Are the Liberal Democrats making the most of blogging?

My recent blog posting about Twitter (it’s a text message blogging service, which I’ve just started using) was unusual – unusual in that in triggered off a sequence of other blogs posts, both on Liberal Democrat sites (e.g. here and here) and on others (e.g. here).

I say unusual – because it’s rare to see a story start on one Liberal Democrat blog and then be picked up and spread across the Liberal Democrat blogosphere, let alone beyond the confines of the party.

The contrast with the American political blogosphere – and even right-wing blogs in the UK – is, to me, striking. And I say that particularly because, from what I’ve seen of the stats, my blog has one of the largest readerships of any Liberal Democrat blog – not in Liberal Democrat Voice’s class, but possibly second only to it. So why is it that it is so rare for my stories to be picked up and spread online, even when they are newsworthy enough for mainstream journalists to be picking them up and running with them?

Perhaps you think it’s because of something I don’t get right with my blog – but the same question applies to all the Liberal Democrat blogs I’ve seen. It seems very rare for a story to be picked up and spread. Where stories do get spread you see two benefits – they reach a wider audience and also along the way they often pick up more facts and details as different people chip in with their own pieces of information. So to go back to Twitter – if you read the three pieces linked to above, you’ll end up with a rounder picture of how politicians could and do use Twitter than if you’d just read my original piece.

Bigger audience, better information – that’s got to be a good thing, hasn’t it? So why doesn’t it happen more often?

It’s not as if we don’t know what each other is saying. Indeed, through things like the Blogger of the Year awards at conference, the excellent LibDemBlogs aggregator, the group blogger interviews with leading party figures etc etc I think there is a real sense of community amongst Liberal Democrat bloggers, and everyone spends time reading each other.

So overall I think this is symptomatic of a wider issue – and that’s that Liberal Democrat bloggers tend to be either fairly inward or local looking. There are many blogs that really talk all about what is happening in the party, along with a smaller number of – often excellent – blogs which are clearly aimed at a particular local audience (e.g. a councillor’s blog such as Mary Reid’s, which seems to be largely aimed at her constituents – understandably enough!).

What we seem to be missing are those combative, outward looking souls who spot a story and want to help spread or extend the message or the point or the attack, as opposed to inwardly looking expressing their own views on it. So you tend to get stories not spreading, and where they are commented on, they are only commented on by those who have reservations to express.

Mark Pack made a similar point at the first Blogger of the Year awards in 2006 :

"A lot of people feel that blogging is very much them commentating on something. They’re expressing they’re views; they’re putting them out there; they’re letting people see what they think. [But] one of the trends that is very clear in the US is that a lot of bloggers feel that rather than being commentators actually they want to be really active participants in the political process and quite deliberately use their blogs to campaign."

At the moment, it is as if Liberal Democrat blogs provide the online equivalent of committee meetings and pizza and politics events – vital but inward looking – but don’t provide the online equivalent of those outward looking activities such as leafleting and canvassing.

To me, that is the collective challenge we face if we really want to help build the party into leading a wider liberal movement that doesn’t just bring greater electoral success for us, but also brings a stronger voice to liberal causes and which reaches out and engages with those audiences that are so often disaffected with politics.

This article first appeared on Liberal Democrat Voice, where you can also read the subsequent discussion.

(c) Lynne Featherstone, 2008