Today’s guest blog post by Ben Furber, a design and communications professional based in Manchester who specialises in political and non-profit organisations, and who has worked on new media campaigns for Labour, focuses on how politicians are working hard to win over she who knows best: Mum…
Every week one columnist or another is hypothesising about what the general election will be about. So when, in November, Rachel Sylvester wrote that the ‘election will be won at the school gate’ and cited the Biscuitgate affair on Mumsnet, I paid the column little attention.Why wouldn’t I? I’m a young single male with no plans for or interest in having dependents any time soon. But now, once again, Mumsnet is on my radar. On Friday, with exclamation marks and many profanities, I was emailed a link to a Mumsnet forum thread — 35 pages then (and 38 pages now) of its readers’ very own David Cameron billboards. Clearly not all of the 140,000 plus attempts have been generated by political activists!
Luckily for me I was in the same room as a young mother, so I asked her: ‘What’s with Mumsnet?’ She told me: “When you have a question, it’s where you go. When you’re concerned about something, it’s where you go. When you need support, it’s where you go.”
This was when it clicked. Mumsnet isn’t just a website, it is a community — just like the coffee mornings that go on all over the country on a daily basis in community centres and local churches, but virtual and available twenty-four hours a day. It’s Mums and Dads meeting, talking and providing each other with support.
Many candidates are prepared to sell their right arms to talk to these community groups, explaining their party’s family and child policies. No wonder the parties centrally are doing the same with Mumsnet.
The perceived wisdom is based on a fine communications model: senior party officers flood the lobby with targeted policies and spin, hoping the national media will write about it and those that glance at a paper the next day read the headline. At the same time the well connected candidates talk to those local community groups that they can blag their way into. But as Mumsnet (as well as others) show, there is a new way of connecting, a better way of connecting.
Local campaigning is working for Labour this year – that return to the fundamentals of what it is to ask someone for their vote. In many places this is being done effortlessly. The street endorser and direct mail models are working wonders. But at the other end we have a hostile national and mainstream media which continues to try to convince the public that the election has already happened and Cameron has won with a landslide.
What Number 10 seem to have understood with Mumsnet is that instead of relying on journalists with their clear editorial focus, specific groups can be talked to direct. So politicians have started talking straight to engaged groups at a national level, just like they do in community centres, but they are now doing so online.
But more is needed.
It could be the tip of the iceberg: the parties could start talking about the benefits of community campaigning versus local campaigning, not because it’s fundamentally difficult – it isn’t – but because it increases the scope and provides the additional focus of new and social media.
So we all know about Mumsnet now, great. But there are others, too, and time needs to be put into finding those groups and communicating with their users.
It is scary for a lot of people, accepting and understanding that certain websites have the potential to engage – just as we do on the doorstep. But everyone needs to. Mumsnet provides all the data needed. There are interested groups online with diverse interests that are becoming communities. With over 350 Cameron billboards submitted on Mumsnet, these communities are clearly engaged and each one, each Mum, is a constituent.