Monday, April 16, 2012

Hamish, Hilary and Mark do it… but Col’s crew is still not connected

My 40-something year old sister is in Phuket with her family at the moment (I wouldn’t usually disclose a lady’s age like that, but it’s important to the message). They arrived at their coastal resort a day before last week’s undersea earthquake off Sumatra. As we know, that event triggered a tsunami warning for the whole Indian Ocean area but fortunately didn’t cause any damaging waves.

Anyway, the relevance of this is that after unsuccessfully trying to telephone them on both their mobile phones and hotel landline for 6 hours, my first communication with my sister was when she sent a Facebook message. It consisted of only a few words to let us know that “everything is ok” – but the accompanying grainy picture showing hundreds of people huddling together on the edge of a dark hillside, was worth a thousand more.

The point is, for many everyday Australians speaking to a friend or relative is now a lot less common than sending a Facebook message, SMSing or Tweeting them - regardless of where they are at the time. Social networking applications provide a fast, relatively unobtrusive method of providing or retrieving information from one or many people simultaneously – and that makes it very powerful.

Indeed the winner of last night’s Golden Logie award, radio comedian Hamish Blake, is reported to have won the prize ahead of two of Australia’s most visible daily television personalities only due to a strategic social networking campaign.

You might ask why these two facts relate to the world of a political commentator - easy;

  1. It’s not just young people using social media as their primary communication and information source (my sister is 40-something), and
  2. The Logies are decided by a popular vote – just like our governments.
No doubt you now see the point – but sadly, the Western Australian State government still doesn’t.

US President Barack Obama often personally uses Twitter to make a political point, Federal Liberal Leader Tony Abbott takes questions without notice via social media whenever he has a free 15 minutes and many members of the Western Australian opposition are gaining both confidence and skill in using the propinquity offered by social media to score political points and build positive relationships with their stakeholders – including the growing number of journalists who spend much of their day sharing their insights via their mobile phones, oops devices.

And yet, computers and mobile phones issued to Ministers and their staff are to this day fitted standard with filters that block access to all social media applications. Consequently, other than a couple of eager backbench members who have been instructed to limit their use, there is only one Government member using social media regularly – and this Minister’s messages are far from strategic, providing much greater insight to the man than any policies or plans of his government.

This obvious lack of enthusiasm (or perhaps even understanding) for social media within the government will be a distinct disadvantage to the government between now and the March 2013 election – not only because Mark McGowan’s opposition will be speaking to a growing number of voters only accessible through this medium, but also because those voters are likely to be speaking exclusively back.

* Previous blog posts mention this issue, but after a Radio personality surprised everyone by winning TV’s biggest award last night, I thought I’d dedicate a post to it.

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