Politics is moving onto the Internet in force. It is surprising in some ways that it has taken as long as it has for the web to feature heavily in mainstream political campaigns.
It can be seen very obviously in the tactics in the US democratic primary and in the recently ended London mayoral elections where twitter, facebook, paid search and SEO all played their part.
While many politicians still have some way to go before they have completely mastered the medium, it’s importance cannot be understated. The electorate is increasingly turning to the web to research candidates, their parties and their policies. In particular, I believe there is a lot of opportunity for search marketing around the ’unbranded search’ of politics - i.e. those policy searches that mention neither candidate nor party. E.g. if, as a candidate, your viewpoint ranks for searches on a particular policy issues (e.g. ’knife crime in London’), it will not only cement you as an expert on the subject in the eyes of the electorate but also serve to put your point of view across.
Online reputation management for politicians
Given the increasing reliance on searching for candidates, their online reputations are becoming ever more valuable (or problematic). Go and have a search for your favourite (or least favourite) controversial politician and you will most likely find a motley collection of results including old dirt dug up by opponents years ago that is no longer relevant.
There are a number of reasons why online reputation management is particularly difficult for politicians. In no particular order, my top 7 reasons for this are:
- Politics (and politicians) are naturally controversial and need to be in the news - it’s no good asking them to keep their heads down
- In contrast to the ’every man for himself’ world of business, there are specific opponents to politicians (and they are often prepared to play dirty)
- The attacks never end. It is unlikely to be an isolated bad story - partisan press ensures that there are steady streams of negative write-ups
- Politics plays out in the public arena. Public scrutiny means that any minor indiscretion is easily blown out of all proportion
- Journalists, opponents and others have incentives to dig for dirt
- Handling the issues can be sensitive. Politicians are naturally cautious of appearing to influence their reputation or carry out ’spin’
- Newspapers are powerful mouthpieces and they are not only typically partisan, but also have powerful websites that are well-liked by Google so any negative stories tend to naturally rank well for the individual’s name
All of this does not mean that politicians should stick their heads in the sand and ignore the problem, hoping it will disappear. It makes it more important to monitor their reputation online and to have strategies in place for dealing with issues already in the public eye and any future crises.