Back in July I teamed up with a fellow media strategist to share our views on the impact that social media will have on elections across the Caribbean in the coming years. Read story here Caribbean Elections will be won or lost with Social Media.This was proven true in the recent elections on Montserrat and there was no doubt about the fact that social media was critical to their success. The upstart party People’s Democratic Movement (PDM) made a definitive statement in their first elections with all nine of their candidates making it into the top 15. Seven of them are in parliament and the Movement for Change and Prosperity (MCAP) got the other two seats.
While social media is critical, it is not the only factor which will decide whether you win or lose. Social media can only amplify what is happening elsewhere. Here are five easy ways hat a political party can lose an election campaign.
- Be overconfident and expect it will be an easy victory. Pretty early in the campaign one senior member of the MCAP party told me that it was the other side that needed to prove they could win as they were in office and their work spoke for itself. Their entire approach spoke to the fact that they thought all it would take was one jingle, a few posters with pretty pictures to do the trick and few clever remarks by their leader. PDM brought lights, cameras, loads of colour and a massive musical soundtrack to support their message and engage the crowds.
- Don’t use all available resources. The incumbents didn’t seem to think it was necessary to use social media or their website in a way that said they understood the need for people to connect with them in real time or using language that the average person didn’t need a dictionary to understand. In fact, most of the MCAP team are on Facebook but their profiles were silent for the entire campaign and save for one they never had a presence that was inviting or encouraged you to share. PDM kept upping the ante from professionally branded social spaces to live streaming their rallies and a glossy full colour manifesto filled with photos of real people.
- Forget that people have their own dreams. Ironically, their motto was Keep the Team to Fulfill the Dream but clearly they didn’t have a clue as to what we were dreaming about. Certainly it was not a future filled with eating breadfruit and mangoes as the main course. One young woman told me on Election Day “I can grow pumpkins and breadfruit in my backyard but it won’t pay my light bill.” They never seemed to be able to get everyday people to care about what they cared about and they certainly presented a message that said they didn’t understand or care.
- Work a plan that doesn’t have the consensus of all. It was obvious. They underestimated PDM and they didn’t know what to do about it. It was thought that the school holidays from July to the end of August would be quiet months but PDM used that time to take critical ground away from the incumbents. A few MCAP members attempted to do individual flyers and stick them up around island in a desperate attempt to get some attention but only one was able to grab a seat. They hastily added pop and dancehall jingles to follow PDM but it was a desperate attempt and too little too late.
- Try to win the election without your tribe. Loyal MCAP supporters and the undecideds didn’t know what to do. They weren’t given something to believe in. While PDM supporters were Redding up because they were Fed up, civil servants and other citizens who wanted to give them another chance were lost as to the direction they wanted to go and how they could be a part of getting there. MCAP used the usual voices of Hero, Cepeke, DeBear and AJ to sing their campaign songs. Meanwhile, voices we don’t hear enough of like Geffen, DeNiceness and Sylk were making waves with the PDM tracks. The horribly printed MCAP shirts weren’t even done on island so a local could make some money and further solidified the fact that they weren’t about the people at all.
Political parties who do not have an agenda which reflects the voices of the majority are asking for trouble come election day. Social media has empowered many to speak whether on their real profiles or through fake ones designed to stir discussion. Regardless, people are able to use this medium to tell their version of a story and with the right timing and audience it could make or break a campaign.
Party leaders must be prepared for any eventuality. All members must stay on the same page or the vision will be derailed. Divide and conquer is still the easiest way to lose a game or an election. Commitment to the team and the end goal is essential and must be unwavering even after the final vote has been counted.
Nerissa Golden is a media strategist, author and the former Director of Information and Communications for the Government of Montserrat. Follow her on twitter at trulynerissa and on Facebook at Nerissa.Golden.