Article by AAP /
August 09, 2013 /
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It’s Monty Burns’ favourite phrase on The Simpsons.
“Release the hounds!” cries the evil megalomaniac as his mutts charge from their chambers beneath Monty’s mansion, scenting the blood of their latest foe.
Prime Minister Kevin Rudd may be uttering something similar over the next few days.
And Barack Obama’s former `digital attack dog’ – the British social media expert Matthew McGregor – will spring into action, sensing a political kill.
McGregor demolished Mitt Romney’s US presidential hopes last year – with a single YouTube video.
Romney inexplicably suggested during a TV interview on the eve of the 2012 Olympics that London wasn’t ready to host the Games.
It earnt a swift rebuke from British Prime Minister David Cameron and London Mayor Boris Johnson.
But the ramifications went far wider. Thanks to McGregor.
Working as the Democrats’ `digital rapid response’ director, he quickly posted Romney’s comments in a lampooning YouTube video, portraying him as unfit to lead America.
It helped turn the tide for Obama in what had been an incredibly tight presidential race.
Romney’s campaign was dead.
Sure, there were other factors but he’d made a noose for his own neck.
Digital assassin McGregor stood over his twitching political corpse, clutching a laptop and a YouTube login.
He later described it as “tremendously enjoyable” and the “best day of my life”.
Three Obama 2012 campaign alumni are now working for Labor.
Tom McMahon is the former executive director of the Democratic National Committee, while Joon Kim is from the consulting firm, New Partners.
But it’s McGregor who’s likely to have the most visible influence, with experts predicting he’ll employ Obama-style tactics for Labor’s social media campaign.
“That includes things that Rudd’s already been doing – like posting selfies,” said Queensland University of Technology Associate Professor Axel Bruns.
“But also attack videos that are a little bit humorous.
“When you post videos that are attacking but in a funny way they can be widely retweeted and shared.”
In fact Labor began employing that sort of tactic this week – producing a parody video of the Liberals’ `New Hope’ television advert.
The short clip bore the hallmarks of a McGregor production, although it ultimately backfired for Labor.
YouTube and other sites removed the video on Thursday following complaints that it infringed copyright by using the Liberals’ original advert footage.
But by the time it was taken down, it had been shared widely.
University of Melbourne political scientist Dr Lauren Rosewarne is cautious about drawing direct comparisons between the Rudd and Obama campaigns.
She points out the Democrats’ strategy was designed to mobilise voters not compelled to the ballot box.
But she agrees that McGregor will ramp-up Labor’s social media output and potentially help Mr Rudd reach the “essential” youth vote.
“Rudd mentioned the disenchanted youth in his victory speech and the idea of meeting them on their turf is part of his rationale,” Dr Rosewarne told AAP.
“Of course, on its own, social media use won’t win over the youth vote; as proven by every politician who has tried and failed.
“Hence the involvement of a team of people who actually did it successfully.”
Dr Rosewarne believes Labor will post online content that’s far edgier than might appear on television.
“The internet poses the advantage of testing the waters with more controversial ads that would be largely inappropriate for TV but can work in cyberspace,” she added.
“There is also the ability to cheaply orchestrate “friends of the ALP” to be behind these ads when they run in cyberspace rather than the Rudd camp having to claim ownership.”
The advantage of using social media is clear.
It’s cheap, instant and the message isn’t filtered by journalists.
But digital political PR is a double-edged sword, according to Michael Taggart, head of digital and social media at London-based MRM PR agency.
“Obviously, the internet provides an immediate publishing platform, meaning conniving political advisors can drip poison into the public domain at the exact right moment without fear of being subedited,” he told AAP.
“On the other hand, that filter of the traditional media is often useful.
“The road to political success is littered with people like (former British Prime Minister) Gordon Brown’s advisor Damien McBride, who over-reached himself and got caught dishing out anonymous abuse.
“The fact is, any politico is still going to have to abide by the rules of common decency – or risk being caught out.”
And therein lies the rub. Both Labor and the Liberals will have to tread a fine line in their online campaigning.
Too vicious an attack will look like overreach.
An unfunny video that’s meant to be funny would backfire in the same way.
And simply trying too hard or posting too much will put voters off.
The fact that Mr Rudd and Labor need help with social media at all is a little surprising.
Because they’ve been doing a reasonable job, so far.
Mr Rudd has gained millions of followers on his Twitter, Instagram and YouTube accounts, often by mocking himself with pictures like his infamous razor cut, or video of chin-up failures.
It’s the “nerd factor”, Dr Rosewarne says.
“He is goofy, awkward and comes across a little avuncular.
“He’s the weird uncle that people have an ironic soft spot for. And he’s playing this up because it helps counter the workaholic tyrant impression lots of people have of him.”
If Mr Rudd was a character from The Simpsons he’d be someone geeky like Professor Frink.
But if McGregor’s social media strategy helps Labor win the election we may yet hear a Monty Burns-esque “eeeegsellent” echoing from the Lodge.