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Defending Political Focus Groups

The next speaker at CMPM2014 is Stephen Mills, a market research practitioner from UMR Research New Zealand. His interest is in the much-maligned device of the political focus group: a tool which continues to have a significant impact on political decision-making. This started during the Second World War, when Robert K. Merton researched how Americans could be encouraged to support the war effort.

But since then they've been increasingly strongly criticised for replacing political leadership, for leading to soft decisions rather than necessary reforms, for pandering to prejudice, taking over the role of political parties, driving leadership churn, and losing elections (this has been highlighted especially in the context of the ALP's self-destruction as it replaced Kevin Rudd with Julia Gillard).

Political Marketing: The State of the Discipline

The next plenary speaker at CMPM2014 is Jennifer Lees-Marshment, who reflects on the development of political marketing and management. This field focusses on how political actors and their staff use management tools and concepts to achieve their goals. This is not just about seeking votes, but also about driving certain issues and agendas, developing a political profile and image, and it is about governing as well as campaigning.

The scholarship of political marketing no longer just researches what voters want, but also explores how they might be involved in political processes, how long-term relationships can be built, and how internal marketing to the party faithful should be conducted. There are also questions about long-term, mutual, interactive communication relationships, and an expansion of these questions from campaigning to policy delivery and leadership in government.

Political Branding in Labor's 2007 and 2010 Campaigns

Next up at CMPM2014 is Lorann Downer, whose focus is on brand strategies of the Australian Labor Party in the 2007 and 2010 elections. Political branding is a consciously chosen strategy to identify and differentiate parties and instil them with functional and emotional values, and this is expressed in part in the brand architecture

Brand architecture determines the hierarchy of brands from the same producer; it determines how brand elements are used; transfers equity between brands and offerings; and creates a "house of brands" or alternatively a "branded house". In Australia, the ALP has a federal structure and operates as a branded house, repeating certain logos and other elements.

An Introduction to Political Branding

The second speaker at CMPM2014 is Andrew Hughes, whose focus is on political branding strategies. Branding is a large area within marketing exchange, of course, and aims to influence the cognition, affection, and behaviour of consumers.

Key elements in this are brand preference, brand value, brand positioning, and brand architecture, and these all have their expressions in political branding: elections measure brand preferences, voters perceptions of which parties are on the left or the right reflect brand positioning, and the perceived relations between individual leaders, state and federal parties reflect the brand architecture of political parties.

The political market isn't all that different from other markets, then: how political consumers respond to brands, and how they engage with them, is not all that different – people might have turned off voting, but not politics and political questions as such. They want to engage with parties on an equal level, and this has also led to the success of new political brands (from Kevin07 to Palmer United) which seemed to promise a new style of engagement.

Trends in the Transformation of Electoral Processes

I'm spending the next couple of days in Sydney at the Australia-New Zealand Workshop on Campaign Management and Political Marketing, where I'm presenting a paper on the use of Twitter during the 2013 Australian federal election tomorrow. But we start today with an introduction by John Keane, who is reflecting on the history of elections during the post-war period.

He suggests that there are a number of big trends in this period. First, the electoral revolution: a huge increase in the number of countries which practice elections. Second, even despotic regimes use elections to legitimise themselves. Third, elections have been indigenised: the electoral process is being adjusted to take into account local traditions, from feeding the poor to driving away evil spirits.

Mapping the Twittersphere for the EU Election

The final speaker in the ASMC14 session is Axel Maireder, whose focus is on the structure of the Twittersphere surrounding the recent European Union election. His approach is to examine the follower networks of participants in relevant discussions, and to explore which factors explain their structural patterns – such as shared national and language identity, political ideology, or other factors.

The study captured all tweets containing keywords such as European Parliament, European Election, and relevant hashtags (in the various European languages), and gathered tweets from some 440,000 users in total. Filtering these to users with at least two tweets and at least 250 followers resulted in some 11,000 core users who were retained for the network analysis.

Active Audiences for the News

Up next at ASMC14 is Jacob Ørmen, whose interest is in the processes of news engagement. News has always been conveyed to others through many different channels, importantly also including ordinary political conversations between everyday people. Social media and similar sites facilitate such conversations, but this also needs to be placed in a wider context that also recognises other such conversations.

In which situations, then, do people engage in such conversations about politics? When and where do they do so? Jacob has examined this for the case of Denmark, where political engagement generally is fairly strong; Danes generally like to talk about politics, but do not necessarily do so online. Jacob's approach to researching this has used surveys and interviews to explore how people choose their spaces for political discussion.

He has defined a number of types: mixed sharers, who talk face to face, but mostly on social media; conversationalists who mainly use face to face; news consumers who receive but do not discuss political news; and disengaged citizens. Conversationalists and news consumers receive information via face to face, email, SMS, phone, and social media, but do not themselves further the discussion through electronic media forms; conversationalists tend to be older or of school age, while mixed sharers are largely early to middle-aged adults.

Online Media in the Italian Presidential Election

The second speaker in this ASMC14 session is Edoardo Novelli, whose interest is in the online activities around the recent election of the Italian President. While the President was elected by members of parliament, a great deal of alternative direct democracy activities took place online, driven especially by the Cinque Stelle movement of Beppe Grillo.

Edoardo conducted an analysis of social as well as mainstream media activities around the election, gathering data from newspapers and television, Internet and social media. During the election, the Net was used by various actors for official and unofficial forms of communication. This caused a change in the traditional flows of information and diffusion across a hybrid news system, impacted on traditional political communication practices, and allowed for the emergence of grassroots voices.

Largely, the Net has been used by parties and politicians for official and political communications. Cinque Stelle ran an online poll of its members as an alternative election to that of the President; important political meetings were broadcast live, and thereby turned into performances; Twitter was used very widely to convene demonstrations; social media were used to comment on events during the election process; political leaders were taking directly to social media to bypass conventional communication channels; party Websites and politican blogs also played a role.

Understanding the Norwegian Twitter Elite

The next session at ASMC14 starts with Eirik Vatnøy, who takes a rhetorical perspective in his approach to Twitter. Social media are an arena for political debate, but how do they change the norms and praxis of political rhetoric? Eirik interviewed Twitter users who engaged in continuous political debate on the platform.

Rhetorics considers the public sphere as a reticulate public sphere (made up of many smaller spheres), and this applies to Twitter as well. Actors recognise the discursive and social norms which uphold such spheres, and a combination of quantitative and qualitative analysis of communicative activities can help to explore these norms. However, this is a complex challenge, as different users may use the various affordances of Twitter as a platform in different ways.

Eirik interviewed 18 users, chosen through snowball selection; they included active politicians, editors, journalists, bloggers, communication workers, lawyers, etc. Interviews were structured around key themes including perceived affordances, toles and relations, discursive norms, and social norms.

Social Media and Public Service Media

The final keynote at ASMC14 is by the fabulous Hallvard Moe, whose focus is on the intersections between social media and public service broadcasting. How can media researchers contribute to rethinking public service broadcasting? Defining PSB is difficult, but there is often a belief that policy makers know it when they see it; PSB is an inherently contested concept, coined a very long time ago in a very different context – even in Europe alone, how PSBs are positioned and organised is very different across different countries.

What such institutions have in common, though, is the general aim that PSBs should provide vital information and contribute to the public good; they are a policy tool to provide journalism and bring citizens together as a public. PSB institutions around the world do not necessarily always achieve such an ideal – they now exist in almost constant turmoil, due to a range of contextual factors. They can only survive by externalising their internal challenges; these challenges are always present, and in recent years especially associated with the rise of digital media and the media practices such media enable and promote.

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