Pandemic intensifies Parliament’s reliance on social media

By Mario Creatura, head of digital, DGA Interel UK.

The pandemic has irrevocably changed the way we go about our daily lives. From reticent employers forced to embrace flexible working and remote appointments at doctors surgeries, to Zoom school lessons and augmented reality games with the family, technology has proven to be pivotal in allowing us to not only adapt to life in the midst of a crisis – but, in many instances, to thrive better than we did before.

Any hesitancy about the utility of our digital devices has evaporated, with Covid forcing us to embrace emerging online tools and social media platforms all the faster.

Just like the rest of us, our Parliamentarians have seen an evolution in their social media habits over the last year.

Our latest research revealed that MPs’ reliance on social media is dramatically increasing — half of MPs have said their usage of social media has increased during the pandemic, with 95 per cent checking social media at least once a day and half checking their channels more than ten times a day.

This extra Facebook and Twitter usage is probably not too far removed from that of wider society, but its implications are more notable, particularly for those of us engaged in supporting clients in the Public Affairs industry.

Interel’s research has found that, when taken as a group, over half of MPs see social media as an important tool for engaging with the public. Just shy of half of MPs use social media as a key tool to keep up to date with business, charities and other key stakeholders. 55 per cent of Labour MPs use social media as an important tool to inform their views and campaigns; with 28 per cent of Conservatives saying the same.

If the digital bubble is holding such sway over the views of our legislators, understanding how the place is policed and who they are listening to will become increasingly essential to those of us trying to advocate for good causes in the political arena.

Getting to grips with current and emerging digital channels is no longer an optional add-on for those seeking to engage key stakeholders on important issues.

MPs, researchers, civil servants, the press and more are all, like the rest of us, bombarded continually by messages. The art of advocacy has always been seeking to create the campaign, finesse the message or inflame a passion in the right person at the right time.

For that, we all need to be more digitally savvy.

Post-pandemic digital communication channels are now the essential arena for public affairs professionals to ply their craft – but too few appear to have properly invested the time into understanding how traditional forms of campaign comms can be adapted and even enhanced by incorporating an online dimension.

Go where the people are has always been a PR mantra of mine – it is no use shouting into a void where nobody is listening. Yet far too many campaigns treat social media as an irrelevant afterthought, part of a tick-box exercise instead of truly understanding its targeted, high-impact potential.

Good digital communications should be the bedrock of all well-thought through campaigns. Stimulating constituents to action, catching the attention of the Parliamentary assistant, praising supportive action by Members and Ministers – all of these, when done well can significantly boost the chances of moving stakeholders from having a passing awareness to being a passionate advocate and – with true digital engagement factored in – the result are genuine political solutions.

If the objective of our profession is to deliver results, then we must use every tool in our arsenal – and that includes truly and instinctively embracing digital communications.

Photo by Dane Deaner on Unsplash

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