Labour’s secret weapon in next year’s general election is going to be its digital campaign team and social media networks. The team is led by Matthew McGregor, the British digital strategist and the man credited with Barack Obama’s online success in the 2012 Presidential race.
McGregor was in charge of Obama’s online “rapid response unit”, and he succeeded in key areas of the campaign. His team was always at the ready to rebut Republican claims on social media in real time, as they appeared, and to hit back at attacks on Obama’s reputation, on Twitter and Facebook.
Perhaps more importantly, he pioneered the use of the internet to raise cash for campaign funds and recruit volunteers to work locally. It total the Democrats raised more than £400 million through online donations. While Time magazine credited his digital campaign with mobilising a nationwide army of supporters at the grass roots.
It is these skills that Ed Miliband and Labour plan to deploy in next May’s election. And although Labour is strapped for cash at present, the party has lashed out on new high-tech offices, and a young new team, recruited from PR agencies and voluntary organisations.
One of the biggest attractions of online campaigning is its very low cost compared with traditional media. Advertising on TV and plastering the country with posters costs millions. Blogging, Tweeting and Facebooking costs nothing beyond the salaries of the bright young men and women employed to dream up ideas and send them out in the hope of going viral.
The Conservatives, too, are busy harnessing the power of the net, but they are trailing Labour because they have traditionally been able to rely on big donations from supporters in industry and the City and haven’t needed to rely on donations in penny-packets like Labour.
Ironically, this apparent financial edge has now turned into a disadvantage for the Tories, because it has left them behind in the race to dominate social media, which will – at least in part -decide the outcome at the polls next May.