New Media Rules of Engagement

New Media Rules of Engagement
September 14, 2015 Sam North

The digital revolution has been around for a few decades now, gathering pace and power like an avalanche as it sweeps up more and more industries in its path of change.

It has consumed us all, altering the way we work, the way we learn, the way we get information. And it has changed the rules for political figures.

The only problem is that politicians are a bit slower in getting the message.

The new rules are:

  1. Technology is ubiquitous

Technology enables the recording of everything you say and do. Therefore all your actions must be taken with this uppermost in mind.

Republican nominee Mitt Romney wished he had learnt this lesson in the lead-up to the 2012 US Presidential election. Talking at a private fund-raising function – where everyone supposedly paid $US50,000 a head to enter –  he stated that 47 per cent of potential voters paid no income tax, were dependent on the Federal Government, see themselves as victims and would support President Obama.  “And so my job is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives,” he said.

Apart from the dubious factual correctness of the claims and the dismissing of almost half the population, Romney’s problems really surfaced when it was discovered that someone amongst those wealthy Republic supporters taped the speech and leaked it to the media, with devastating consequences at the subsequent election with exit polls showing that many voters saw Romney as someone who didn’t care about them.

Broadcaster Alan Jones also thought he was amongst friends when he delivered his keynote address to the Sydney University Liberal Club’s annual president’s dinner. However, a journalist was in attendance, reported the comments and Jones was forced to apologise for saying the Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s father had “died a few weeks ago of shame” because of his daughter’s actions.

  1. You need an answer.

The old days where you could effortlessly respond to a tricky question by bridging to another topic are gone. They are gone because interviewers – from Lisa Wilkinson on Today to Leigh Sales on 7.30 – no longer accept it and will continue to ask the question. But, more importantly, those days are gone because the public can see through the bridging trick and will mark you down severely.

Watch the first part of this interview from the UK as interviewer Jeremy Paxman skewers UK Minister Chloe Smith. She no doubt anticipated the question and it was understandable that she initially tried to bridge away from it. However, she had no fall-back position if Paxman persisted with the question. She needed one, because the negative fallout from the bad interview was far worse than any negative coming from her telling the truth.

  1. Messaging is not a mantra.

For aeons, staying on message has been the mantra for politicians, and it is still very important to have encapsulated what you want to talk about before you start speaking. But staying on message regardless of the question is a sure way to put offside those pesky people asking questions and the voters who are watching.

Check out this clip of former British Labour Leader Ed Miliband responding to a number of questions in almost identical fashion:  The lesson from the digital age comes from the life of this clip, which originated back in 2011 and became reasonable popular on YouTube. However in the lead-up to the general election in Britain earlier this year it gained a massive resurgence, going viral after being posted on Facebook, at one stage attracting more that 1.3 million views in five days.

Problems live forever in the digital age, so it’s best not to create them in the first place.