Tuesday 11 December 2012

Do online political campaigns work?

The answer to this question is: it depends.

In a recent speech, Jeremy Heimans, co-founder of online petitions pioneer Avaaz, warned that online campaigners must build for the long term and that they should not confuse online tactics with a clear strategy:
Don’t fixate on technology. Movements are not internet memes, and one viral YouTube video does not make a movement. What we are trying to do in all these movements is build and consolidate power around important issues.
Heimans noted that recent responses to the subject of online campaigning have tended to polarise into two types, hyperventilation or sighing. The hyperventilators tend to make bold claims such “Twitter is changing the world, it made the Arab Spring happen”, while the sceptics dismiss online tools as less effective than real world, offline activism:
The funny thing about both of these extremes is neither of them tend to know very much about tools on offer.
This bears out what I learnt from master campaigner Des Wilson many years ago. Any activity deserving of the name ‘campaign’ should be (in Des’s words) “A planned, organised and sustained drive to persuade someone to do or give you what you want.” The internet and social media haven’t changed this; they can be highly effective campaign tools but they are still just tools in the box.

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