Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Opinion: Who is Geoff Wilson?

Recently I asked the question Who is Dale Shuttleworth?, referring to the LNP candidate in the upcoming State Election and the lack of any real information on the internet about him. I thought it was only fair to take a look at his opponent, incumbent and Minister for Heath, Geoff Wilson.

Unlike Dale, Geoff has his own website and distributes PDF newsletters from his site and via email. Geoff definitely does have internet presence. I teased in the post that Geoff's internet strategy was not necessarily something Dale should emulate, and I will take the opportunity to explain what I mean.

To be clear, Geoff might be an excellent Member for the seat of Ferny Grove. But I have no way to come to understand that.

Geoff's website hosts monthly or bi-monthly stories which seem to center on photo-opportunities at the sites of road upgrades and school building openings. These good news stories tell us very little about what Geoff actually did to make them happen (if anything) or how they came to be. They don't tell us anything about Geoff, what he does on a typical day, how (if) he responds to members of the electorate, what problems he thinks the electorate has or how he thinks we should fix them.

The monthly newsletter has some interesting community news, along with a summary of the recent photo-opportunities that have been published on the website. I'm not sure how much time is spent creating this PDF file for print, but perhaps it would be much better spent making the news available as an RSS news feed, on Twitter or on Facebook. If the community news was directly on the website it might even be findable with a Google search (lest someone not know about Geoff's site).

Those are slightly technical complaints, however, and I don't want to overshadow the larger point - That Geoff's website and newsletter misses the opportunity provided by the internet.

The easy trap for those of us who grew up last century is to assume that the internet is just another mass-media marketing platform, like TV, radio or unsolicited ad mail. The internet can be used for that, but only ineffectively. There is no captive audience. There are literally millions of alternative places your viewer can be.  We are daily becoming immune to the slick advertising message. Showing photos of smiling people, claiming to a 'family man' or espousing a past achievement are all feeble techniques once the other party guesses you have an agenda.

This puts a primacy on the value of real, open, honest and transparent communication. In 1999, the Cluetrain Manifesto was published with its 95 Theses about how the internet would change the world. And it is happening. Why are social tools such as Facebook and Twitter so popular on the internet? Because people can use them to have real conversations, interactions and therefore relationships with real people. Companies, brands and yes, politicians, can more effectively spread their message not by hiring a marketing company but by delivering real value (in whatever way makes sense) and then honestly, openly and transparently letting people know about it and importantly, listening to the reply if any comes back.

Coming back to Geoff and his internet presence: Geoff's website and newsletter don't really tell us anything about Geoff or provide us with much value (with the exception of community news). They certainly weren't written by Geoff. They aren't engaging, and importantly, they don't appear as though they want to engage us.

What could Geoff be doing online? Geoff could be blogging; He could be tweeting; He could describe a typical 'day at the office'; He could answer common questions and concerns from the electorate. If his mailbox was empty, he could solicit more feedback. He might share an opinion or something that worries him. There might be something in the future that has him excited. He could explain the Labor strategy for the State and give us a gardening tip. While some of these ideas might be trivial, they all involve Geoff sharing something about himself.

The best marketing a politician can hope for is demonstrate they are a real person. The best person the electorate can hope to hold the seat is someone they know as a person.

To be clear, having an internet presence is not expensive. All of the tools can be free, and there is no-techno-wizardry required to publish to the web these days. Having an internet presence does take take time, but the amount of time is up to the individual. One hour a day might be sufficient, but even a 5 minute tweet once daily by a politician would be mildly revolutionary.

And yes, putting more of yourself 'out there' increases the chance that you will say something wrong or give the wrong impression, mess up your grammar or make a typo. The interesting thing is that people forgive someone they know much more readily than they forgive a brand, a party or an agenda. Correct your mistakes publicly and move on. Be transparent, honest and authentic.

I am amazed that more politicians - candidates or sitting members - do not leverage the internet with an eye to actually engaging and interacting with their electorate. I think a politician who did this would go far for themselves. More importantly, a politician who did this would be a transparent politicians who the electorate could understand and respect, even when they didn't agree.

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