Article by Paul Fisher. First published in AdNews, June 9 2010

As talk of the Australian Federal Election increases, those of us working in media are turning our attention to how this election will be fought using the increasing range communications tools to reach, engage and influence the increasingly fragmented voters.

Our colleagues at IAB UK have just published a paper that I think provides some very interesting observations and recommendations which I believe should and will apply in the lead up to and during The Australian Federal election. The paper, called "The Digital Election: The impact of digital communications on the 2010 Election and the lessons brands can learn" featured nine industry commentators views on the political parties use of digital communications in the recent UK General Election.

The first observation won't be news to many people, in that it noted the Obama campaign certainly 'woke up' political parties, individual politicians and media strategists to the power and influence of digital communications. Early adopters including 'Krudd' and 'the Slugger' and many of their cohorts are populating Twitter, Facebook and Youtube demonstrating there is already a basic level of adoption of digital communications channels by the key players in Australia.

However while the 'Obama factor' is clear, just how well the Political parties are making use of these new found toys in their armoury to wage war on each other and the Australian voting public is considerably less clear. My fear is that whilst the world has changed substantially since Kevin 07, the allocation of media and advertising budgets may not have and so like many brands, their budgets are still focused on TV and print.

So forgive me, but I'm going to wonder why out loud. According to Nielsen Online, 17 million Australians are online and when you look at where people spend the most time, engage the most with content and advertising, and actually voluntarily enter into a dialogue with the message or the proponent of the message, it's clear that the web should be taking a much larger chunk of the Political party's budgets.

I'm not talking about a social media blowout - Twitter is not a strategy and social media is only one aspect of digital communications. I'm talking about holistic media advertising strategy view, where agencies and political parties, as well as individual politicians need to adopt, apply and integrate all the available digital tools into their broader communications plan.

Ciarán Norris, the Global Head of Social at Mindshare wrote in the UK IAB report: "...while social media is an incredible way to connect with voters, TV still has a massive role to play: 90 minutes on ITV1 transformed this (the UK general) election. Again, this shouldn't come as a surprise. After all, the one thing that Obama did better than anyone was to use digital and especially social, to raise money, which he then spent on hours of airtime... Those who think of social media as a silo risk being left behind by those who understand that, nowadays, all media is social and all channels interconnect wrote."

Emily Bell, Director of Digital Content, Guardian News and Media also commented in the report that: "Marketing is more effective when you are part of a networked conversation rather than part of a monologue. The ability to pick up on the concerns of voters and consumers, respond clearly and directly, with authority and authenticity builds your reputation in this new world."

So I hope Federal Election 2010 will be the year of significant adoption of search, display, email, video, social media and networking, 'branded' content integration and distribution, mobile platforms and channels. And I also see significant integration with TV and print and all other media. To my mind the smart money will be on integrated campaigns.

Matthew McGregor, London Director of Blue State Digital summed up with a world view and wisdom we can all learn from, writing: "Whether you are Gordon Brown, a poverty charity, a large theatre or a company with a new product, the principles that drove Obama For America are the same. Engage people by lowering the barriers to entry, use content and conversation to sustain a relationship, and provide the tools and traditional channels to turn your enthusiasts into an army of advocates."

So I'm going to start right now: Vote 1 for digital!

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