Politics – the 3rd Wave of Social Media?

Growing up, a recurring joke in our house was mum and dad’s inability to use our video recorder. I still remember the excitement of the top loading VHS arriving in the house and, as was the case with any new gadget, it was left to the kids to work it out. My brother took charge of the manual; I took care of the cabling and TV hook up. For the most part this arrangement worked fine. We had some great times with that machine. There were times however when we had forgotten to program the video and an urgent call home to get the football recorded was met with at best a recording of Brookside or at worst complete bemusement.

The same technology generational separation occurs regularly and is happening today with social media. Nowhere is this more apparent than in politics.

A few years back we saw the impact of social media on President Obama’s election victory but it would appear that social media for most established political parties remains an anathema. The success of Beppe Grillo’s Five Star Movement in this week’s Italian parliamentary elections off the back of social media campaign however shows what’s possible. Previously political movements and parties were formed by like-minded individuals, locally connected. Now local connections are no longer necessary. We can find like-minded individuals anywhere.

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A meteor shower in Russia is on our screens within minutes. I live in Ireland yet I talk face to face with colleagues in the U.S. on a daily basis. Horses from Romania are in my evening meal. We are connected as families, employees and businesses across countries and continents as never before.   While technology has made the world smaller, more connected it has also made our lives more susceptible to a wider spectrum of influences.

So it seems strange to me that while our personal and working lives are increasingly influenced by global factors our political structures remain organized on a national basis. Global warming and the financial meltdown show the powerlessness of national governments and nationally organized political parties. It’s only a matter of time before the establishment of continental and international political parties enabled by social media. In recent years we have seen tentative moves in this direction through the Green Party and the Occupy movement. Social media has been central to the national political changes in the Middle East.

The use of social media has experienced a number of waves, from its initial use in our personal lives to maintain bonds with distributed family and friends to its use in a business context to flatten organization hierarchies and remove business siloes.  Politics represents the third and potentially most disruptive wave with national boundaries proving to be irrelevant. Depending on your view point politics and social media is a match made in heaven or hell. Politics is about conversations and social networks take conversations to a hyper level.

It’s often said that social media has made customers more empowered than ever. Not only can a single customer refuse to do business with you they can also destroy your reputation in minutes through amplification of their issue on social media. This empowerment is extending to constituents as well.

The web and social media is borderless.  Politics will soon be borderless too.

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