The social media election that wasn't

John Woodward

The Guardian newspaper proclaimed the recent UK election as '2010: The First Social Media Election'. In reality, it wasn't. It was the Pop Idol election, dominated by televised debates between the leaders of the three main parties.

If anything, it was notable just how little social media was involved. There were around 170,000 Facebook members for all three parties combined. A rather pitiful number, given that most British political marketers have spent the past two years attending seminars on 'The Obama Effect'. Certainly, it was far less than the two million-plus who signed up to Obama's page, and rather less than the 220,000 tweets sent per hour at the peak of the short-lived Iranian uprising.

When you deconstruct the reasons why, a good deal of light is shed on what works and what doesn't in making a brand successful online. First, when a brand moves into social media, it becomes more like a movement than a product. People are attracted more by the ability to express values they hold strongly and less by facts and figures about the brand. This is the strength of campaigns like Pepsi Refresh. Pepsi has always been 'The Choice of a New Generation', but rather than a life-stage choice or an image choice, it has now become a way of expressing an ethical point of view, and an outlet for a very real desire on the part of 'Millennial Radicals', in particular, to use their purchasing power for more idealistic ends.