Reaching undecided voters online

There can be little doubt that the role of the internet in the 2010 election will be significantly different to what we saw in 2005. The 3 parties haven’t all just changed their leaders – their overall approach to a medium that played (at best) a bit-part at the last General Election has also changed completely.

Through blogs and Twitter, we’ve seen a revolution in the way political parties communicate internally – with sites like ConservativeHome becoming must-reads for party members messaging each other about the political events of the day.

But the big question at this election is how best to use the internet to reach out beyond the people who will already vote for you to the huge number of undecided voters. We know they’re unlikely to be reading the political blogs or following even their local MP on Twitter – so how do you reach them?

Well, we know they’re definitely searching on Google, connecting with friends on Facebook and quite often starting any web browsing session on a portal like MSN or Yahoo to find out what’s going in the world today.

That’s why search plays such a big part in our online strategy. For example, when we relaunched Conservatives.com in 2008, we ensured that the site was properly optimised for search so users could find key policy information easily using Google. And that work paid off, as proven by recent research by the natural search conversion agency Tamar.

And Google Adwords, which allow us to strategically place messages according to users’ search terms, are important too. For example, on Wednesday anyone searching on Budget-related terms from “Alistair Darling” through to “car scrappage scheme” would be presented with an advert for George Osborne’s video response on YouTube.

Research by Diffusion found that our strategy on Facebook has also paid off, with innovations like our “donate your status” campaign during last year’s European elections helping to send our key messages from our supporters on to thousands of undecided voters. PR Week concluded that the Conservative Party “dominates” Facebook, with more supporters on the platform than the other two parties combined.

We’ve also recognised that it’s important to engage with people on the sites they already visit rather than expecting them to come to us. MSN (which reaches an astonishing 50% of the UK online audience) recently played host to an interactive webcast with David Cameron, and we have worked with Mumsnet, LinkedIn, the Army Rumour Service, Money Saving Expert and SAGA in the past few months alone.

Mark Hanson (writing on this very blog) is right to say that it’s important to keep your own supporters informed, and to give them the tools they need to fight a successful election campaign, both offline and online. That’s why we launched MyConservatives.com, which allows our supporters to fundraise and campaign for the candidates they support and the issues they care about.

It’s also why we’ve invested so much in e-mail, which remains by far the best way to get in touch with large groups of supporters. ReturnPath research found we scored a “landslide” victory over the other parties when it comes to e-mail, with Labour going a full 58 days without sending a message to their subscribers.

So, with the election campaign proper just around the corner, it’s going to be an exciting few weeks and I’m looking forward to keeping you up to date on this blog.

Craig Elder (@craigelder)

Online Communities Editor, The Conservative Party