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Campaigning in cyberspace

By Chris Abood - posted Wednesday, 16 May 2007


The bookies had Edward Mandla, Liberal candidate for Sydney at 51 to 1. There were those who where questioning why the Liberals were even contesting the seat of Sydney in the recent New South Wales elections. There was talk of a possible upset by the Greens or Labor taking the seat from the Independent candidate - Clover Moore.

No one gave Mandla a chance. Yet he came second on first preferences, forcing Moore to preferences. She eventually won the seat with less than 50 per cent of the vote after all preferences were exhausted*.

Mandla’s strong showing was against opponents with very large budgets and access to greater resources - resources paid for by the taxpayer. His budget was less than $50,000. So how did we compete and, as some say, out campaign? A big part of Mandla’s campaign revolved around a unique online strategy.

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When Hilary Clinton announced her run for the US presidency in 2008, she chose not to use traditional channels such as the press release, the TV doorstop interview or talking to a select group of journalists. Instead, she announced her run via her website utilising streaming video technology.

This form of communication will soon become the norm among politicians, as traditional gatekeepers such as journalists will be sidelined in the news breaking cycle. They will be relegated to reporting after the fact instead of before.

The Internet has the advantage that a politician can directly communicate with their constituents. No longer will they have to put up with their message being edited, subedited, selectively quoted or refashioned to suit a particular journalist’s agenda. They will no longer have to put up with their message being misreported. The original message will be in the public domain, any journalist who then tries to spin the message to his or her own ends (and many do) will end up looking pretty stupid.

www.mandlaforsydney was born out of Mandla’s career website www.mandla.com.au. The Mandla website was already established as it contained Mandla’s many ICT articles written for The Australian, Sydney Morning Herald and some trade journals. His site was already the top ranked site for a Google search on Edward Mandla.

Initially we were going to run the campaign from the Mandla site but it soon became impractical - there were certain electoral laws that prevented us from doing this (and by the way the electoral laws have yet to really deal with online campaigning). We were able to run ads on YouTube (explained later), which are not covered by the political advertising ban on radio, TV and print, two days before the election. Mandlaforsydney was thus born out of the Mandla website.

At the beginning of March it became apparent that we had a problem. Mandlaforsydney was not getting much traffic but the Mandla website was. The reason for this was that people no longer pay attention to URL’s (uniform resource locator or the “address”) to go to a website. Instead they tend to type in “Edward Mandla” and do a Google search, clicking on the top result. We rectified this by redirecting traffic from Mandla to Mandlaforsydney.

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It is therefore important to get your website up early, get it established and work on a “search optimisation strategy”, as most people will try to find information using search engines.

We also registered the .com as well as the .com.au domains. This is an important strategy as your opposition can hijack (cyber squat) your name in cyberspace. For example, the Liberals were able to obtain the domain www.morrisiemma.com and develop the obligatory “smack down” website. What was even better was that www.morrisiemma.com rates higher on the Google search list than the Premier’s own website, www.morrisiemma.com.au. Someone has also registered www.morrisiemma.net, which shows a picture of a derailed train with the message underneath: “pay up if you want this site”!

We made use of YouTube to profile Mandla. The use of YouTube came by accident rather than design. Mandla had a current affairs clip produced, showing him walking the street, meeting the residents and answering questions from a reporter-style interviewer. We wanted to put it up on the website, however, we didn’t have the streaming technology required, so the public would have had to download it (which takes time). Also, the size of the file would have taken us over our space quota incurring more costs.

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About the Author

Chris Abood is a member of the Liberal Party of Australia and a member of the Australian Computer Society. Besides having a day job, he teaches ICT part time at TAFE. He is concerned with the effects and use of technology within society. These opinions are his own.

Other articles by this Author

All articles by Chris Abood
Related Links
www.mandla.com.au
www.mandlaforsydney.com

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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