Thursday, October 01, 2009

Tories About to Launch New Online Strategy

A couple of days ago Tim Montgomerie wrote about a new Conservative web initiative which is launching this Friday. It's the first tangible sign that Sam Coates has quickly brought a new campaigning aspect to the Tories' web presence and very welcome it is too.

As Labour leave their conference in Brighton I get the sense that Labour's new media-savvy people are much more focused on jockeying for position for the post-election online world than doing anything meaningful as a governing party going into an election. Labour quietly updated their "membersnet" network a few weeks ago. It says it all that they haven’t launched it with any fanfare at their conference. On paper they can make a good case that it has some useful features, but the website itself feels as outdated as its name. If this is what they’re going into the election with then they’re in trouble. They seem obssessed with Twitter.

As one of the key people behind Obama’s campaign said last week, Labour haven’t given their online operations the finances or freedom they need. Yes, there might be some bitterness behind that criticism but the fact remains that Labour need a serious web development agency if they are going to take online campaigning seriously, and it's odd that Obama's people were spurned in favour of the unknown Tangent Labs.

Labour also has embarrassingly low levels of participation - despite several relaunches - on LabourSpace, and although the new look LabourList has improved a lot in recent months its recent redesign is somewhat naff.

The LibDems are big on using Twitter etc but aren't moving forward in a serious way - it doesn't help that they've lost two people (Rob Fenwick and Mark Pack) who genuinely knew and understood online campaigning to the private sector.

Of course, since the announcement of Lord Ashcroft’s investment in PH/CH there’s been a lot of talk about the centre-right's use of the internet. A lot of it has been misinformed, and a lot of it has confused the very different things of the Conservative Party’s online operation and the conservative movement’s online presence. It has also been based on the generalisation that the centre-right's use of the internet is all top-down, big money driven.

That's not a fair picture of the conservative blogosphere, and, as Tim Montgomerie has posted, it's not the way the Party is going either. The Conservative Party will be taking things to a whole new level at conference in terms of online organising and fundraising.

I’ve seen what they’re working on (yes, shock horror, I admit, they have given me a briefing) and it has the potential to really overshadow anything the other parties - indeed any party outside the US - will have for the election. Instead of focusing on tools for hardcore activists like the other parties do, they're making no distinction between party members and non-members who support a particular candidate or issue.

Whilst Labour et al seem preoccupied with Twittering, the Conservatives seem more serious in the way they are harnessing the internet. The digital agency they're working with on this - LBi - is the biggest in Europe and you only need to look at the list of their clients to know that a partnership between them and the Conservative Party is serious business.

The party is starting to apply its rhetoric about post-bureaucratic age etc to itself, and that is very welcome. Now that they’ve started in this direction there can be no going back. Naturally they will err on the cautious side to start with, but in the same way the internet has transformed many business models and social interactions I expect they will open it up more and more as they go along.

I've been quite critical of the Conservative web strategy up to now, arguing that it is too safe. The website is viewed as a PR opportunity, not a mechanism to engage with people and build an online activist and fundraising facility. That changes with this new site. And about time too.


Anonymous said...

Off topic but I had to let you know: Check out Labour's rather unfortunate spelling mistake in their broadcast... I'm sure 'educational' isn't spelt like that -

Cynic said...

The new Labour List design is truly dreadful on all levels.

All those photos take up needless space and bandwidth and the content is as student politicish as ever - all those 20 year old wannbe MPs from second rate universities and union reps recycling press releases

Alex has done some good. there are occasional introspective and intelligent articles but they are buried in a morass of guff and dross. I now only go there to troll them - which was great fun but now feels more and more like poking a dying bear with a stick

Tom said...

Labour is sooooo misguided on Twitter. Twitter users don't tend to like organisations that use the service aggressively.

lloyd said...

Yes, they need it but cannot afford it.

Anonymous said...

"a lot of it has confused the very different things of the Conservative Party’s online operation and the conservative movement’s online presence"

...which is the exact mistake you do Iain when you criticise Labour's web presence by critiquing Labour Matters & Labour List. Neither have any connection with the party, except their founders attending a few breakfast meetings with Draper way back when.

MembersNet is still in beta so hasn't been launched fully yet, & I wonder if you have ever seen it's full functions. It is an excellent campaigning resource and well done to Tangent & Labour's team for doing it.

Siberian Tory said...

I know Seth Godin is either loved or loathed but I'm a fan and I think he's dead right on what the internet means.

The old form of enagement, the monologue of advertising is dead people have become good at ignoring things (when did you last really look at a magazine ad?) we need now to engage directly, openly and not as an introspective club.

To quote Seth Godin:

"Marketing by interrupting people isn't cost-effective anymore. You can't afford to seek out people and send them unwanted marketing messages, in large groups, and hope that some will send you money.

Instead, the future belongs to the marketers who establish a foundation and process where interested people can market to each other. Ignite consumer networks and then get out of the way and let them talk."

I really hope the Conservatives go full out on this!

Lord Lindley said...

The only problem with this on-line marketing of politics, is that only weirdo geeks like us see it and we've already made our minds up. No-one else I talk (yes, talk) to has even heard of Twitter, blogs, etc.

Prodicus said...

And let's hope there's a no-obligation mechanism for very small cash donations... £10 here and there.

Even a tiny investment makes otherwise uncommitted people feel emotionally invested and more likely to act accordingly. It worked for Obama.

Those vital-for-the-future, young, could-be supporters have very little money but their commitment and time is priceless.

Anonymous said...

It's really much easier to do everything when you have a rich donor willing to risk money on innovative ideas, though, isn't it?

Ray said...

you have mentioned it, and I have seen it on other sites, but maybe Labour are even shorter on cash than we think. It would certainly answer a lot of questions.

Anonymous said...

It's pointless to complain that people are misinformed - perception is everything.

Siberian Tory said...

@Lord Lindely

Your right only us online geeks and the dead tree press jurnos read this stuff so we shouldn't over estimate it's effect in itself.

However, the small cluster of people who read these blogs have their own real world networks and influences.

If the content is worth reading people will come, read and repeat. Take Dizzy's expose on the budget figures, Dizzy isn't a huge blog but it was read and picked up on by the Daily Politics and Channel 4news. This set the news agenda for the next few days.

Without the main stream media where nothing more than a geeky village but without our obssessive scrutiny they'd miss out on stories.

So no your right alone it can't do it, but it can spread your message.

However, you must make it worth people's time to visit your site. You asking them to pay attention; the important word there is pay it requires them to sacrafice something i.e. time.

It's all about spreading ideas; and as my idol Seth would say "Ideas that spread win".

Labour's obession with twitter won't work because twitter is basically a tool to direct people to an idea i.e. you need the blog presence to back it up. They think it's the next big thing and that their stealing a march on the Tories who beat them to blogging. It won't work.

The reason the internet is dominated by the right is because (possibly as a result of being in opposition) a thousand flowers bloomed who are not slavishly loyal to the Labour party. It's worth reading what they say, most of the lefts content is not.

Cynic said...

"Neither have any connection with the party, except their founders attending a few breakfast meetings with Draper way back when."

errr..... that's just not true.

The posters on Labour List include many candidates and union members with the closest possible links to the Party. Even Mandleson and Harman have had recent slots - have they resigned from the Party? Is there something we should know?

The posters on the site also daily regurgitate any LAbour PR releases. This week for example has seen post after post trying to give legs to Gordon's 'we are the underdogs' theme. Pity politics like pity sex is so singularaly unedifying

But why are you so keen to distance Labour List? It was set up by the Party for the Party just as Red Rag was run from a desk in No 10.

Is the Party running a 'deniability' strategy?

Any why are you so anonymous?

Cynic said...

It's really much easier to do everything when you have a rich donor willing to risk money on innovative ideas, though, isn't it?

Or you have a conduit for dishonest and illegal donations to the party or will sell policy or peerages or will have money from unions steered into sites used to smear the opposition

Hurf Durf said...

I'd have thought lying back and watching Labour self-destruct on Youtube would be a pretty good online strategy.

Anonymous said...

Tangent Labs is effectively owned by Michael Green, so it's an "all Labour luvvies together" effort.

Stephen B said...

Sounds interesting and to summarize what needs to happen with any decent campaign website:

- it needs to be transactional

That doesn't just mean money, but involvement, information swapping, data on neighbourhoods to get n extended network of people knocking up likely prospects etc. Pretty much what Siberian Tory was saying.

- it needs to be data driven

If the site elements are not delivering on your core objectives (new members, signups, whatever), then why are they there? And do you actually know what is working or not? If the crappy picture on the home page attracts more signups (for example) that the beautiful one, keep the crappy one.

Stats are more that monthly porn, they're a vitally important insight into your online users.

Examples here.

gary elsby said...

The more you do, the more your percentage poll goes down.

Labour is within 3.5% of your scalp.

A good conference speech by Gideon should just take it.

Gideon's, that is.

Go on Georgy,give us a 10%er.

Siberian Tory said...

"Labour is within 3.5% of your scalp."

Okay come back after a fortnight when the coference turbulance has gone and we'll discuss the polls...

Wrinkled Weasel said...

This is merely a perception, but when I occasionally visit Labour web sites they either seem to want you to register as a member or they simply don't allow comments at all, or they say up front that they do not allow critical comments. They are almost all hysterically tribal. A lot of them sound like David Boothroyd, ( the better ones - the stinkers sound like Arthur Scargill) and frankly, its bad enough having to read his earnest diatribes on here.

Hardly a master plan for taking over the blogosphere is it?

ps. I don't count Tom Harris as a Labour blogger.

Pete said...

Where are your figures coming from, No 10?

YouGov yesterday showed Labour 7% behind, today they are lagging by 14%...

Anonymous said...

for gods sake ,KEEP ERIC PICKLES away from the camers..a good back room boy ..perhaps..but in front of the camers ...NO !!

Siberian Tory said...

Hey Gary!

Actually there's no need to wait

CON 40%(+3),
LAB 26%(-4),
LDEM 20%(-1)


Anonymous said...

the sight of eric pickles (on a good day) is as bad as seeing gordon brown on a bad day ,please keep him in the background,michael.

Anonymous said...

There is a lot that could be done to improve the Conservatives' online presence, once you get away from the national website. I'd like to get involved with the Edinburgh Conservatives, but take a look at this:

Anonymous said...

I mean

Anonymous said...

MyConservatives is certainly an impressive advance on anything else currently in British politics - however I'm intrigued by Iain's suggestion that Lib Dem online strategy has been stunted by recent departures. Their online presence has been shameful, and it's an area of real opportunity for them - what exactly do you believe the departees achieved in the past years?