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Blog doctor’s advice to politicians

Friday, May 8, 2009

Blog doctor’s advice to politicians

Politicians who jump on the "blogging" bandwagon to impress the voters may be wasting their time, says PhD researcher Kane Hopkins.

They would be better off concentrating their efforts on social networking sites such as Facebook or the Flickr photo-sharing site to show the public at a glance what they are doing, Mr Hopkins says.

A lecturer in the Department of Communication, Journalism and Marketing, he analysed the effectiveness of political internet web-logs – known as blogs – from the 2005 general election and concluded that the time and commitment needed to create a successful blog does not translate into winning votes. He is now comparing that data with blogging around last year's election as part of ongoing research.

“Blogs have absolutely zero impact on the outcome of an election,” he says. “They are about discussion but they do not tend to lead to a consensus on an issue because people commenting were so fixed in their thinking they weren’t prepared to be open.”

He monitored four blogs that either regularly discussed politics or, in one case, was written by an MP (Act leader Rodney Hide). The other bloggers were Russell Brown, Jordan Carter and David Farrar. The four blogs attracted 3484 comments in 2005 and more than 11,000 people commented last year.

Mr Hopkins says the growth in comments had an impact on the quality of the discussion. “There was so much information to absorb that it becomes a barrier because the average person is not going to get a balance.”

He says blog topics moved from specific discussion around matters policy and tax in 2005 to lighter posts about personalities, such as Winston Peters, in 2008.

Mr Hopkins says successful blogs, such as Mr Hide’s or British Conservative Party Leader David Cameron’s, can help build up a relationship with voters. But blogs that fail to keep communication constant or are recognisably not from the author can do more damage.

“I don’t think blogging is an essential part of a politicians communication tool belt. If they do blog, they need to do it properly, it is a commitment and the information going out needs to be 100 per cent from them.

“Rodney Hide’s is almost like a diary which he has used to reflect his personal development as a dancer, writer and his public weight loss.

“But some blogs are used as a desperate communication tool, are too partisan and this undermines the transparency.”

Mr Hopkins says it is too early to assess the impact of micro-blogging site Twitter, which is used by Prime Minster John Key.

“Twitter is just breaking into the mainstream and has still not got maturity or the credibility,” he says. “It only requires 140 characters and is very much an opt in and opt out facility

‘It has exploded in popularity but its function is much more limited than blogs. While it is not an effective communications tool on its own but it can be useful to lead people to blogs and Facebook or other social media sites.”

Mr Hopkins says blogs will be an important forum for people to discuss politics in the 2011 election. “It’s difficult to predict after 2011,” he says. “Communication technologies are constantly evolving.”

Mr Hopkins will have his doctorate in communication management conferred at one of the College of Business graduation ceremonies in Palmerston North next Tuesday.


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