Thursday, July 2, 2009

Winning Votes Through Social Media Marketing

YET again, Malaysia finds herself heading towards another by election in Manek Urai in Kelantan on 14th July 2009. Once again, the internet and in particular, social media or peer to peer networks, will play a vital role in the outcome.

What makes it even more interesting is that the Barisan Nasional government was slow to grasp the significance of the internet, as identified extensively in the 2008 GE post mortem. But since then, the ruling party has moved fast to adapt to the Internet and in particular social media such as Facebook ( and twitter (

And this makes a lot of sense because the internet and most recently, social networks, are some of the most effective tools for the government to communicate with citizens, and especially the younger generation of new voters who are or soon will be, eligible to vote in the next General Election.

Social media has been something of a revolution in the political arena both here and around the world. This revolution, especially in the political arena, can be traced back to or MyBO for short. This wonderfully innovative, intuitive and easy to use networking site encouraged Barrack Obama supporters to connect with each other, create groups, organize events and even raise funds for the Obama campaign! By the time the US election campaign ended, supporters of Barack Obama, all of them volunteers, had created over 2 million profiles, planned and organized more than 200,000 offline events, posted 400,000 blog posts, formed 35,000 related groups and raised an astonishing US$30million (RM105 million) via fund raising pages managed by 70,000 individuals!

Although the Malaysian General Election of 2008 carried real time reports on many news websites and Blogs, there was less use of social media to engage citizens.

But this is sure to change in the forthcoming By election and future By elections and General Elections. In fact, things are already changing and no one has moved quicker than the PM who has reached out to the Rakyat through a number of Social Media initiatives, most recently via twitter where he has, at the time of writing this article, 2,164 followers.

Surprisingly, because they were considered to have understood the power of social media quicker than the ruling party, the opposition leader, Anwar Ibrahim has 1,341 followers, over 1,000 less than Najib Razak. Interestingly too, Najib tweets almost entirely in English whilst Anwar tweets almost entirely in Malay.

I was unable to verify if this is a genuine account but it certainly appears official. Unfortunately, it does little more than offer links to supportive articles or forthcoming events. Najib’s account meanwhile is little more than a public diary. Barrack Obama’s Twitter account on the other hand, offers a constant supply of useful material related to key issues affecting voters. In fact, this is what makes Barrack Obama’s Twitter account so fresh, exciting and popular. It focuses not on him but on the American people. Little wonder then that at the time of writing he has 1,610,589 followers!

Twitter is set to become something of a political phenomen by the time the country has its next General Election. And beware those who use it incorrectly! Every tweet (comment made by a person with a Twitter account) is recorded and each tweet is searchable on the Internet. This makes Twitter very transparent . Comments can also be retweeted which means someone thinks enough of your comment to forward it on to others who forward it on and so forth.

A recent example of the political power of Twitter came after the General Election in Iran. In fact, many are calling the protests in Iran the “Twitter Revolution.” Because, according to the Pew Research Centre, during the week of 15th – 19th June, an incredible 98% of the links from Twitter were about Iran. The tweets provided instant reports and updates in real time, of events in Iran, and in particular Tehran.

Admittedly, it was difficult to verify the sources of some of the information. And skeptical media watchers and analysts speculated that many of the tweets could have been part of a deliberate campaign, perhaps by the opposition (isn’t that what oppositions everywhere do?) to distort the truth.

So, although the source and authenticity of the post Iran election tweets is unclear, what is clear is the power of this tool and the information within these tweets and the speed with which they are distributed (retweeted). This clearly shows that this dynamic tool must be adopted and managed effectively by politicians of all persuasions.

It is important to understand that as a political branding tool, Twitter won’t work on its own. It should be seen as an additional channel in the increasingly large and integrated branding mix. Just like any other channel, there should be a plan that includes goals and how you are going to achieve them.

And in an increasingly digital world, the ability of the political parties to use social media marketing and in particular tools such as Twitter, will be key to winning votes in the next General Election.

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