK in 2010.

Those in the know, however, are acutely aware that it wasn’t social media wot won it for Obama but rather email marketing. Obama’s team judiciously used huge volumes of targeted data to motivate voters ahead of polling day and mobilise them on polling stations.

Data protection laws differ in the US from the UK and while no UK political party yet seems able to replicate Obama’s email campaign, Stuart runs through some of the successes Labour has been having with it’s iPhone app in identifying and mobilizing voters.

The app has been designed and built using feedback form grassroots activists and is packed with functionality that empowers people to get out on the doorstep, make phone calls and attend events.

Specific features allow users to access the Labour manifesto in text or video format, use GPS to locate party campaigning events happening near them, read Labour Party tweets, call and canvas people using Labour's virtual Phonebank tool (crucially, it this works within the UK's data protection legislation – something the Tories failed to take into account recently).

In fact, the app is so good, even the acerbic Popbitch gives it the following praise:

“The ‘Inside the Campaign’ section is, surprisingly, not mind numbingly dull.”

Stuart tells us that Labour’s learning is: “if you want to mobilise large numbers of people in a network to do things for you then you need to involve them.”

And on that point he couldn’t be more right.

Organising in the age of Networked Movements

I posted last week about my decision to not renew my membership of the UK’s PR trade body, the CIPR for various reasons.

I'm currently re-considering (more to come on that one hopefully) my lapsed membership, but weighing up the pros and cons of why I didn’t renew my membership helped me crystallise a line of thought I’ve had for a few weeks.

This thought is thus: the primary problem with trade organisations such as the CIPR or NUJ is quite simply that they are organisations.

That is, they struggle (or appear to be struggling) to adapt to the challenges posed by a socially-enabled Internet precisely because their organisational structure is geared towards fulfilling a role in an industrial, non-networked world.

For example, I don’t need the CIPR to co-ordinate a venue, guestlist, speaker and refreshments in order to attend a networking vent because a network of 50 people connected via the Internet can achieve something similar – moreover, they can achieve something better by co-creating the event.

This idea is also relevant when thinking about the way political parties (in the UK) are adapting to social media. While the Labour Party is making great strides in freeing up debate and campaigning I stand by the argument that they are never going to really get social until they do one of two things.

The first, is to radically restructure the way the party organises itself. That is, turn the party from a top-down campaigning body to a purely bottom-up network of campaigners. The difference may appear subtle but the effect is radically different.

Secondly, they could do what Obama did with the Democrat Party in the 2008 Presidential Election campaign. Rather than restructure the party (although there were definitely some changes made to the way to party operates), the Obama team centralised a large part of the campaign organisation but significantly they devolved a lot of the on-the-ground ‘campaigning’ activity to its networks of supporters.

For example, quoting Micah Sifry in an excellent essay, Sarah Oates, notes “campaigns are designed to share tasks, but not authority”. Conversely “networks share authority but not tasks”. The real test, for the Obama team, Sifry notes, will come when his team looks how to carry forward the ‘shared authority’ created during the campaign into the White House. I suspect that the Obama movement will struggle to integrate its decentralised, networked, informal organisation into the traditionally top-down formality of government.

Of course, I may be wrong and we have already seen Obama’s programme initiate attempts to crowd-source policy making. But how successful this will be over the longer-term remains to be seen (and is the topic of another post!).

More significantly, this idea of sharing ‘authority’ vs sharing ‘activity’ (or tasks) illustrates that real political co-creation and networked campaigning appears – so far – to work best in opposition where parties and organisations are not fettered by the constraints of top-down government.

Having said that, I appreciate Obama is trying to change this and the UK government has a number of great social media thinkers and doers currently engaged in trying to make Government more networked. This is an interesting space and will continue to become curiouser and curioser. I plan to track progress in the UK and on the other side of the Atlantic and keep you posted on developments.

Technorati tags: Organisation, Barack Obama, CIPR, Micah Sifry, Paula Oates

Royal Holloway keynotes – Micah Sifry: Open source politics

I spoke at Royal Holloway University’s Web 2.0 Politics conference on 18 April and had planned to live-blog the two keynotes by Micah Sifry and Michael Turk but unfortunately didn’t manage to. But I did make notes and have now re-worked them so they are sort of a deferred live-blogging stream-of-consciousness.

First up is the keynote by Micah Sifry, titled Open Source Politics:

Micah began by stating that political communications must move from being egocentric to network centric. That is, becoming less about individuals and more about loosely connected networks of supporters that coalesce and self-organise around specific issues.

This allows voters to become co-creators of the candidate’s political campaign and network effects, Micah argued, are the key to this.

Funding – we are seeing small, but significant revolutions in political funding taking place:

  • For example Ron Paul opened up his funds by putting all his campaign donations online
  • The database of donations was entirely searchable
  • Building on this, supporters started building useful tools that displayed fundsina useful and meaningful way
  • For example, they started making graphs that displayed funding from specific places, organisations or people – they then set-up the website where you can view the most interesting results [Edit: think of that resource as a journalist as well as a supporter!]
  • Apparently Obama is considering running an online to raise $1m in 1min – which may or may not be a good/successful idea!
  • Micah’s concluding point was that with micro-economics emerging on the web, big money doesn’t go away – but now there is a counter-veiling force. People can now say if that if the party does follow this or that route with policy or selection etc then they will donate cash to a rivel candidate etc. The micro-funding revolution makes parties/candidates etc more accountable

Micah also addressed, what he termed as, the Economy of Abundance:

  • This arises – in essence – from the easy and cheap availability of storage on the web.
  • Micah says that – politically, at least – the sound bite is being challenged by abundance of space online to have upload, store and search etc other messages, speeches, communications material etc
  • The media presentation format of 20 or 30 second glib or catchy but meaningless snapshots is being onverted
  • As an example: Barack Obama has approximately 900 videos on YouTube, and most of these videos are about 13mins long
  • The Race Video has had 4m views and as YouTube only counts a full play-through of a video as a view then there’s a lot of people who are hungry for quality, in-depth content that they can’t get from MSM. Where do they go to find it? Online.

Micah’s three conclusions were particularly insightful:


  • The network is more powerful than the list
  • Networks are resilient, but not nimble
    • If you have a network of 5,000 bloggers and one says something stupid then it’s not the end of world. However, if you take away the central point then they’re that not easily corralled
  • Networks and campaigns can be allies, but they ultimately have cross-purposes
    • Campaigns share tasks but not authority with their supporters
    • To get to a position of open source politics we need to give supporters authority
    • Micah asks can we ever get there? Ron Paul supporters were given full authority to shape his campaign, but then they raised money to spend on a branded blimp – was a good idea and use of funds?

For Micah, the big (and most interesting) question is where will the balance of power lie in the future and what happens to the networks once the elections are over. Once you have given supporters/voters a sense of power, they probably won’t let it go so easily.

Technorati tags: Royal Holloway University, Politics 2.0, Micah Sifry, Open Source Politics