The SDLP kindly responded to my request for links to their youth site yesterday. There’s some interesting interactive content, though it probably needs radical re-organising. So far it contains the only interactive feature of any of the youth sites.This is an important difference. Phil Noble told that seminar in Westminster I went to last Tuesday that political parties and politians in general are current only using about 20% of the capacity available now online.
Stephen Coleman, also pointed out that the age group most keyed into using the net for political information (in the US) is the 18-24 age group. This is the broadband generation. Given the current dynamic situation in politics here, this age group is also key to each of NI’s poltical parties.
What do people look for from the sites they want to return to? Interactivity. The first political site on the net was Teddy Kennedy’s back in 1994. It was what we regard today as a placeholder – a large graphic inviting the ‘viewer’ to vote for Kennedy.
The Hansard’s Society’s report on political blogging suggested that brochure sites that carry political messages were a first iteration of political sites. Today, they are clearly moving towards fast changing content, and higher interactivity.
If Phil Noble’s to believed, it can also be a profit, rather than a cost centre for political parties. The Ogra site at least does have a link to the party’s online shop.
Humour is almost entirely missing from any of the sites we’ve seen, this was an important driver of traffic to political sites in the recent US elections.
So where’s the DUP site? Well, my suspicion is (and we’ve not heard anything from the party at this stage) that it’s main site has already built with precisely this younger demographic in mind – think text messages/ election cartoons/ emailing list. I’m not really sure what they’d change from the main site to make it a youth site. Ironic, since their party leader is nearly twice the age of any of the others.
Herein may lie the problem for the other parties. The 18-24 age group is not marginal to your net presence – it’s the key! If you can start talking to this age group, you will simply be making the medium sing in tune! And you won’t necessarily loose your older readers.
The brochure on the net approach doesn’t work. Young people want good information, a chance to participate online, and yes, be entertained. To paraphrase Kevin Costner’s Field of Dreams line: “If you don’t build it, they will not come!”
The message is clear – invest, think about who you want to talk to on the net and starting ‘talking’. And above all, don’t be dull!
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty