Social media in the Northern Ireland election

If you’re on the wrong side of the Irish Sea, it’s easy to have missed the fact there’s an election next week. Yes, next week. Northern Ireland goes to the polls on Wednesday, to elect 108 members to the new Stormont Assembly. Well, possibly not 108 members – there are a few awkward ones standing in several constituencies, who could (theoretically) end up representing all of them, if they’re lucky on the day.

I thought I’d have a quick look at the political parties’ sites, to see who – if anyone – was embracing the social thing… and again, it’s Ian Paisley’s DUP who come out best when it comes to new media. For a party with such traditional conservative values, it might come as a bit of a surprise; but they’ve got a good track record of good web work. They are running a daily(ish) video blog, hosted at Youtube, with a free SMS service for campaign updates.

The Ulster Unionist Party, led these days by Reg Empey (who, inevitably, isn’t an MP), does have a blog of sorts, but it’s lacking some of the ingredients you’d expect, like RSS or even comments. A few nice (and substantial) written pieces by some of their candidates, though.

The more moderate pro-Irish party, Mark Durkan’s SDLP has gone down the Blogger route, but it feels a bit of a token gesture to be honest. At least it’s better than Sinn Fein’s Assembly Election Blog page, though, which currently features a whole one item, posted by an anonymous ‘election worker’. Dig a bit deeper, though, and you make a startling discovery: Sinn Fein on Bebo! They also have a bit of video content on Youtube – featuring an interview with Gerry Adams, in which he doesn’t sound entirely convinced by this internet malarkey.

But the most surprisingly engaging thing I’ve found so far is the personal site of Brian Wilson (no, not the Beach Boy), who is standing for the Green Party in the North Down constituency – and actually has a decent chance of getting in. He has done a short YouTube video, which is pretty amateur, padded out (one suspects) with still photos snatched off Google… but he makes a very well presented pitch, and he’s a very good speaker on camera. Rough around the edges, certainly – but despite that, and possibly because of that, it works.

Inevitably, all the best coverage will be on the BBC next week, but you might also want to check the Electoral Office for Northern Ireland. Counting won’t start until the next day, and can take ages, given the Single Transferable Vote system.

5 thoughts on “Social media in the Northern Ireland election”

  1. There’s also a N.I 2007 Elections Wiki
    ‘aims to explain what each party stands for and the issues affecting people in Northern Ireland in the upcoming elections in simple terms and in one place’
    The Brian Wilson campaign posters are a bit off-putting but I’m hopeful and expect that the Green Party will do better this year than they have before.

  2. A fair point, Jeff… and actually a very nice little site. I seem to remember a time when the Ulster Tories didn’t take the internet all that seriously, but that’s a nice little operation you’ve got there. I’m a big fan of the ‘run your whole site as a blog’ approach. Anything else these days doesn’t make a lot of sense.
    (Incidentally… apologies to any of the other smaller parties I didn’t mention. Of course, the PR system will almost certainly result in some of them getting representation in the new Assembly. But if I covered every party’s online presence in depth… etc etc.)

  3. Thanks for the kind words Simon. We do our best. Just one point though, the Conservative Party is not a small Party of course – we’re by far the largest Party that contests elections in Northern Ireland although not (yet) large in terms of elected representatives. The key change in this election, however, is that the leadership has been campaigning with us – David Cameron was over week before last and has visited NI officially 3 times since getting elected. He has also sent letters to ten of thousands of voters in our target constituencies. Plus the UUP is imploding. We believe it is only a matter of time before we are one of the leading Parties locally. We have waited over a decade for the support of our leadership. The tide is beginning to turn. Plus our social networking strategy does seem to work. On peak days we’re achieving around 700 views – averaging 3-400. The trend seems to be up as we get more media coverage.

  4. For the record, I didn’t technically include the Conservatives among the ‘smaller parties’… did I? 🙂 Actually, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a couple of Conservatives in the new Assembly, or indeed a Green or two. I definitely sense an appetite for something different – it seems the traditionally moderate parties (UUP and SDLP) are having real trouble selling themselves, as the ‘extremes’ (DUP and SF) move closer to the centre.

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