As TV and radio clam up, polling day will be social media business as usual

Martin Belam  by Martin Belam, 5 May 2010

We may not be seeing "the internet election" on the scale that some people hoped for, but I would argue that we are definitely seeing the continued erosion of traditional media gatekeepers.

In elections gone by, to reach millions of potential voters on polling day, you'd need a TV or radio advertising campaign, or to place a print ad in a newspaper. Except, of course, you aren't allowed to buy TV or radio ads for campaigning purposes, and the partisan nature of newspapers makes advertising there an uncertain and expensive proposition.

Not so tomorrow, where the Conservatives will be able to reach a sizeable audience directly on YouTube. They claim it will reach 10 times more people and still be cheaper than an advert the Liberal Democrats have placed in The Times. There will also be PPC advertising on search, and Google AdWords with political campaigning messages spread across news sites and blogs.

This targeted web advertising landscape is much more sophisticated than it was at the time of the last General Election.

Twitter and Facebook, both launched in 2006, are entirely new polling day propositions in the UK, and it will be interesting to see what unfolds tomorrow. Channel 4 have already said that their Twitter feeds will adopt the conventions of broadcasting restrictions on polling day.

These clearly don't apply to newspapers though.

We've had a couple of elections to get used to being 24 hour publishers on our websites, rather than just sending our best guess of the results off to the printers at the last possible moment. Twitter adds a new dimension. Feeds like those belonging to @Sun_Election or name live-bloggers like @WillHeaven or feeds that mix links with chat like @guardianeco may choose to continue publishing and interacting on an election theme throughout the day.

As far as I can see, whilst the TV stations fall silent, as long as they stay on the right side of electoral law, both newspapers and political parties will be free to use Twitter and Facebook to campaign, cheer-lead and cajole their audience right up until the polls close.

It should be lots of fun to watch, and quite unlike any General Election polling day we've seen before.

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