Interview with Guy Cranswick

Originally posted Wednesday, 30 August, 2006Last week I was lucky to get in contact with internet analyst Guy Cranswick. He is known in the online communication strategy market in Australia from his work for IBRS - IT & Business Management Consulting and has over fifteen years experience in media, marketing and business consulting.

When I asked Guy if he would comment on some questions regarding the state of political blogging in Australia he was happy to share his take on the topic. I have been given permission to publish a transcript of his answers and both he and I encourage further discussions on the topic.

Guy has been mentioned by Trevor Cook at his Corporate Engagement site and he has also published an article for AIM in 2003 ( Australian Institute of Management) about blogging as an online communication tactic.

Espen: I am trying to find out how politicians and the grass root can utilize blogs in their political campaign, either to campaign for political issues, ad hoc cases or general political support. -In regards to this success would be measured by how successful the outcome of a campaign is depending on the campaigns objective or how many votes a Candidate recieves or how many MPs is elected for a party. -The question is however, how can we measure the success of blogs as a campaign tool amongst all the other campaign tools? Do you know of any studies that have attempted to explain this?

Guy: How would you measure the success of blogs… Everyone, organisations and companies want to measure success for all kinds of investment, whether it be in time or in money; and of course if a politician is elected, or a party is elected, then it is a success. But blogs couldn’t be solely attributed in creating a victory; they would be just one part of it, along with the door-knocking, and so on...

The thing to understand about blogs is that in a fractured media environment, that is where mass media have less reach (coverage of an audience) than it did ten, twenty and certainly forty years ago; technology on the web means that individuals can self publish.

For politicians this can be quite valuable even though you may be talking to the converted; but at least it is the way of reaching people with your own point of view. When they [politicians] are using the media they are being mediated; you are edited, your views are put together in terms of a editorialised story, in a way that journalist would like to put an angle - not necessarily a spin as we say - but to interpret policies and utterances in certain ways.

For a politician to use their own blog, or for a party - because of the opportunity to discuss daily events in the light of policies - gives it context; and also by doing so, engaging in direct contact with people that the Web allows through emails or even through talk forums. This can be persuasive, to be engaged just as in direct conversation, where, as of course through the media, one listens as the public and one is spoken to by politicians. So, you couldn’t say that a blog is necessarily one element in a campaign, its one thing in a communication plan that a politician can use for their own ends.

Espen: -How can you measure their popularity and influence?

Guy: Well, simply as by engagement, and it wouldn’t necessarily be in numbers. Now, political parties like most organisations that have a marketing strategy want to reach as many people as possible; it’s the nature of democracy - numbers get you elected but blogs, political blogs, aren’t that interesting to a great number of people. But they can be useful to influence others, to reply to questions and so on.

And you can see an analogy perhaps with some magazines in this country, but also in other parts of the world, which may have a small readership but are extremely influential. And a blog may exercise the same form of influence. But you couldn’t measure it in actual total numbers reached, so much, as in the power of ideas through the blog.

Espen: -What impact does Australian blogs have in political campaigns?

Guy: Well today, nil. And it has to be said that for a very connected online society like Australia, the exercise of the Net for political purposes has been rather small, especially in comparison with the US. There are a number of historical reasons: it can also be for political and social reasons; that is, are Australians engaged in politics around ideas or are they interested in terms of economic management. Of course it’s more complicated than that but in comparison with the US, where from this side, there appear to be divisions in the media, politically and over religion: taking control of information is more urgent. But it is true to say, as far as your question is phrased, that Australian blogs, political blogs, are very recent and therefore its very hard to assess their influence. I would also refer to my two earlier answers in terms of their reach and influence.

Espen: -Do you have any information on which Australian parties or MPs (candidates) that utilize blogs for political purposes?

Guy: Well, yes there are a couple of senators: Kate Lundy and there is also the democrat senator Andrew Bartlett. However, the communication strategy, aligned with the political strategy within parties, will look at the mass media as being the most convincing, far-reaching [communication] tool. I would say that that strategic media platform is actually changing… and like so many things, there is a lag between how people and communities are using technology and how institutions and organisations have understood it.

I suppose you can make a sense of that in a short anecdote: There was a rock musician that was elected to parliament, his name is Peter Garret he is 53 years old, and the question that was asked by the political observers, commentators, when he was a candidate was: would he appeal to the youth vote? It was quite ridiculous because he was 51 years old then; he is a middle aged man who had a very successful career with his rock band “Midnight Oil” in the 1980s, and as far as the youth vote goes, he is history.

[Transcript part two]

Guy: Ok now here is part two.

And you have asked the question:

-What is the common view amongst Australian parties and MPs on blogging? The simple answer is that I don’t think there is one. I don’t think anyone has really considered it and if they have they would have to consider how the message would be communicated, the independence of each of those politician bloggers and their relationship to the party managers. Being ‘on message’ is very important and that may at times run against the purpose of a blog, I don’t know what the reason is precisely and it largely depends on the individual, whether they have things to say and they like writing. The arrangement of the party websites shows solid publishing strategy, well that is just a small part of what is possible online, if the will exists, more can be done.

It’s very hard to get some kind of feedback on intentions; they might be talking to others [political commentators] but I am not aware of any kind of common view, single view, or even an individual view. So you could probably say it is a mystery on that one.

Espen: -How do you explain the lack of interest for political blogging in Australia compared to the US?

Guy: A political scientist or journalist would have good insights here. It’s very difficult to say in a few words. Anyway, I think to a large degree Australia is, or rather, Australians are not overtly political in pursuing ideologies. There isn’t a high degree of ideology in Australian political life; although there are debates and criticisms recently about the current federal government being ideological in terms of economic management. That’s not my arena but I mention it because the word ideology is used pejoratively, as if it isn’t right.

I think Australians are quite content with a broad church of policies, but it is absolutely necessary, for the electorate, that any incumbent government manage the economy in terms of peoples’ interests and their aspirations, home ownership etc etc.

Political blogs are forums to discuss ideas. Australians are not…it is a difficult generalisation…Australia is not that sort of society where people engage in discussions of moral political issues. What I mean is that there are no hot debates…surely some exist, in universities and they exist in certain suburbs of capitol cities but you won’t find people motivated, by say, history or class to be moved politically in that same way that they are in Europe or the US.

I would say that Australians are largely indifferent to the political process as long as economic management is always strong and peoples’ material well-being is guaranteed. Once that goes, and I think if you look at the last thirty years of Australian political life, governments suffered when interest rates have become too high or economic measures have reduced peoples’ sense of well-being.

Espen: -What is your findings regarding the effect of blogging in political campaigns in Australia?

Guy: Well similar to one of your earlier questions there is none. We may see it emerge although I am not optimistic …that we will see anything. In the elections now and in the near future, there are many elections in this country in 2007; I can’t see blogging really play much of a part. But if it does it may come about from independently minded politicians. To a large extent politicians and parties will be happy to get their message across through traditional advertising, TV, outdoor advertising; the radio which is very, very important in each of the capitol cities in this country – talk back radio and through television news. But I can’t see blogging having much of a play this time around. But, as often happens, the next round of elections in a few years time could see more activity, which would follow the known pattern of adoption trends.

You were also wondering if there is a way of measuring political blogs in Queensland state election. Well, you’d have to talk to anyone who is running any of those blogs to see how many visitors they have. Also the amount of content they are putting up each week – probably daily – but I would say that they would be lucky to reach more than fifty or a hundred people a week. But then it goes back to the point of influence. I hope that answers your questions.

Thank you Guy for sharing your knowledge and view on the topic