How is public perception influenced?
MyDavidCameron.com is a site that is collecting and publishing photo-shopped versions of David Cameron. What is interesting about it (besides the fact is has gone 'viral') is that it is being credited with reducing the opinion poll prospects of David Cameron/Conservatives. What I am interested in is if this is a credible claim: can an online campaign with a few hundred thousands visitors affect the outcome of an election?
Background for non-UK readers
Here in the UK, an election is looming (we're not exactly sure yet - but by June 2010 at the latest). For the last few years, many people assumed the current governing party (Labour - led by Gordon Brown) would be replaced by the official opposition (Conservatives - led by David Cameron). In the last few weeks the poll numbers for the Conservatives have gone down while the poll numbers for Labour have gone up (note: there are other parties - Lib Dems, Regional parties in Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales, smaller parties - but the media focus primarily on Labour and Conservatives)
My perspective (a non party-political analysis)
I think MyDavidCameron.com does a great job at capitalising on one section of the population's distrust of the Conservative party and their suspicion that David Cameron has put a 'gloss' on the Conservative party that can be easily scraped away. The site also ignores the widespread dissatisfaction with the Labour party and simply aims to undermine David Cameron's/the Conservative party image.
There seems to be a claim (heard from someone else in a chat today) that the site - by itself - has had a real measurable direct cause-and-effect impact on the decline in favourable viewing of the Conservatives. Yet I find hard to believe because the site has only 250,000 unique visitors as of writing (which is great for such a specialised site) and yet there are 46+ million eligible voters.
Update 12 March 2010: Where the first 250,000 visitors came from on MyDavidCameron.com
What I think could be happening is that:
- Tweeters, Bloggers and Facebookers spread it around
- Because the site is overtly party-political, party-political types (including party PR people) are interested in it and spread the word
- Because party-political types are interested in it, journalists pick it up and write a story about it to fulfil their day's 'quota' of news on stuff other's haven't written about before.
- Other media picks it up (known as the echo-chamber in the media) and before long most media channels cover it for a day-or two which both sets of another cycle of twitter, Facebook and blog coverage
- Conservatives/David Cameron gets scared and start reacting - defending their plans rather than staying focused on their positive-toned message
- This subtle 'panic' from the conservatives and the media coverage that seed 'fear, uncertainty, doubt' (long claimed as Microsoft's strategy to undermine rivals) is picked up by the electorate and when asked for an opinion, it erodes their faith in the conservatives
So in the end, it is the media and an overreaction that does the influencing and the campaign itself influences the politicos who influence journalists (perpetually looking for their next exciting story) who influence the wider media.
Even a month of occasional but growing online and offline media coverage is unlikely to be even noticed by most of the population. So can the site really influence opinion polls of a party considering that a random sample of 1,000 people would consist of only 5 people on the elecion role (assuming everyone visiting the site was on the UK election role which is likely untrue) and more likely that no people of 1,000 would even know about the site.
What I am getting at is not to diminish MyDavidCameron.com as I think it is funny and provoking. Rather it is an attempt to use it as a case for understanding the deeper sequence of events that any public campaign needs to achieve to have a hope of a wider impact than just number of actions or visitors. Then, in understanding that, to find ways we can repeat it for non party-political campaigning.
The MyDavidCameron.com blog has a post about the lessons from the site to date yet what I am trying to get do is explore the ripple effects that took off from a good idea (as there are lots out there) to shape public political perceptions (since that is ultimately my work and likely yours!).
So, my questions:
- What impact do you think the MyDavidCameron.com site has had
- How do you think that impact unfolded?
- What are the lessons we can learn for non party-political campaigning
- What makes this type of success repeatable?