Maman Poulet | Clucking away crookedly through media, politics and life

The Emperors New Clothes

April 2nd, 2009 · 11 Comments · Elections, Irish Media, Irish Politics, Rock the Vote

The blogger briefing for took place on Monday night and you can see a lot of what took place thanks to Alexia. I’ve written about this campaign before and had further responses from candidates in 4 political parties asking for my opinion on the product. Here’s that opinion so far… is a company aiming to roll out a database of every candidate running for local elections in Ireland and every candidate running for the European Parliament Elections across the EU. They will also offer candidates the chance to have their own web presence and an enhanced package  or suite of internet tools is being offered.

The site will allow viewers to see who is running in their local area – ie. who is running that agrees to be listed. And then further still view pages of those who sign up for the ‘bigger display ad’ aka the enhanced package called miCandidate Pro.

For €249 plus €35 a month a local election candidate gets a webpage/site and the use of the mi Candidate Pro package. This would mean if successful the candidate then councillor would be paying €669 per year. For €249 plus €99 per month the exact same enhanced service is being offered to European Election candidates – ie €1439 over a calendar year for someone elected as an MEP. I’m quoting figures for a years service because surely there would be no point in rolling this out for candidates if you did not want them to stay with the company for only two months between the launch and election. Thats right – the site will launch in mid-April and the elections take place in early June. (June 5 in Ireland). For any profit to be made miCandidate must be hoping successful candidates will maintain their listing and enhanced profile to communicate with their electorate.

The launch material for candidates can be viewed here . (From the launch pitch information I received from candidates I note that the price went up 7 euro per month in the space of a week.)

The Enhanced Package – aka the Obama Tools

The system allows candidates to recruit supporters and gather email addresses to communicate with them by email newsletter or announcements of events. Candidates will also be able to communicate with voters by text message for 3 cent a message.  There is also a donation button on candidates pages and candidates will be able to request and encourage donations from those viewing their page. There is also a blogging capacity but the software won’t allow comments or links to other documents – for example the party manifesto or a press release elsewhere. (I personally don’t believe a blog is a blog without comments – and without links it’s even less again.) There is also the tool to spam email 500 journalists with miPressRelease.

The candidate manages the content not miCandidate. They decide when to send emails to supporters and what to say in them. They decide what to put in a blog post – not someone in miCandidate. If they want to put up a Youtube video we were told that will do that for them.

Blogs are free, Youtube is free, twitter is free, a Facebook group is free. There is no doubt that many candidates (and miCandidate are targeting the older less technologically gifted without doting nephews) would not know what to do to start their own blog or create a web presence or indeed build a database of supporters to communicate with during and after a campaign.

However in giving candidates access to these tools in the one place for a fee, are not teaching candidates how to communicate – there will be instructions in how to put up a blog post and send and email through the system for sure but that is only less than half the battle in political communication and online campaigning.

Loads more after jump…

Political Parties and the Internet

Maybe this is where the political parties come in? Why are some political parties recommending this company and their enhanced package? Well it’s easier for them then having to support candidates who want to have web pages, blogs, twitter accounts and put up Youtube videos. Most political parties think that any of their candidates who do blog or twitter are eccentric cranks as it is. However mention the word Obama and some political parties seem to have rolled over and whimpered and said to candidates that signing up for this is a great idea!

The thing is Obama did not just roll up with an enhanced website and get elected – he and the people who designed it and operated it worked at the communication element of engaging with voters and getting them invovled and inspired. This was preceded by years of online community building through organisations like The infrastructure and ideas behind online communications and community building had been done but they realised that they had much more to do and worked at the words and ideas as well as the bells and whistles used to send those ideas.

That’s not what is about – it’s the listing in a goldenpages of candidates with display ads and tools for reaching out for those that pay. This is not going to solve the problem that politicians have in reaching out to the electorate online. An electorate that increasingly spends more time online than watching television or reading a physical newspaper. An electorate who googles to watch the latest viral video or goes to an internet message board for advice on how to change mortgage or find out how where the best bargains are. Online communities of supporters need a huge amount of management and feeding – giving candidates the tools to do this and showing them how to do it technically for a fee won’t get them elected. And there are many who would say for Irish local authority elections that the tools offered are far too sophisticated for the election that these candidates are contesting.

It brings me to another issue – there is no individuality of design that you might find if candidates had invested the €669 in their own website. Every page is going to look the same albeit different colours may be used. There will not be a range of different skins available. will probably point to the fact that content and the difference in content is the key but they are not creating the content – that’s for the candidate to do. It’s the donations, the texts, the email database, and the one stop shop that is being pitched here. This system would appeal more to me if it were offered to one political party to use.  As it is it feels like stepford elections and stepford candidate communications.

I get the feeling for a candidate to make any impact they or a member of their team would have to spend a lot of time feeding the site, designing a communications strategy with supporters and those interested and responding to contacts for it to have any impact. I wonder if the candidate who knows nothing about computers and the internet has someone available to them that would do this – who won’t send 6 emails newsletters in the one day or other inevitable cock ups!

I have not even got to issues that have in terms of the use of interns to do a lot of data entry and sales pitches to candidates or the nature of those sales pitches themselves. Other bloggers may cover the way in which media organisations are using the database and the possible problems that will arise if a candidate is not listed in Micandidate and the resulting unfair coverage. There are also questions about the harvesting of email addresses, data proctection and the management and attribution of donations. And then there is Rock the Vote and the convienent reporting date of June 5th regarding the government grant the organisation received over 12 months ago for the Lisbon Treaty campaign

Enterprise Ireland believe that the company is a High Potential Start Up and grant applications have been made. I think that like Rock the Vote the launch of this site will be too late for most candidates to have any use for them in this election – they don’t have the time to think about the content needed with 8 weeks to go to the election never mind to keep feeding it or build up a database of supporters and volunteers by using it.  However elections are regular occurrences and and their mentions of Obama tools and the naivete/laziness of some political parties here may keep them going until the next election.

Political parties need to be doing their own work regarding online engagement with the electorate – both in terms of their party’s profile and that of their candidates. I don’t believe that this version of the Emperors New Clothes will win elections.

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