Reforming politician’s communication; enhancing public engagement

Dr Lilleker at Westminster

Research by Dr Darren Lilleker and his BU colleagues has focused on how politicians can reach wider audiences, building communities of interest, which can lead to political     engagement and electoral support.

The work seeks to correct the low public engagement and general lack of interest in electoral and party politics through a range of empirical studies. Dr Lilleker’s data shows that by increasing awareness of the relevance of     political issues, providing the public with insights into key political debates and introducing an interactive dimension to political communication, it is possible to reduce cynicism and increase trust.

These effects seem most prevalent when it is not only the politician but members of the public who participate in political discussions, using so-called Web 2.0 environments to ‘like’, share and comment on the words of           politicians.

Lord Knight invited Dr Lilleker to meet with the Labour frontbench to provide both general and specific advice on how to develop a social media strategy in order to gain greater traction for their arguments within both mainstream and social media.

Researcher worked with 32 peers who comprise the Labour frontbench, monitoring activities on Twitter and the Labour Lords weblog from May to August 2012. They looked particularly at reach, strategic usage, correlations     between behaviour and reach and coverage in the media.

Peers focused predominantly on general political issues (35%) and party promotion (21%) balanced with promotion of personal interests and personalised content (37%).Of the political content, national politics dominated (65%), with 12% shares for both international and local politics.

The peers also strategically adopted the use of hashtags, in particular around collective discussions of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (#LASPO).

Peers also mention and communicate with outgroups, using the @ function, demonstrating how to link into wider networks. There was also effective usage of hyperlinks to news items (21%) and weblogs (13%), both practices that enhance network building.

Peers most proactive and strategic online, and offering the widest range of content, gained higher increases in      following; (25% average increment), than those least proactive and focused on party promotion.

In terms of influencing the news agenda; the peers researchers supported were 91% more likely than those not supported to be mentioned in the media, and 86% more likely to be quoted.

Through this strategic use of social media Labour peers were able to build following and influence the news agenda, providing proof of concept of the fundamental principle of the research.

Research References

  • Negrine, R. and Lilleker, D. 2003. The rise of a proactive local media strategy in British political communication: clear continuities and evolutionary change 1966-2001. Journalism Studies, 4 (2): 199-211.
  • Lilleker, D., 2005. Local Campaign Management. Winning votes or wasting resources. Journal of Marketing Management, 21 (9): 979-1003.
  • Jackson, N. and Lilleker, D., 2009. Building an Architecture of Participation? Political Parties and Web 2.0 in Britain. Journal of Information Technology & Politics, 6 (3 & 4): 232 -250.
  • Lilleker, D. and Jackson, N., 2011. Microblogging, constituency service and impression management – UK MPs and the use of Twitter. Journal of Legislative Studies, 17 (1): 86-105.
  • Erikson, K. and Lilleker, D. G. (2012) Campaign Websites and Hypermedia Campaigning: Lessons from the Ed Balls Labour Leadership Campaign 2010. Parliamentary Affairs, 65 (2): 404-424.
  • Lilleker, D. and Koc-Michalska, K. (2013) Online political communication strategies: MEPs, erepresentation and self-representation. Journal of Information Technology & Politics, in press.