Ireland’s political campaigns are stuck in the Dark Ages

Politicians in the United States and UK are reshaping how they interact with the public through social media. Their Irish counterparts however, are deeply rooted in the traditions of the past.

Hilary Clinton launched her campaign this week with a minimum of fuss, no media circus nor circling of PR heavyweights. It boiled down to a tweet and a YouTube clip.

On the surface the campaign appeared to be missing the usual political fan fare, but behind the scenes a social media blitz went into overdrive.

Ireland Election

Social media has become the method of choice for US politicians looking to make a connection with the public. Clinton and others are seeking to push the boundaries beyond the ‘norm’, by reaching out through channels including Periscope and Snapchat, as they look to expand on methods of engaging with the public.

Social Is a Key Ingredient

The build up to the UK’s general election has seen the emergence of social media as an indispensable political aide.

Labour is sharing campaign photos, reacting instantaneously to criticism and sharing video and audio clips through Instagram, Twitter, YouTube and AudioBoom.

These kinds of digital campaigns seek real world outcomes such as raising money, coordinating party activists as well as concisely communicating their policies to the wider public.

I witnessed the sheer power and reach of Labour’s digital campaign at their election headquarters last week. It’s clear that Ireland’s politicos are stuck in the past and sadly, they’re in no danger of catching up with their US and UK counterparts at any stage soon.

In Politics Perception Is King

Politicians in Ireland have been left looking dazed and confused, and now down right lost. They have bounced from crisis to crisis, shedding any ounce of credibility while the general public hammers them for their broken promises and all-round ineptitude.

Nothing is more important than the public’s perception right now, and its rating of Irish politicians is at an all time low. To remedy this they need to take ownership of their message and relationships with the public. Sadly, they appear to be focused on sticking to familiar old ground and clinging to parish-pump politics.

Politicians need to wake up and understand that digital media is the way forward. Social media gives them direct access to the public, and they need to use it a whole lot more than they are right now.

The old recipe for success involved press conferences and interviews. Now the focus is social and tightly controlled public appearances. The former bypasses the media altogether and places the message directly into the hands of the public. It’s then up to the masses whether they choose to agree or disagree, but the message stands no chance of getting lost in translation.

The top spin doctors are the media. Today politicians have become toys to poke and prod, and the media’s interviews are more like watching a blood sport, of which Vincent Browne is the champion.

Renua’s Mistake

The most recent victim to be devoured by the media mill was Renua. Ireland’s newest political party could have built a strong base by using social media to communicate to the public first, rather than opting for the old formula too soon. This strategy could have provided it with the chance to refine its messages and develop its campaign statements into punchy and concise soundbites.

A Digital General Election

The 2016 Irish general election is just around the corner, and provides the perfect opportunity for smart Irish politicos to capitalize on the kind of well-planned digital strategy described above.

Ireland is the ideal country for this kind of digital approach, with a tech savvy and youthful electorate. The country has one of the Western world’s youngest populations, with an average age of 35, versus 40 in the UK and 37 in the US. It makes sense to embrace the digital strategy.

Sadly, Irish politicians are not adept at change. Meanwhile, as Clinton and Labour flaunt their most powerful new digital weapon, you can expect much of the same in 2016 as the Irish political elite battle it out during the general election.

This blog originally appeared in thejournal.ie.

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