Why Labor’s social media failed…

It was with some fanfare in the marketing industry that the Labor Party announced the arrival of some alleged digital marketing experts from Obama’s campaign team. If you’ve followed this blog you’ll know I interviewed Barack Obama’s Director of Direct Marketing for his first election.

She revealed that social channels were good for getting people to identify themselves and their issues, but this was only the start of the sales funnel. The real engagement with those who registered with social media came from email, direct mail, telephone and events, not the social channels.

It also takes time to build relationships once people identify themselves via social channels, so flying in a team 4 weeks out from the election was always going to be a difficult ask for the team – particularly if the team isn’t briefed properly on the way Australian media differs from the US.

And it is vastly different. For a start, in Australia anyone can stick printed literature in your letterbox – and anyone does. It is one of the most powerful media channels. Just ask Coles and Woolies what would happen to their business if they couldn’t distribute catalogues via unaddressed mail. Politicians love mail – both addressed and unaddressed – particularly at election time, because it’s extremely social and it works.

political mail

This is not the case in the US. All mail has to go through the US Postal service, as it owns the letterboxes. You cannot send mass unaddressed mail. It’s a channel that does not exist in the US like it does in Australia.

Now I am yet to find anyone who admits to following a politician’s social posts such as Twitter or Facebook, yet obviously lots of people do. But there are at least four issues with social channels in the political context.

The first is users A.S.S. Time – as posted here before. Very few social media posts ever get seen by anyone except those who post them.

Secondly, the lifeblood of social media is traditional media. Without publicity on television and other mass media, most social posts end up as digi-wind floating in cyber space.

Thirdly, most of those who follow politicians social sludge are already supporters, so the commentary is preaching to the converted, which is not always the best use of limited resources.

And the fourth factor emerged in this campaign. The body language of social posts when transferred to mass media can do more damage among the larger mass audience, than the potential positives from appearing in the narrow social channel.

Around 90% of Australians cannot be bothered with Twitter. So when the mass media publish photos of for example, a PM’s bathroom selfie Tweet, most of those non-Twits tend to say to themselves “WTF?” – the image is out of context and loses relevance.


Labor Senator Trish Crossin said “Labor had focused too much on social media and neglected the main game of mainstream media, letterbox drops and providing website information. Just look at the Labor Party website. I cannot find our climate change policy and I can’t see a how-to-vote card on any state or national site.

Most of the material I saw coming through my office – it was not attractive. It was very negative. People say to me, ‘how much have you had in your letterbox’. Nobody says how many Facebook posts or Tweets.

And that’s a very astute point – comparatively speaking, only a minority of people will look at social posts for news. It’s just not where the majority of people get the majority of their information. Social media is on the fringe of the communication channels in politics, but it is useful.

Mail is one of the most powerful channels for political campaigns, partly because of its tactile nature and local focus – way more powerful that a Tweet. You cannot door-knock with a Tweet, but you can leave a brochure under the door, or in the voters hands.

As I write this, the Facebook sites of both major parties:

Tony Abbott – 258,921 Likes

Kevin Rudd – 127,547 Likes

Given that most social media ‘experts’ claim Likes carry huge weight, then Abbott has blitzed Rudd on FB as well as votes. Yet Labor was supposed to be the party that lead in social media? The conspiracy theorists wonder if the numbers were manipulated.


I’ll leave that to others to decide, but among the media noise of the election, another commercial decision about social media was made last week.

Westfield withdraws from Facebook

Westfield announced it was pulling out of Facebook advertising as it doesn’t pay. They have tracked all their channels and their magazine is the most powerful media for engaging customers and generating sales. Who’d have thought – a printed publication that shows a range of retail products and the related prices, would perform better than social media? Gosh what a surprise.

westfield logo

The Director of Marketing, John Batistich said although Westfield has a large fan community on Facebook – upwards of 700,000 – Facebook advertising had been a poor performer. “Facebook is just a bit clunky and not many people have done well. We’ve got a big Facebook community with very good interaction but we’ve cut all advertising on Facebook.

Not many people have made Facebook work in a commercial sense. We’ve tracked it right through our online marketplace loop compared to a whole lot of other channels. We’ve done some things on Facebook and how that clicks through to our online marketplace and how it goes through to our payment gateway. It’s one of the lowest of all channels that we could track, whether it be EDMs or an online banner ad. Its conversion right through that [purchasing] funnel is one of the lowest.”

Which is exactly what Forrester Research revealed when it researched the world’s top online retail stores – less then 0.4% of links to online retail sites come from social media.

As I’ve said before, there’s a reason it’s not called “business media“.

At least we don’t have an election for another 3 years – assuming of course the Senate cooperates blah, blah, blah…

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