As the Prime Minister surpasses more than 100,000 followers to his new Twitter account in less than a week, he clearly has an audience - but does he have anything to say, asks Daljit Bhurji, global managing director at Diffusion...
David Cameron was arguably the UK’s first social media politician, pioneering initiatives like WebCameron in Opposition. While I’m sure that the ability to communicate directly with voters via video had appeal, it was arguably more a case of the medium being the message. The launch of WebCameron ahead of the 2006 Conservative party conference contrasted a fresh, modern, tech-savvy leader, with Gordon Brown, the archetypal analogue politician in a digital age.
Cameron’s decision to cede this ground to his political opponents once in power was a strategic error, especially as these presentational advantages of social media channels had long since been overtaken by their practical usefulness as effective communication tools. While the launch of @David_Cameron ahead of this year’s party conference is a case of better late than never, the ride is not going to be easy.
Twitter has time and again proven a minefield for politicians, Ed Miliband probably still cringes every time he hears the word Blockbusters. While the occasional tactical error may be unavoidable, the bigger mistake would be the lack of a clear twitter strategy. In this case, the Prime Minister needs a clear message to go with the medium.
The question of what’s the purpose of @David_Cameron is not dissimilar to the question of what’s the purpose of David Cameron. For me, Twitter has the most potential to help on two related fronts. Firstly to better explain what the government is doing and secondly to help Cameron reinforce the leadership and likeability traits which were instrumental in getting him into power.
In an age of uncertainty and anxiety, the Prime Minister’s role as Educator-in-Chief, explaining what his government is actually doing and why, is key. While the theme of this week’s Conservative Party conference is ‘Britain Can Deliver’, @David_Cameron should focus on the theme of the ‘Coalition is Delivering’. Effective government is the accumulation of thousands of small victories and successes, happening on a daily basis, across the country and across government departments. Most are too numerous or too small to get the attention of mainstream national media.
This is where Twitter can be used to fill this news gap and communicate these achievements to voters - whether it’s the opening of new Free Schools, or the young people getting a full time job after participating in the government’s much derided Work Experience scheme. In doing this, Cameron must avoid the ‘tractor production figures’ announcement approach favoured by Gordon Brown. Where possible these successes should be brought to life via twitter with stories and images of real people and communities.
The second strategic aim of using Twitter to help reconnect at a human level with voters is less straightforward, but no less important. Cameron’s personality and leadership qualities remain an electoral asset, with his personal approval ratings significantly higher than that of his party. However, he does trail Ed Miliband when it comes to ‘being in touch with the lives of ordinary people’.
While life behind the gates of Downing Street is never going to be ordinary, Cameron has the opportunity through Twitter to provide a window into the numerous meetings he has with regular voters, to relay their concerns and discuss how he plans to deal with them. In both tone and content he also has the opportunity to counter his occasionally bad tempered, Flashman persona and the much more dangerous charge of chillaxing levelled against him. The job of PM is far from 9 to 5, and Twitter has the potential to get that point across forcefully.
There is also a demand and need to show Cameron the man that Twitter can help to satisfy. While live tweeting the X Factor would perhaps be taking this a bit too far, the Prime Minister has a love of sport and usually a front row seat at the big occasions, he shouldn’t be afraid of using that, selectively.
However he decides to use Twitter, a clear strategy will need to go hand in hand with bravery. Ultimately, for @David_Cameron to be a success, the content needs to be compelling and the Prime Minister has to dare to be interesting.