OPINION: Helping our politicians stay sane in social media

Chrissy Blackburn
By Chrissy Blackburn | 18 February 2013
Chrissy Blackburn global head of strategy at The Leading Edge

With her approval ratings plummeting is it time for Julia Gillard to bring out the big guns and break bread with her social media followers? Should she start sharing Instagram-filtered photos of her meals at the lodge with her Facebook friends and Twitter followers and post snapshots of her travels around the country?

I’m sure that there is much talk in the Labor Party war rooms about ramping up the social media presence and I can only begin to imagine what’s in store for us from now until September 14.

No doubt our Australian politicians will look to the strategies employed by President Obama’s marketing machine since they wrote the book on how to use social media to reach the electorate where they live. But the Obama campaign only worked in social media channels because there was a master brand strategy in place and everyone was singing from the same hymn sheet. The master brand strategy was executed to the right people through the right channels.

In Philippa Perry’s How to Stay Sane, she explains that people’s problems tend to fall into one of two categories: either their lives are totally chaotic and they lurch from one high octane drama to the next or they find themselves in a rut and operate from a limited set of outdated, rigid responses. Some people even manage to belong to both sets of groups at once. Brands and politicians are the same.

Social media is often bandied around as the answer. The self-professed ‘newbie’ experts would have you believe that the lunatics are in charge of the asylum and that marketers are no longer in charge of brands, customers are, so a good social media strategy is essential. In many cases that’s true but creating content for a new channel and setting up a Facebook page is no help unless you have a sound business strategy to work from.

That’s why social media won’t work for our politicians at home unless they get their big idea straight in the first place. A lot of ‘self observation’ is required, it would seem, before they do anything else.

Most marketers come to us for help to solve either one of two problems: either their brand is behaving like a schizophrenic, jumping from one idea to the next in an effort to please customers’ ever changing needs or they are frozen in time and have become irrelevant, their business models just don’t work any more. Are our political party brands in chaos mode or outdated rigid mode, or both? My guess is that a psychiatrist would probably diagnose the Labor Party as schizophrenic and the Liberal Party as catatonic.

The rules of brand engagement have changed but the fundamentals haven’t. Without a sound strategy you are either in chaos mode or stuck in a rut mode and can’t move forward with confidence.

A great strategy will help figure out three things: 1) It will provide direction – here’s where we’re heading everyone, are we all clear about that?  2) Knowing where you are heading helps you make choices- here’s where we need to focus, we’re after these customers with these products and 3) It should help you do it differently than your competitors.

So where should Julia start?  Back to the self-help book… in the first instance Philippa Perry prescribes her patients’ self-observation. “Self observation teaches us to stand outside ourselves. It gives us space to decide how to act. It brings together our emotions and logic”.

People often seek out an objective professional to point out their destructive patterns and brands are no different. Politicians, and marketers, should make time for a sanity check before they run off to get fitted for the latest set of new clothes for their brand. It might save them a trip to the psychiatrist in the long run.

Chrissy Blackburn
Global Head of Strategy
The Leading Edge

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