Few Australian politicians use Web as an election tool

Many of Australia’s politicians are overlooking technology as a tool in the race to this year’s election, according to the Australian Information Industry Association (AIIA).

The association’s CEO, Sheryle Moon, said politicians are fighting for this election with one hand tied behind their backs.

“If we compare our country’s leaders with their peers in the U.S., they really are dragging the chain,” she said.

“The American campaign has been dubbed ‘The YouTube election’ due to the enormous traffic generated by candidates and commentators. “On one hand we have the Clintons posting a Sopranos-style satire and Barack Obama TV on YouTube grabbing international headlines, and until this week the best Australia has to offer is a few very tame blogs.”

The AIIA congratulated Australian politicians who have joined MySpace in an official capacity including Ministers Malcolm Turnbull, Joe Hockey and key Opposition spokespeople Kevin Rudd, Julia Gillard, Peter Garrett, Wayne Swan and Stephen Conroy.

“We reviewed the online presence of some of the key players in the Australian election race and found they’re just not using common technologies to connect with their electorates,” Moon said.

“This is surprising given this will be a make-or-break election for both sides of politics. If we are to continue calling Australia the clever country it’s time politicians lead by example. While Australians are joining Second Life, YouTube and MySpace in droves and creating blogs in their thousands, many of our political leaders are dragging their feet. I’d urge them to switch on and discover new ways of communicating with voters.”

Following the online search, the AIIA used a rating system to indicate how tech-savvy Australia’s political heavyweights really are.

“Ministers Malcolm Turnbull and Joe Hockey lead the pack with friendly, interactive sites and tongue-in-cheek blogs. With this approach they would be naturals in MySpace and the increasingly popular Second Life,” Moon said adding that the ICT Minister, Senator Helen Coonan, only had a modest online presence.

Rating herself, Moon said she is a five-star technogeek with a Second Life avatar, a blog, MySpace entry, a wikipedia entry and a Web site. Despite all the hype surrounding Web 2.0 technologies, both the private and public sectors in Australia have been slow in takeup not sure if it is just a passing consumer-oriented trend.

iFocus senior consultant, Theresa Cunnington, said business may see Web 2.0 as a threat because it is out of their control.

“But forward thinking businesses recognize the new online opportunities available and have embraced feedback forums and blogs,” she said.

“Web 2.0 allows a business to engage their audience like never before. Manufacturers can obtain feedback from customers that can go into new designs faster than ever, it’s like having a focus group available at all times.”

However, Cunnington warned there are some traps that businesses need to avoid.

She said Web 2.0 is not a technology issue but a business process and online governance issue.

After starting a blog or forum, Cunnington said its important to plan ahead and support these functions.

“If a blog has not been updated for six months then your credibility is damaged. If forums are not moderated they can get out of control and become a breeding ground for non-constructive criticism,” she said.

“In many cases business needs to forget ROI when it comes to certain aspects of Web 2.0. What they get back is goodwill.

“That’s not to say there won’t be benefits in terms of customer retention and new sales opportunities, but it’s a mistake to bank on a certain level of ROI.”

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