Published On: Sun, May 2nd, 2010

You Probably Just Lost My Vote

I try to keep SWT politically impartial. However, after recently exchanging Tweets with a Labour supporter, I felt compelled to write about the importance of adopting the right tone when engaging with people using social media. In a wider context, this is an issue many of our clients grapple with e.g. what happens when unofficial, but authoritative sources such as employees or supporters begin talking about or fighting your corner online. As I mentioned, I try to keep this blog impartial, so in the interests of balance, I urge you to listen to Tory candidate, Greg Knight’s jingle on his personal website. It will make you laugh.

In order to give you a bit more background, after the #Bigotgate affair I Tweeted how foolish Gordon Brown had been and that as things stood, I would be voting for Nick Clegg*. Shortly afterwards, I received an unsolicited reply from @blackburnvotes which was clearly pushing a political agenda. Things then escalated. I’m personally interested in politics and I am fortunate enough to know people who are active for the main parties, however I’m yet to make my mind up who to vote for – and like most people, I do not enjoy being spammed with political lines, especially on a social space.

Whilst, a few argumentative (or complimentary) Tweets from a party activist will not influence who I vote for, this mudslinging with @blackburnvotes sharpened my focus on Labour weaknesses. Although, the initial approach and engagement may have been well intentioned, in this instance it has resulted in a negative outcome. It has been a counter intuitive tactic. I suppose my big gripe is having someone who I’ve never spoken to before, spamming me with uninvited political views. Indeed, it did cross my mind that @blackburnvotes could be an elaborate troll.

Politics aside, I think this is an interesting case study of how someone, although well-meaning can cause more harm than good. Employees and supporters of organisations are having these sorts of online conversations all the time and whilst, we encourage organisations to embrace social media, in order to fully appreciate the potential benefits and risks it is best to acquaint them with basic guidelines or tips to consider. There are many cases of unofficial sources getting the tone right when engaging on social media, however there are many more who have got it wrong.

Whilst, I’m sure @blackburnvotes had the best intentions of the party at heart, it has inadvertently made me think about reasons not to vote Labour. Anecdotally, I know a lot of my peers have not made up their minds and 6 May will be a new experience for them. With the election race this close and allegiances yet to be forged, small differences like this, can make all the difference. Whilst, policy is integral, personal experiences and interactions have a big impact too.

Voters want to be wooed, not wound up. Labour probably just lost my vote.

*Subject to change.

About the Author

- Marketing Manager with a passion for inbound at HubSpot, Founder of Growth Hack Talks, Blogger at and Chief Quaffer at .

Displaying 9 Comments
Have Your Say
  1. Stuart Bruce says:

    Hi Ben, your post is a good illustration of the topsy turvy world in which we’re living in. On one hand we have dozens of social media ‘experts’ complaining about the lack of ‘engagement’ online, yet your post highlights the difficulties of doing so.

    @BlackburnLabour is the Twitter account of a great team blog by ordinary Labour Party activists in Blackburn. It should be considered a great example of genuine political engagement.

    However, your post shows how easily it can be any political activity can be misinterpreted. I’m intrigued by you saying ” spammed with political lines, especially on a social space”.

    Where else would you expect to engage in discussion about politics except in a ‘social space’? Especially when it’s a public social space. I’m also not sure it fits my definition of spam (unsolicited, irrelevant, untargeted/broadcast). The tweets I’ve found were all personal in response to what you said. And I’m assuming they are following you.

    Looking at the excange it doesn’t look that much different to the banter you’d expect to have down the pub, with people you don’t know who just happen to be sitting at the table next to you and talking about politics.

    I’d be very interested to know what alternative ideas you have for engaging.

  2. Phil Masinga says:

    Good blog, i think you raise a good point about Labour, but surely if this recent “Sue-gate” scandal deters a majority of Labour voters to Lib Dem, that means tory seats. Tactical voting will be needed to keep out the tories. Maybe voting labour, in spite of their shambolic recent performances, is what is needed to stop the conservatives getting into power?

  3. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by geetarchurchy, Ben Cotton and Ben Cotton, Philippe Bossin. Philippe Bossin said: RT @BenCotton You probably just lost my vote: #epolitics #communication […]

  4. Ben Cotton says:

    Hey folks, apologies for the delay in getting back to you…I was away from my laptop for most of the Bank Holiday – I hope you enjoyed your break?

    Stuart, I suppose my gripe is getting messages from an account I was not following, or being followed by and had not spoken to before. For me, this kind of ‘out of the blue’ contact is spam. It is this which irritates most. Whilst, I commend @blackburnvotes for blogging, I felt the approach, especially when so politically partisan is spam.

    Phil, following on from Ed Balls plea yesterday, I expect to see more calls for tactical voting in the next 48 hours.

  5. Thomas Atcheson says:

    I’ve had a similar experience with UKIP.

    I started to be followed by UKIP representing my constituency. I’ve been trying to follow all my PPC so returned the follow. Whilst I was happy to engage with them initially, the pushy ‘UKIP know better than you’ attitude soon turned me against any further correspondence.

    That said, I did challenge a few questionable comments and got shor shrift in return.

    I think there are too lessons to be learnt. First is to engage sensitively and curteously. You wouldn’t burst into some strangers conversation in the middle of a pub and pursuade them to change their vote, so why is it acceptable through SM.

    The second is also an important part of conversation. Listen carefully and respond to what the other person is saying, not what you want to tell them.

  6. Hi Ben,
    Really interesting blog post. Much like you I am this time around an undecided voter. I agree with you that to be approached in such a way is annoying.
    However I do agree with Stuart’s points and I feel for a majority of the time it all comes down to tone. The one thing I have learned from many many email faux pas, is that without inflection or facial expressions, tone can always be misinterpreted, especially when limited to 140 characters.
    It is also important to remember that unlike the targeted communications we deal with, the political teams at local level have to convey as many appropriate and managed messages to a wide audience of unknowns, so what may be right for one person may not be right for the next.
    Ultimately political messaging, like door drops or roadside banners, is untargeted (and, I feel outdated), so at least there is an attempt to join in conversation, even if that is jumping on a statement in order to push a message.
    I would rather be involved in debate where I had a chance to answer back, rather than be sent information that is either completely random or so database driven that I get offended at being sent a contract (please tell me you received your letter from Mr Cameron?)

  7. Ben Cotton says:

    Hi Thomas,

    My point is, that I’d not suggested I was a Labour fan and was not following, been followed or indeed, spoken to @blackburnvotes prior to this engagement. Therefore I liken the approach to the people who try to engage with you in the streets to buy a product or sign up for a cause. It is unsolicited and in my view spam. Coupled with this, the engagement had the ‘know better than you’ attitude. Why I appreciate tone is subjective, nonetheless I found it off putting, hence the post.

    I think you are spot on when you say ‘I think there are too lessons to be learnt. First is to engage sensitively and courteously. You wouldn’t burst into some strangers conversation in the middle of a pub and persuade them to change their vote, so why is it acceptable through SM.’

    My other point is that you should not engage for argument’s sake and appreciate that you could actually do more harm than good. This applies much beyond the political sphere. In this instance, the ‘know better than you’ tone sharpened my focus on criticism of Labour policy – which was surely not the intention of the engagement.

    The US Air Force produced some SM guidelines that focus on 3 rules: discover, evaluate, respond. Whilst, I’m not suggesting local Labour activists have such a comprehensive set of guidelines, I suspect they could do with some guidance on responding to online conversation.

    The Air Force’s Rules of Engagement:

  8. Ben Cotton says:

    Hi James,

    I agree that tone is vitally important and I do fully appreciate that it is a subjective area. One man’s useful conversation is another man’s spam and all that. However, it was more the ‘know better than you’ tone, coupled with no previous relationshsip or communication which angered me. I liken it to someone knocking on your front door and preaching a message. In this instance the engagement actually sharpened my focus on criticism of Labour policy.

    Perhaps a more subtle approach would have been more sucessful e.g. slowly building up a dialogue and stimulating debate rather than steam rolliing in with a political message.

    You are right in that social media does offer us a great opportunity to ‘answer back’ and become involved in the conversation much beyond the political sphere, but if done badly it can cause more harm than good. With regard to Stuart’s point, would you jump in uninvited if you overheard someone having a political discussion down the pub?

    I would be interested to hear your views.

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