The Australian Greens are taking a ‘less is more’ approach to social media in the lead-up to the election, claiming the benefits come from using the platform as an engagement tool rather than a distribution outlet.
The party’s web and new media coordinator, David Paris, told Computerworld Australia that the party does not have a structured social media strategy and instead opts to leave it up to the individual candidates to use their Facebook and Twitter accounts as a form of personal contact.
“One of the things I think people get most irate about is when there’s all these cookie-cutter Facebook and Twitter accounts that are very one way and that don’t communicate directly with people or don’t allow the communication from people, we wanted to steer well clear of that,” Paris said.
According the Paris, there is no hard and fast rule on the party’s use of social media. Instead, it advocates connecting with the audience only when there is something interesting to say.
“I think if there’s a specific conversation taking place that our people can get involved with they should be engaging with it as much as they can, but if there’s not anything of particular interest to communicate I don’t think they should be tweeting or doing status updates just for the sake of it.
"They need to maintain engagement with the people that choose to support them without drowning them in inanity and without treating them as just a distribution method spamming things out like media releases the same way some of the other parties do.”
Both the Greens MPs and the Australian Greens Party website run on the Drupal open source content management system (CMS) with City CRM software. The websites' administrators use Google Alerts and RSS feeds to follow specific blogs the party may be mentioned in rather than sophisticated analytics software.
While Paris said he was aware of the potential benefits of a social media strategy along the lines of President Obama’s campaign, it wasn't an attainable option for the Greens.
“There’s two factors that don’t apply for us: The technology is not as widely embraced here as it is in the States, and also our budget to maintain that sort of a network isn’t even close to what the major parties have, let alone the Democratic Party in the US. We do as much as we’re able to given the limitations that we have… We’d much rather focus on the few networks that we can devote some time and energy to rather than trying to spread ourselves too thin,” Paris said.
“Ultimately it comes down to making sure that we’re available to be contacted however somebody chooses to engage with us so we’re present anywhere someone might think to look for us. We’re contributing to that conversation, as opposed to a distribution.”
The last few weeks have caught the Greens off guard with a number of volunteers expressing interest through the platforms of Facebook and Twitter, leaving the party “scrambling” without a formal process to respond to this.
Amnesia Razorfish social strategy manager, Karalee Evans, told Computerworld Australia that of the three parties using social media for the election, the Greens are certainly doing the best job thus far simply by responding to their audience.
“They’re moving to two-way dialogue, particularly with their Twitter use which is probably why I think they’re tracking a lot better than Liberal and Labor,” Evands said.
“They’re actually responding, it sounds so silly and simple but it’s such a fundamental difference of approach. Social media is essentially social, it’s about conversation rather than broadcast and that’s where the Greens are definitely different to Liberal and Labor; they’re responding to people on Twitter, they’re joining into existing conversation, it’s such a small but ultimately major difference.”
Commenting on the launch of Labor Connect – the ALP’s social networking platform – Evans said instead of taking part in existing conversation on Facebook and Twitter, the ALP is trying to draw people from these conversation into a Labor “backyard”.
“The key to social media is joining into the conversations where they’re already happening, which is what the Greens are doing. You don’t need to build a platform to have a conversation, the platforms are already there, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, MySpace, that’s where people are talking and wanting conversations and responses.”