Will Social Media Make Politicians More Likeable?


Over the last few days, Australia has found itself with yet another Prime Minister. It is our fifth Prime Minister in five years.

What is fascinating is not just that there has been so much change but the speed with which that change has taken place. In fact, some time ago I suggested that with social media, we are all swinging voters now. And so the transformation in the highest office in the land happened in broad view of the voting public – we were privy to a vast range of opinion mixed with insight as and when it happened.

While the Liberal Party met to decide whether Tony Abbott would be trusted with another six months as Captain, ABC reporter, Chris Uhlmann reminded us that behind the public persona of any politician is an individual – and that at times such as this, that individual faces great pressure and personal challenge. “We forget politicians are human”, he said.

But broadcast media has framed the political landscape in a particular way. It constructs meaning very specifically – broken into catchy slogans, sound bites and images. The meaning, messaging and positioning of every action, announcement and “door stop” interview have been carefully crafted and rehearsed towards a specific outcome – to appeal to particular segments of voters. And in the endless repeating of these messages, the words and actions of our politicians have lost all meaning. We are living Baudrillard’s simulacra, caught on endless loop.

When Stacy Lambe and Adam Smith first created the Texts from Hilary blog, I thought it was genius. It was so clever, in fact, that I suspected that it had been created as part of a deliberate strategy to “humanise” the Hilary Clinton brand. My next thought was that the Australian Labor Party (or one of its supporters) should take the same approach and apply it to then Prime Minister, Julia Gillard. It seemed like a no-brainer:

  • A proven and popular model to engage the imagination of the voting public
  • Low cost, high impact media that allows non-scripted communication in a shareable format
  • Distance between the creator of the account/content and the person herself.

But the “Texts from Julia” account never appeared.

About six months ago, a Texts From Malcolm Instagram account appeared and has been steadily gaining a following. Like the Hilary account, it uses text overlays to create imaginary conversations between well-known players on the political scene. In a way, politicians are becoming the cats memes of the internet – instantly recognisable, unusually intimate and slightly irreverent.

Now that Malcolm Turnbull has taken over the big chair at Parliament House in Canberra, this account has become even more interesting. And given NSW Premier, Mike Baird’s blisteringly strong social media performance over recent weeks, it seems that political media strategists are keying into the vast potential of social media. And it makes me wonder – is Texts from Malcolm a clever setup by the former Communications Minister? Will it create the necessary distance and psychological space between the knock-down political action and the voters to engender a new form of electoral trust? And, ultimately, will social media make politicians more likeable?

We’re entering a new understanding of media communications with politicians leading the experimental charge. Brands and businesses largely remain on the starting blocks, but politicians and their advisors – whose very jobs rely on the goodwill and support of the people, are clearly realising that there is advantage to be made in the occasional tweet, video or blog post. It will be interesting to watch this play out in the coming months.

Dude to Dude – Bullying and Harassment is Not OK

The internet can be a messy, chaotic and unpredictable place. You can see some of the best and some of the worst of humanity on display … with the implicit understanding that we are all free to express our opinions.

Over time, many of us create personas through which we air our views and opinions. For example, I tweet using @servantofchaos but also use @gavinheaton – which has a different focus and audience. The ease with which we can setup these accounts often provides people with a false sense of anonymity.

But what happens when you witness bad or bullying behaviour? Do you say something, write, call it out or step back into the shadows of the social web?

I have always believed that to witness and NOT raise your voice in protest gives a silent nod to the behaviour you are witnessing. This sometimes makes for confrontation but often also leads to unimagined change. But whatever the outcome, speaking up at least gives permission for others to take your part or express their own uncertainties or fears – and that can only be a good thing.

Because the thing is … this is NOT just ONLINE. The technology is just another mask – and behind that screen is a real person.

Katie Chatfield shares a great video that provides some leadership. Jay Smooth’s Ill Doctrine blog is a treasure trove of in-your-face commentary on the nature of politics and masculinity. Here he talks about the appalling situation that confronted Anita Sarkeesian while running a Kickstarter project – finding herself the subject of a concerted and vitriolic sexist attack.

What I love about the video is that he addresses men specifically. One of my favourite lines (towards the end) is:

“No matter what scene on the internet is your scene, if you are a dude on the internet and you see other dudes in your scene harassing women or transgender people or anyone else who is outside of our little privileged corner of the gender spectrum, we need to speak up. We need to treat this like it matters. We need to add humanity into our scene to counteract their detachment from their humanity.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself. Take a few minutes to watch this clip – and then think about your scene – work, home, politics, sport, online and off. Find ONE way to add humanity into your scene and you will make this world a better place.

Miss Piggy: Fox News Ain’t News

Last week, two icons from my childhood – Kermit and Miss Piggy – were in the UK promoting the new Muppets movie. And they are in a press conference – with desk, microphones – all the trappings of a traditional press conference (which I love), when they are quizzed about commentary coming from some of the Fox News journalists.

Without missing a beat, Kermit turns the question around, brings it back to the main topic – the movie (with humour), and Miss Piggy steps in with a power slam answer (heeey-yah). Of course, you can also follow the resulting Twitter stream (#GOPMuppetHearings).

You’ve got to hand it to the team behind The Muppets. They are consistently on message, focus on delivering the Muppet Brand Experience (MBE) – to all audiences, not just kids, and can get the audience on their side even under direct questioning. There’s plenty we could all learn here – maybe we need more MBEs and fewer MBAs?

Work Expectations of the Next Generation

No matter what you call the next generation of workers – millennials, Gen Z or even the three billion – there is no doubt that they will change our workplaces forever. How? The Cisco Connected World Study asked the questions and turned the answer into an infographic which tells the story. Now – how does this fit with your business workplace policy?


Gruen Planet Gives Gambling a Slap

Each week, the Gruen Planet poses a creative challenge to two advertising agencies. The resulting TV ad is then judged by the panel.

This week, the challenge was to rebrand Australia’s greatest horse race – the Melbourne Cup. Is it possible to turn Australians against the event “that stops a nation”?

The winning clip from Sense was devastating. Take a look. If I was Andrew Wilkie, I’d be talking to Sense and asking to run this ad.

Would You #OccupyBondStreet in Support of #OccupyWallStreet?

With almost every breath we make decisions. About what to write and what to read. What to believe and what to discard. We follow our “hearts” but vote for political parties who work against our beliefs yet satisfy our materialistic aspirations.

The Occupy Wall Street protests continue to focus ever greater attention on inequality, corruption and greed.It’s a leaderless resistance movement that has spread slowly, but consistently from its base in New York across the US.

But I wonder.

It’s clear that We Are the 99% (after all, how many of the 1% read blogs, tweet or engage with the randomness of humanity that is Twitter?). But what does it take to shift from global recognition to local action? What would it take, from each of us, to go from affinity to sit-in? And more specifically, what are your personal boundaries and what happens when they meet your professional (or even moral) foundations?

I wonder would I (and could you):

Spend a night in the company of uncomfortable strangers under the lost stars
   of city streets
Or move beyond the words of a tweet, a post, an anxious tear?
Is there a place I would stand in, sit in, squat in in protest
    at the injustice of a world that validates me

Or does it all just seem too hard to bear?

Could I, would I, link arms with those battered by the inequities of time, place,
   education and happenstance
Or could I, would I, find my grain of truth
   that tastes like yours and smells so sweet?

Would I go so far as to find the words that change the course of time,
   that shake, endanger, explode our futures
Or do I fold my white knuckles in against themselves
Breathing stale air and broken promises?

How do we know the sound of history calling?
   And how is your call different to mine?
We answer only to the beats of our own hearts
   Counting. Changing. Stepping in time.

But in the cold, freshness of spring mornings
   it’s not a question of passion.

It’s knowing that your lone voice will be carried in the echoes
   of others. Dispossessed and connected. Dissatisfied yet free.

Or perhaps it’s none of these pungent vagaries.

Perhaps, at day’s end, it’s about doing what we must but also what we can.

So would you? Could you?

Or could you not?


Images: Courtesy PaulS

#londonriots and the Shadow of Shame

Like many of you I am saddened, angered, disappointed and exasperated by the riots spreading across London. And while it’s easy to point the finger at the rioters, I’d like to pause for a moment, take a breath and reflect on these events (given that in Australia we have the luxury and space to do so).

Now I in no way condone the violence that is taking place. But it is important to point out that these type of events occur when populations are disenfranchised, when disadvantage is baked into the institutions that make up our society, and when access to opportunity, to a future worth living, is limited by where you were born and where you went to school.

Earlier this year, we saw protests across the Middle East occur almost spontaneously. Obama’s Arab Spring was seen as a cause for celebration – with protesters organising, communicating and rallying support through social media – bringing to the West, a deeper understanding of social and civil issues facing the people of countries from Tunisia and Egypt to Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Syria.

But in the #londonriots some of these techniques are being used not to build momentum and to create a movement for change. It’s not a civil problem nor an issue of democracy. It’s a social problem and its emotional resonance strikes us deeply, because at its heart is a great yawning emptiness that we also helped to create.


The woman in this video says, “we’re not fighting for a cause” – and she is right. Decades of social, political and cultural neglect reinforced and amplified by the divisiveness of dog whistle politics has led to this point. As Laurie Penny explains:

The people running Britain had absolutely no clue how desperate things had become. They thought that they could take away the last little things that gave people hope, the benefits, the jobs, the possibility of higher education, the support structures, and nothing would happen. They were wrong. And now my city is burning …

It’s a terrible situation.

But we’re also seeing the same thing here in Australia. We’re following the same path. Rather than leadership on big, moral and social issues such as racism, asylum seekers, access to opportunity and education, and yes, even climate change, we see minute focus on what our politicians believe they can get away with. It’s the bare minimum in terms of social policy.

And when you reach for the bare minimum rather than trying to constantly raise the bar, as a society you are on a slippery slope. You end up with outcomes that you deserve rather than outcomes that you would hope for. As Laurie also says:

Now is the time when we make our choices. Now is the time when we decide whether to descend into hate, or to put prejudice aside and work together. Now is the time when we decide what sort of country it is that we want to live in.

The same applies here. The same applies in the US. It’s time for us all to step out of the shadow of shame.

Are We Dating or Do You Just LIKE Me?

This infographic by the Online Dating University (via All Facebook) shows that three-fifths of people display their relationship status on the Facebook profiles. It’s not an earth-shattering piece of information, but it does give us an insight into the BEHAVIOUR of people who frequent social networks – it tells us that we live our lives in public. It reminds us that our lifestyles an our choices have been turned inside-out and are – at least on the surface – ready-made for the consumption of others.

But this is far from an isolated trend – it is one that has been tracking for at least the last five years. A recent ExactTarget / CoTweet report on Subscribers, Friends and Followers puts some data around this (and while it is US data, we can still apply the thinking more locally):

  • 73% of US online consumers have  created a Facebook profile
  • 42% of US online consumers are fans (and have liked at least one company)

But, while we LIKE these companies, 51% of fans say they rarely or never visit a company’s page after “liking” them. And if the relationship is over – if a fan no longer wants to see your posts, less than half will go to the trouble of “unliking” you.

There is, however, something we can learn from the world of dating. Look at the IMPACTS of living life in public as shown below. How can your brand affect the etiquette, moods and updates of your fans? What can you do to demonstrate that you are in a relationship and it’s not just a matter of liking each other? Remember, it’s a two way street and do the smart thing – build that knowledge and insight into your strategy.


Lifelounge Urban Market Report 2010

For the past seven years, Lifelounge’s Urban Market Research (UMR) in conjunction with Sweeney Research, have been compiling the definitive guide on the lifestyles, interests and passions of 16 to 30 year old Australians.

The research seeks to encapsulate the values, behaviours and attitudes of the young adult market segment, focusing on the core interest areas of music, sport, fashion, entertainment and travel. It also evaluates how communication, finance, sex, health and society influence behaviour.

Released today, the UMR reveals:

  • Music is no longer the major defining factor for young adults
  • Surf brands no longer reign
  • Email is on the decline
  • Brands that deliver “street cred” is no longer enough, people are looking for “supercharged consumer sovereignty”
  • Pause and absorb time – is prized as much as the capacity to multitask
  • When it comes to brands, it’s nuance over noise
  • A new level of authenticity, what they are calling “authenticiti-me” is emerging – where trend setters can adopt a brand and add their own expression of individuality to it

There are some nice statistics and insights in the report:

  • Mobile phone ownership is close to universal with only 2% of the youth market saying they don’t have a mobile
  • Only 24% of the 16-30s downloaded music illegally in the last four weeks
  • 20% of 16-30 year olds spent over $100 on their most recent pair of jeans

And there’s plenty more. For me, the report validates observation. But many of the insights extend beyond the age focus of demographic research. I have always believed that the “youth” category describes a state of mind. Read the report in that light and you will gain a fantastic insight into the behavioural characteristics of a great swathe of the population.

But for those interested in the youth market in particular, it provides valuable insight to the trends and behaviours that are not just emerging – but which have become prevalent. Take a look at the Lifelounge website for more details.

Google Ups the Ante this Instant

As we rush ever faster towards the latest thing we risk being overwhelmed – by data, life, connections – the to do list that sits threateningly at the edge of our consciousness. In an age where the act of doing – of performance – supersedes the act of being, we can sometimes look over our shoulders and realise that while only twelve months has passed, it seems like a lifetime. The pace of change is certainly accelerating.

How do we cope?

Despite our often pathological resistance to change, human beings are supremely well adapted. We can quickly and consciously change our behaviours, our environments and our ways of thinking. We can assimilate technology, create innovation and do so single mindedly.

Google Instant taps into these evolutionary traits, giving us instant matches to our search terms. Now we don’t even have to wait to press the I’m Feeling Lucky button.

And while I like the cleverness of this technology, I am more impressed with the video clip that Google are using to launch it. It’s a nice piece of high-tech high touch that John Naisbitt would be proud of.