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Kevin Rudd misses the point with social media

IN political campaigning, proximity is 90 per cent of everything. Those physically closest to the candidate have the most influence - for good and bad.

Part of Kevin Rudd's problem appears to be that the person most proximate to him is not a person but a collective that is switched-on day and night, gives instant feedback and gratification, and is divorced from the thoughts and aspirations of everyday Australia. Twitter and Facebook are poor campaign advisers, and poorer strategists.

Polling of our virtual focus groups shows that mainstream media is still the source of choice for most who are interested in Australian politics.

Our respondents get their news from a mix of sources, with newspapers the most favoured (83 per cent put it as one of their top four choices) followed by ABC television (81 per cent) and radio (81 per cent). Commercial TV is next (49 per cent), followed by blogs and non-mainstream media (36 per cent), and only then by social media (31 per cent).

Significantly, 51 per cent don't use social media at all for news.

Party affiliations played a part in choice of media, with Liberal and minor parties (except the Greens) up to twice as likely to use newspapers as the ALP and the Greens, but the ALP and the Greens being more likely to be plugged-in to the ABC.

Respondents also had a clear view of what media were reliable. ABC TV and radio were regarded as most reliable (driven by a high preference among ALP and Greens respondents) while newspapers got the nod mostly from Liberal and minor party voters.

Social media was not highly regarded for news reliability, being ranked behind everything but community radio and community TV, suggesting it is used for amusement more than news.

There are really only two social media sources for political junkies - Twitter and Facebook, with the latter being much more mainstream. Yet it is on Twitter that the PM has 1.3 million followers; he has only 105,000 likes on Facebook.

Mapping social media usage against voting intentions and the issues, we find that Twitter users are more likely to favour the Greens or ALP, and that their top issues are climate change, refugees, the environment, the National Broadband Network and education. Minor party voters and Liberals are most likely not to use social media for news at all, and to see business, money, spending, the economy, security and "boats" (not refugees) as major issues.

Yet we know from various quantitative polls that it is the economic issues, including cost of living, which our respondents don't mention that are driving voting intentions.

So, this election, where would a winning campaign pitch its message? If you're out to convert people, the answer is clear - newspapers, because that is where the voters that count are.

Twitter and Facebook could be important in mobilising your base, and getting messages through to mainstream media journalists, but to do that you'd have to tailor your message to the issues that count, which wouldn't generate nearly as much online excitement.

The fascination of its leader with social media is undoubtedly costing the Labor campaign dearly. There is nothing legacy about established media.

This article was published in The Australian yesterday. The Leximancer map below wasn't.

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(Click on it for a larger version)

One interesting thing is that Google+ appears to be more closely associated with the Liberal Party voter than anyone else. Fascinating as I hardly know anyone that uses it, which includes me.

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