I have already blogged about #AskJacinda a number of times. But what I don’t think I mentioned is that the #Ask was part of a deeper, more widespread program within the Labour campaign. There has been a #AskLabour hashtag being used, which allows people to ask questions of the party. However, the part that I want to talk about is the more nuanced version that is being used as well. You may have seen part of it on billboards and hoardings around the country.
What Labour have done is planned a specific hashtag for each candidate who has signed up to the campaign. These are shown on billboards, hoardings and other collateral that the candidates are using. Some examples include:
The idea behind this is obviously to allow voters to directly ask questions of their local Labour candidate, which is a good thing. We all want more voter engagement. My initial thoughts on the use of a hashtag for this was along the lines of why a hashtag? Why not use the handle that each candidate must have for be able to partake in this. But there are two advantages to using a hashtag. One is that a handle is, generally, platform specific. So going with handles on the billboards would have required fitting in a large number of handles. Where as a hashtag is able to be used across Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. The other advantage is that hashtags are a form of data accumulation. They group conversations together. So if they had gone with handles, it would have been a lot harder for people to see what questions had been asked before asking their own.
I have only engaged with Clare Curran’s hashtag, #AskLabourClareC, with a question about how she was finding it worked. But I have seen a few MPs and candidates do it. Some seem to take an “office hours” approach to it, tweeting something along the lines that they are here for the next X period and will answer questions. Where as I suspect others will answer them as them come in and they see them.
How well has it been picked up? Some MPs, like Trevor Mallard, Clare Curran and Phil Goff, have been actively talking about it, and Jacinda has been really pushing her hashtag, with a good cross media mix with paper based methods to ask questions. However I have not seen any of the non political people I follow ask questions to the hashtags. This may in part be related to the fact that Labour have not been actively promoting the hashtags, other than on billboards. But my understanding is that this is going to change in the next few days. I hope it is picked up and used. It will be a good test for some of the less experienced candidates.
I think the introduction of MMP, with the importance of the party vote, has in some cases lead to the a loss of focus on the importance of connecting with local communities, and listening to the issues facing local communities. I am not saying that all parties and candidates have that issue. But it is a wider spread issue than in the days of FPP. So Labour running this very location focused social media campaign is a good thing. If people engage with it, it has the ability to generate engagement and discussion that focuses on the issues facing a single electorate, instead of the wider country.
I don’t think the social media community in New Zealand is big enough that they wont get stupid questions being asked of candidates. So it will a test of how some of the candidates will react. But I think the idea behind it is a good one and I hope it is successful and they use it again next election.