1. Not the YouTube election, and not the X-Factor election either

    Posted May 7, 2010 in politics, social media  |  No Comments so far

    Back in December 2009, Steve Grove, YouTube’s head of politics and news, gave a sales pitch to a London audience of parliamentary researchers and policy wonks. Drawing on the the 2008 US presidential election as a case study, he encouraged his Westminster audience to place YouTube at the core of their campaigns for the 2010 election.

    Also at this sales pitch was Rory Cellan-Jones, the BBC’s technology correspondent, who gave a detailed account of it on his blog. Despite the obviously commercial nature of the presentation, Cellan-Jones was fairly unquestioning in his write-up and went as far as suggesting that 2010 would see the UK’s first “YouTube election”.

    That was then and this is now. As I write, the UK is in political limbo after voters returned a hung parliament and it’s obvious that the election wasn’t a YouTube election at all. But in truth, it was never going to be. YouTube is less of a social tool here than it is in the US, or than Steven Grove seemingly led Cellan-Jones to believe. If any online services were going to play a role here, it would have been Facebook or Twitter, which revolve around interpersonal communication rather than YouTube’s quasi-broadcasting model. But even these services seemed to have little effect on the course of the election.

    Rory Cellan-Jones has today written a post describing how political parties used the internet in their campaigns – Labour’s “sophisticated use of Google’s AdSense system” and the Tory purchase of ad space on the YouTube home page are among the examples cited. I don’t think these are very inspiring, however. Ultimately the political parties simply bought media space, a part of election campaigning that’s nearly as old as the ballot box itself. It means little that the media space purchased was digital and not tree-based.

    So social media didn’t play such a central role as some thought it would, and the political parties took a pretty humdrum approach to their digital activities. But how different were things in the world of “old” media? Did it turn out to be more of an X-Factor election than a YouTube election?

    Traditional media outlets were in triumphant mood after the televised election debates which delivered such a boost for Nick Clegg. Media Week claimed  ‘old’ media was reasserting supremacy and even some digital agencies talked about “old media striking back”.

    The consensus was that the Lib Dem surge, triggered by the first TV debate, was the election’s defining event. This proved that good old top-down broadcasting, not this new-fangled and un-Murdochian internet stuff, continued to shape the opinions of the public. But when election day came round the Lib Dem surge was nowhere to be seen. So it turned out that the effect of the TV debates was actually pretty short-lived and ephemeral.

    Television, newspapers, YouTube and Facebook have all been vying for the chance to claim it was them wot won it. Rory Cellan-Jones, Media Week, Rupert Murdoch, Steve Grove – none of these people really got it right in the end. Like the election itself, the “old” vs “new” media battle  has failed to deliver a conclusive and straightforward result.