“We can make it more interesting to blog about politics”

Twingly is being used by a host of different kinds of websites. Even political parties such as the Swedish Social Democratic Party integrate with our Technology to connect with the blogosphere. We had a chat with Natalie Sial, responsible for web and social media at the Swedish Social Democratic Party, about how politics, social media and blogs influence each other.

Engaging in social media is being seen as crucial for today’s politics. Do you think it actually is still possible for a party to not interact with the people online?
No, I don’t think it is possible for anyone to mobilise or interact today if you are not present and visible online.

Can you give us a quick overview about your social media activities?
We want to reach voters on their platforms of choice. More than 50 percent of the Swedish population is on Facebook. Therefore it’s an important platform for communication and dialogue. We interact and let people have political dialogues on fan pages and we profile our political leaders on Facebook. Then we have Twitter which plays an important role for transparency and for spreading information. We tweet for example live updates from our press conferences and events as well as about everyday issues. Our YouTube channel is also pretty big and we upload everything from whole speeches to shorter clips about policies and presentations. Furthermore we organise progressive bloggers (red, green, independent) on Sweden’s biggest blog network Netroots. And our own website socialdemokraterna.se acts as the main communications platform, where all of our engagements on different social media channels are visible and centralized.

What is the story behind Netroots?
There wasn’t a good gateway to reach progressive bloggers in Sweden, so we are trying to fill that gap with Netroots.se which started in 2006. It is Swedens biggest blog network for progressives, gathering around 700 bloggers. We created the platform to make it easier for them to reach out. There are no representatives or board – it’s a network where blogger can share ideas. Since the network is so big now we saw a need for gatherings in real life. Small gatherings and meetings have been held around Sweden but now we decided to launch a national conference. From April 27 to April 29 in Stockholm we will be arranging the biggest event for progressives. The main topic will be methods on how to become a better net activist, blogger or opinion former using online tools. Special guests such as experts and bloggers from the US, UK and Middle East will be joining. You can read more on www.natrot12.se.

How much influence do bloggers nowadays have on politics?
It’s growing in Sweden. It was the bloggers that raised the health and auto insurance debate in the election 2010 which in the end was the only thing people were talking about. 70 percent of journalists today look at blogs and social media to get inspiration for news (according to Hans Kullin, slide 7). It is certainly growing. A lot of politicians take influences from people’s opinions which happens more often when an increasing number of people interact online.

You use Twingly to show incoming links from blogs. How has that worked out for you and what kind of feedback did you get?
For us it is important to show a bigger picture of political debates apart from the traditional media. We can never tell anyone what to think or write. But we can make it more interesting to blog about politics.

Recently the leader of Swedish Social Democrats was forced to leave his position. The story got a lot of media spotlight. How did this affect your social media activities?
Sweden has seen such levels of political social media activities before. The issues around our former party leader Håkan Juholt had great impact on many people and we saw huge numbers of tweets, blog posts and Facebook updates. We changed strategy and tried to open up as much as possible and tweet updates regularly about what was going on. We got positive reactions about that. The last year has been outstanding in regards to media coverage of our party – we couldn’t reach out in any better way than simply opening up and starting to communicate using all our online channels more frequently and cohesive.

Interview: Social Media and Politics in Germany

This week politicians, journalists and other organisations gather in the city of Visby on the Swedish island Gotland for the yearly “Almedalsveckan” to discuss and connect (Twingly is there, too!). As last year, one of the main topics will be the effects of the digitalisation on politics and campaigning.

Since the spotlight is on for politics, we wanted to take the chance and give you an insight into the state of digital politics in Germany, another important Twingly market. How are German parties using Social Media to engage with voters? How do Germans react, and what are the main challenges? We spoke to Patrick Brauckmann, an expert in the field of political online communication.

Patrick studied politics, law, theology and European business. He wrote his dissertation about “Online-Communities in the German parliamentary elections of 2009”, has been and is involved in several political initiatives, founded a communications consultancy with focus on “Online Campaigning” and contributes as a freelance editor to different publications focusing on digital politics. His private blog is kampagnen-fabrik.de.

Hi Patrick! The German parliamentary elections last fall was the first time when parties in Germany made heavy use of Social Media for their political campaigns. How much success did they have?
That depends on the perspective. If the goal was to increase the number of voters, than the online campaigns did not have a huge impact. But if the goal was to retain voters and loyal following, then it worked out quite well. At least until now Social Media did not help the German parties to gain new voters, but it helped to keep existing voters committed.

So the parties succeeded in engaging those people that already did support them?
Yes, and I think in that regard German parties keep up pretty well with their US counterparts. The web has become the foremost communication and organisation tool, both regarding the parties own sites, but also regarding social networks (Facebook, German studiVZ), Twitter and blogs. But it’s mainly about connecting to the existing voter base of each party, not a real election campaign where parties fight to get the people’s sympathy.

Many politicians in Germany try to replicate the “Obama effect”. Do you think this is possible considering the country’s different culture and mentality?
This is the question every campaigner in Germany would like to get the answer for. In my opinion it is possible, but people must not forget that Barack Obama did not create his reputation and image online, he just leveraged the web to spread and communicate it. The politician Obama who gathered 250.000 people at the Siegessäule in Berlin does not necessarily need the web. But the (political) web needed him to realize how to use the Internet for reaching out to the citizen.

How did Germans react to the new ways of having a dialog with politicians and parties?
The Internet filled a gap that TV and print media left wide open due to their lack of possibilities for a two-way-communication. It enabled participation and opinion making, which you can see every time a topic from the political agenda becomes subject of discussions. It’s now usually the web where the public debate starts. On the other hand, these debates are in most cases limited to the “Digital Natives”, so huge parts of the German population are still absent from the political dialog online. A recent study from the University of Hohenheim found that TV and print media still are the two preferred sources of information about politics, followed by the web which now ranks before radio. Only 13 percent mentioned the Internet as their number one source. It’s much more in the US.

Is there a party or candidate who excels in digital communication?
There are some who use Social Media in a smart and effective way, who run an interesting and regularly updated blog, Twitter stream or Facebook page without just pushing their press releases, instead encouraging users and potential voters to have a dialog. It seems as if the smaller parties have a lead over the the two big parties, the Christian Democrats (CDU) and the Social Democrats (SPD), since their flat internal processes and structure makes it easier to engage in the fast paced online communication and conversation. Furthermore, their members often are younger and their affinity for new technologies is higher.

What happened after the parliamentary elections?
As one almost could expect, what followed was silence. Websites, Twitter streams, YouTube channels and Facebook profiles were not updated anymore, the dialog stopped. But after a few month, things picked up again, probably also fueled by the state election in Germany’s biggest federal state Nordrhein-Westfalen in May this year. Still I’m afraid the next boom for digital political communication won’t happen before the next parliamentary elections.

What advice would you give parties and political individuals for their future online campaigning?
Choose the right online instruments carefully and use those in the best way possible. Politicians should focus on engaging in solid and convincing political debates, not on being present on every existing web site imaginable. If they use Social Media for those debates, even better. But if they don’t do anything else than creating noise without adding value, they might be better off staying away from the Social Web.

/Martin Weigert