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How political groups could improve their online approach

You want to get these parties started right?

6/25/2004 5:00:00 PM

How political groups could improve their online approach
by Shane Schick
itBusiness.ca
 

If Stephen Harper is the Prime Minister of Music, I propose a vote of non-confidence.

In a federal election in which everyone is eager to make themselves heard, digital music service Puretracks couldn't resist getting in on the act by asking the four major candidates about their musical tastes. These were matched with those of Puretracks customers. Their choices for top 5 songs were sometimes ironic (like Paul Martin's pick of Bridge Over Troubled Water or Green Party leader Jim Harris's selection of Where is the love?) but Harper ended up winning with 33 per cent of the vote. My reaction was best expressed by the title of his No. 1 song: AC/DC's Thunderstruck.

The whole thing is great PR for Puretracks, but it's only the latest in a series of stunts to test the candidates' connectedness with the information age. Earlier this month, for example, Nokia Canada launched Youth Text 2004, where the company tried to generate interest in the election by hosting live text messaging chats with the various leaders. As voting swiftly approaches, I wouldn't be surprised to see Telus sponsor a contest for best candidate campaign photography using one of its camera phones, or perhaps Intel hosting an all-candidates debate broadcast at Wi-Fi hotspots across Canada.

Media frequently refer to staged election events as "photo ops" but these "digital ops" are as much about endorsing the technology itself as they are about the political content. The underlying message in all these activities is that a good leader should never shy away from using any kind of technology, that they should unquestioningly embrace IT as a strategy to interact with voters in real time. It's pretty much the exact opposite of the approach now taken by CIOs and IT managers within corporate enterprises, who judiciously evaluate a range of technologies before choosing a select few that meet their business needs.

An obvious opportunity for campaign ROI would be the party Web sites, of course, and earlier this week an Ottawa company called Hillwatch E-Services offered a benchmark report that evaluated each portal based on 350 best practice indicators. Perhaps not surprisingly, the comparison with U.S. campaign sites was pretty negative. "Virtual lawn signs," Hillwatch called them, posting little more than giant pictures of Jack Layton's face on the NDP site and content on the Liberal Party's home page that's more than a month old. The Conservative site actually starts with a splashpage, something I thought died out before the dot-com boom. (It does, however, have an easily accessible "donate" button, but then you'd expect the Conservatives to be better at fundraising.) How Hillwatch overlooked Ed Broadbent's hilarious rap, Ed's Back, I don't know.

We might dub these efforts party-to-constituent (P2C) but the best way to judge them might be from their success as customer relationship management projects. Although the sites will be up indefinitely, traffic on some of them is bound to ebb once the election results come in, which means the campaign period represents a very small window of opportunity to compile valuable data on voters. As Hillwatch noted, most of the Canadian party sites are too top-down, preferring to pump out information to the reader rather than develop interactive services that answer their questions or gauge their reaction to policy proposals. Of course, Canadians may be reluctant to take advantage of these opportunities (who wants to get e-mail from a party you don't support once the election is over?), but no one is even trying.

Parties, like enterprises, have to recognize that CRM is not just about a Web site. Phone and in-person transactions -- whether it's a donation or feedback -- need to be captured in a way that can refine the party's strategy and improve response to the electorate. That may be too much to ask of campaign managers before June 28, but maybe in four years we'll see a more sophisticated approach. Whatever they decide to do with IT, their choice can't be harder than the one we're about to make.

sschick@itbusiness.ca


 
   





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