Broadcasting to the masses or building communities: Polish political parties online communication during the 2011 election
Start date: 10 April 2012
The professionalisation of political communication is an evolutionary process (Lilleker & Negrine, 2002), a process that adapts to trends in communication in order to better engage and persuade the public. One of the most dramatic developments in communication has been the move towards social communication via the Internet. It is argued to affect every area of public communication, from commercial advertising and public relations to education (Macnamara, 2010). It is no longer sufficient to have an online presence; we are now in an age of i-branding; with the ‘i’ standing for interactive. Yet, trends in online political electoral campaigning over recent years indicate a shallow adoption of Web 2.0 tools, features and platforms; limited interactivity; and managed co-production. The Internet is now embedded as a campaigning tool however, largely, the technologies are adapted to the norms of political communication rather than technologies impacting upon internal organizational structures, party relationships to members and supporters, or the content and style of their communication.
We examine these themes, and develop them through a focus on the targeting and networking strategies of political parties, in more detail in the context of the Polish parliamentary election of 2011. Through a sophisticated content analysis and coding scheme our paper examines the extent to which parties use features that are designed to inform, engage, mobilise or allow interaction, which audiences they seek to communicate with and how these fit communication strategies. Comparing these findings with maps built from webcrawler analysis we build a picture of the strategies of the parties and the extent to which this links to short and long term political goals. This paper firstly develops our rationale for studying party and candidate use of the Internet during elections within the Polish context. Secondly we develop a conceptual framework which contrasts the politics as usual thesis (Margolis & Resnick, 2000) with arguments surrounding the social shaping of technologies (Lievrouw, 2006) and the impact on organisational adoption of communication technologies and post-Obama trends in Internet usage (Lilleker & Jackson, 2011) and posit that, despite the threats from an interactive strategy (Stromer-Galley, 2000) one would be expected within the context of a networked society (Van Dyjk, 2006).
Following an overview of our methodology and innovative analysis strategy, we present our data which focuses on three key elements. Firstly we focus on the extent to which party and candidate websites inform, engage, mobilise or permit interaction (Lilleker et al, 2011). Secondly we assess the extent to which websites attract different visitor groups (Lilleker & Jackson, 2011) and build communities (Lilleker & Koc-Michalska, 2012). Thirdly we assess the reach strategies of the websites using Webcrawler technology which analyses the use of hyperlinks and whether parties lock themselves within cyberghettoes (Sunstein, 2007) or attempt to harness the power of the network (Benkler, 2006).