Bloggers neglected by politicians

A shorter article of this piece will be published in Crickey this week

While blogging has become an extremely influential method of communication for US politicians, the number of politicians blogging during the Queensland state election could be counted on one hand.

Monitoring bloggers has become a part of understanding the modern political campaign in the US. Since 2004, blogs have been used both by the Democrats and the Republican to generate candidate visibility, to float stories, and to trigger discussions for political activists.

Blogs like The Daily Kos and Howard Dean for America (now called Blog for America) raised millions of dollars for candidates, organized meet ups where activists were encouraged to write direct mail to the electorate, and develop the candidates to creative ways to communicate the campaign’s core message.

To briefly illustrate the significance of blogs in the US it is worth mentioning that boggers played a significant role in both claiming the scalp of Senate Majority leader Trend Lott in 2002 and Dan Rather in the so called ‘Rathergate’ scandal in 2004.

Despite a recent Queensland state election, and a 2007 federal election looming around the corner, the number of Australian politicians making use of the blogsphere remains almost negligible. In fact, the chances of seeing an Australian politician blogging is as large as seeing John Howard avoiding a cricket match.

Only one candidate in the Queensland election had listed a blog on Technorati during the campaign.

None of the three parties had a blog linked to their official website and only once did it become public news that a staff member of the Queensland Coalition suggested that the party should look to blogs to put forth their core campaign message to the electorate.

I sent out a survey asking all the candidates in the Queensland state election running for Labours and the Queensland Coalition if they were using a personal blog as a part of their campaign, if they were aware of the existence of blogs, and if they knew what a blog was.

Of the 172 candidates included in the survey only 27 responded.

Of the 27 respondents only two answered that they operated a blog for campaign purposes, and I could not locate either of these. Three candidates did not know what a blog was and two had never heard of blogs. In general though, most of the respondents were both aware of the existence of the new medium and what it was.

The survey was not comprehensive in any way, and did not seek a deeper understanding of why the medium is so modestly represented among Australian politicians. What it did, however, was to locate the awareness and use of the medium.

The response to the survey was lower than I was hoping for and it will not be valuable to draw a valid generalisation about the awareness of blogs in the Queensland election campaign in general.

What the response, or rather lack of response, might tell us is that most of the candidates running for seats in the Queensland are not committed to respond to requests from the public. However, the email I sent to the candidates only required one minute of the candidate’s time.

I incidentally picked up an addition of the IQ inside (the Queensland University of Technology Newspaper) last week while I was buying lunch and waiting for Premier Beattie to make a media announcement in front of the parliament house. Opening the paper I was instantly hit by a headline reading Blog or be flogged!

The article was an interview with Joanna Jacobs, editor of the recently published book Uses of Blogs,. In the interview Jacobs claimed that with 45 million blogs on the net, blogging is now a mainstream communication tool for people under 35.

‘Consumers no longer trust one-way information put out by companies. They don’t believe PR rhetoric’ she says.

‘Organisations must risk their carefully crafted image and enter this new era of transparency because consumers are demanding they use interactive technology to converse with them’.

This sounds like exactly the same kind of thing that politicians are facing with their potential voters, and I wanted to ask the Premier himself about his thoughts on the matter.

In what seems almost like defiance towards the lack of interest in blogs among Australian politicians, Australia’s most established political blog (Larvatus Prodeo) received 42 comments on its busiest day during the election.

As the popularity of sites like Larvatus Prodeo increases, a need to understand the potential power and influence of these blogs arises. Up until now, knowledge about the phenomenon has been fairly limited.

We are living in an era where being a part of the general conversation is not only more important than ever, but also easier than ever thanks to the internet. The political arena in Australia has just not realised the potential that blogs can have as a communication tool in political campaigns. I believe that this new medium has the ability to shape political campaigns, and perhaps even make the political process more democratic for society. To realise this, to understand the value of the medium, we have to turn to the people that are already well established in it; the bloggers.

As the general conversation is moving into cyber space politician will have to wake up from their thinking of one-way directed media communication and realise that pinpointing massages is the new way to reach a growing group of voters that are no longer happy with political spin but demand to be a part of a democratic dialogue.

As Jerome Armstrong (founder of MyDD) and Markos Moulitsas (founder of Daily Kos) claim in their new book ‘Crashing the Gate’:

“[Democrats needs to] find more creative ways to reach the audience that is watching less and less broadcast television and getting its news and entertainment more and more from new media. The next challenge in campaign messaging is to stay ahead of the curve when it comes to using new media to target specific audiences with the messages that will resonate with them”.

The authors in this situation are especially referring to advertising but I believe that this counts for more than just that particular area of message management.

Blogging is one of these media which Armstrong and Moulitsas have so successfully taken advantage of. It is cheap and it is available for everyone to use.

Through conversation with bloggers and academic research, we at Blog Campaigning will approach blogs as a political marketing tool and try to increase knowledge of this relatively new phenomenon.

For those who are interested and want to read more about ‘being a part of the conversation and the state of political blogging in Australia I recommend Trevor Cook’s (founder of Corporate Engagement) and Mark Bahnish’s (founder of Larvatus Prodeo) chapters in Uses of Blogs.