Your Real Opponent: Fun

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I read in the Globe and Mail recently about a Pew Research study which confirms what most folks in the online advocacy and marketing works already know – many people go online mostly for fun:

On any given day, 53% of all the young adults ages 18-29 go online for no particular reason except to have fun or to pass the time. Some 58% of all adults (or 74% of all online adults) say they use the internet this way. And a third of all adults (34%) say they used the internet that way “yesterday” – or the day before Pew Internet reached them for the survey. Both figures are higher than in 2009 when we last asked this question and vastly higher than in the middle of the last decade.

That’s right – most people are surfing the web to laugh, watch videos, read and otherwise be entertained (not unlike TV viewers). They want to get away from their hectic lives and take a break.

We who are active participants in the political world are already a statistical deviation. Some research has shown that only 6% of Canadians are as politically involved as those who run as candidates and manage or volunteer for those campaigns. The bottom line is: few people approach politics as you do.

That’s why it is important to try and approach any online advocacy or political campaign with these stats firmly in mind. Your average target voter is engrossed in their own life and is often accessing their various social networks to take a break. When you’re pitching them for your cause or candidate, that context suddenly becomes very important.

If your campaign is going to move beyond your core group of supporters, it is important not to approach potential supporters and/or your target audience in a heavy-handed manner. Using humour, gamification and other techniques are just some of the way campaigns have been trying to bridge that gap.

Unfortunately, this often is squarely at odds with traditional political communications, whose hallmark is direct and repetitive. I myself have had many a heated conversation with the good folk in the comm department about retooling the messaging for a wider online audience and trying to find a way to make the message more interesting (aka accessible).

Often to no avail.

But research like the Pew study shows that right from the start, political communicators are at a disadvantage. As I often say, it’s arguably easy to be a Lady Gaga or a Coca Cola (not to take away from either, who are experts in marketing their brand). But truth be told, their job is made easier as this is a product people want and enjoy. Politics is neither. I think the Chartered Accountants of Canada are welcomed more enthusiastically by average voters online than political campaigns are.

Where possible, it is important to tailor your message to your audience. One of the ways to ensure your message engages and reaches as many potential supporters is to understand the environment your communicating in. Just know you’re up against Farmville, FailBlog and TMZ in the pursuit of the public’s attention. And they have a much easier sell.

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