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Colombia: Are Politicians Making the Most Out of Twitter?

After the success of current US President Barack Obama in the 2008 presidential elections, partially prompted by his campaign's use of internet tools in order to reach voters, politicians (and those in charge of public relations within their campaigns) around the world wish to emulate it. One month ago, GVO's Veronica Khokhlova wrote about how the President of Ukraine and other prominent politicians started to use the Twitter microblogging service. Well, a few weeks later, after a lot [es] of coverage [es] in the Colombian mainstream media about Twitter, at least two presidential pre-candidates for the 2010 election have opened their accounts.

Even though there was an account for current Colombian president Álvaro Uribe @alvarouribe [es] (which clearly stated it was a “humouristic microblog” and not an “official” account), after journalist Andrés Cavelier published an article [es] about Twitter at the economical daily Portafolio, President Uribe's press secretary asked Twitter administrators to delete that account. Of course, after initial [es] skepticism [es] from Colombian twitterers, it seems both @German_Vargas [es] and @rafaelpardo [es]‘s accounts are legitimate [es]. These accounts belong to Germán Vargas Lleras (47, from centre-right Radical Change party) and Rafael Pardo Rueda [es] (55, from Colombian Liberal Party).

Politicians join the Colombian ‘Twittosphere’

Here are some of the first reactions when Mr. Vargas Lleras (or people inside his campaign) launched his Twitter account (@mrmuller seems to be among the first ones to notice it [es].

Camilo @hyperconectado:

Siguiendo a @German_Vargas, para decirle que me da miedo cuando habla

Following @German_Vargas, to tell him he scares me when he speaks

@leidymarmalade:

Mañana @german_vargas descubrirá sus 6 primeros amigos con avatar

Tomorrow @german_vargas will discover his first 6 friends with an avatar

Mauricio Duque A. @enmediodelruido:

eso de que @german_vargas ande indicando sus movimientos no debe tener contentos a los de su seguridad. Ahora va para el aeropuerto

that @german_vargas keeps showing his moves probably won't make his security staff happy. Now he's going to the airport

twitter-germanvargas

Having chicken soup for lunch in Villeta

When reading @German_Vargas tweets, it is easy to notice that he answers the What are you doing? question in a literal way. He (or a campaign staffer) really tweets what he is doing: where he is going, what town or city he is visiting, who is interviewing him, and (what some twitterers best notice) what he eats or drinks.

Some Colombian twitterers have started a “contest” or “bet” to see who will be the first to get a reply from him (some actually try by asking him serious questions, though).

Of course, some twitterers voice their dissatisfaction:

@leidymarmalade:

Yo sinceramente creo que @german_vargas es re n00b y no sabe hacer replies

Honestly I think @german_vargas is too n00b and doesn't know how to reply

@irenarco:

ahora German_Vargas le añade al GPS de su campaña (que no es interesante, insisto) la info gastronómica. ¿y las ideas?

now German_Vargas adds the gastronomic info to his campaign's GPS (which is not interesting, I insist). what about his ideas?

@Patton:

yo creo que es que @German_Vargas no se ha dado cuenta que no solo se escribe sino que también se puede leer. #hayqueleer

I think @German_Vargas hasn't realized yet that [Twitter] it's not only for writing but also for reading. #mustread

@abadiavernaza:

Quien escribe el Twitter de @german_vargas es una vieja que le carga los papeles, y como nosotros, no tiene ni put* idea de nada

The one updating @german_vargas's twitter is a girl who carries his papers for him, and like us, she hasn't a f***ing idea about anything

twitter-rafaelpardo

Here playing with the Twitter

Days later, @rafaelpardo appeared. Though, as Juglar del Zipa [es] states (see below), at first he was pretty much doing the same “mundane” things that his rival was doing, later he started to ask some technical questions [es] and to voice some of his thoughts, such as this one about the release of two imprisoned FARC guerrillas to become “promoters of peace”:

@rafaelpardo:

pienso que la liberacion de los dos de las farc es inexplicable, inconveniente e ilegal. Que hay detras? that is the question

I think the release of those two [guerrillas] from FARC is hard to explain, inconvenient, and illegal. What's behind [this]? that is the question

Some twitterers react to Mr Pardo's debut and draw comparisons with his rival (and with Obama):

Alana Farrah @allyfar:

Parece que @rafaelpardo sí se pilló que la cosa es decir qué estás pensando

It seems @rafaelpardo gets it: the thing is to say what are you thinking

Mauricio Duque A. @enmediodelruido:

@rafaelpardo pregunta cosas como un ser vivo, no como @german_vargas que parece un robot

@rafaelpardo asks stuff as a living being, not like @german_vargas who resembles a robot

Andrés Meza-Escallón @apoloduvalis:

think @German_Vargas and @rafaelpardo are doing lifestreaming (what I'm DOING) instead of the more interesting mindstreaming (what I THINK)

AM Amaya Villarreal @AMAV:

pues sr. asistente de @German_Vargas: lamento que tenga que hacer un trabajo tan rídiculo, emulación de tres [pesos] de lo que hizo Obama.

Well, Mr. @German_Vargas’ assistant: I'm so sorry you have to do such a ridiculous job, a poor emulation of what Obama did.

Using Twitter to Its Full Potential

Juglar del Zipa [es] summarizes and writes about the Colombian e-candidates’ arrival to Twitter (some of the ideas written lines above come from this post):

¿Acaso no saben que Twitter puede ser mucho más que responder qué estás haciendo? ¿No saben que por medio de Twitter uno puede establecer relaciones próximas con gente o conocer la textura de las opiniones más allá de las simples encuestas? ¿No saben qué es lo que se ha dado por llamar dospuntocero? ¿Algún día se le medirían a un blips&candidates? ¿Realmente serían capaces de sostener un debate, de dialogar? Claro que no.

Estos candidatos, que de seguro «en la vida real» miran a la gente como si estuvieran treinta pisos por debajo, no querrán untarse de pueblo, a pesar de estar ejerciendo. Mucho menos querrán recibir preguntas de ningún tipo de la gente rara de Internet. Y ni hablar de responderlas. Para nadie es un secreto que la ilusión del contacto es lo que tiene a Uribe donde está.

Don't they know Twitter may be much more than answering ‘what are you doing'? Don't they know that, through Twitter, you can establish close relationships with people or know the texture of opinions beyond those simple polls? Don't they know what's that thing they call “2.0″? Would they someday be brave enough to participate in a ‘blips&candidates'? Would they really able to hold a debate, to dialogue? Of course they don't.

These candidates, who “in real life” look people as if they were 30 floors below for sure, won't be willing to “mix” with the people, despite they're in a public office. Let alone to read any kind of questions from strange Internet people. And even less to answer them. It's not a secret to anyone that the illusion of contact is what has put [President] Uribe where he is now.

There's a really insightful comment [es] by @FabianPrieto to this post:

Pues este lanzamiento de candidaturas via twitter son un abrebocas a la ofensiva 2.0 con las que algun guru-web2.0 debe estar haciendo de las suyas (si el mismisimo) Todos quieren campañas tipo Obama, pero se van por lo barato… no hay ningún estudio preliminar sobre la efectividad de este tipo de comunicación… Ni siquiera creo que sepan a quien le están hablando. Sus mensajes son tan cargados de “vida cotidiana” con la misma personalización de un mensaje de Tigo. Igual sería bueno llegar a que estos candidatos conocieran el tag #yoconfieso a manera de transparencia política.

Well, this candidacies’ launch vía twitter is a sneak peek to the 2.0 offensive which some guru-web2.0 (yeah, the very same one) must be indulging his ways with. Everyone wants Obama-like campaigns, but they choose the cheap way… there's no preliminary study on the effectiveness of this kind of communication… I don't even think they know who are they talking to. Their messages are as full of “daily life” as the customization of a Tigo SMS. Anyway, it would be good for this candidates to learn about the #iconfess hashtag, as a political transparency [exercise].

The race to the May 2010 presidential election has just begun. Despite the fact that President Uribe has been ambiguous about his possible run for a third term (which would have to be allowed through a constitutional reform), some candidates —such as Mr Vargas Lleras, who is already touring the country— have started their campaigns. Last week, it was learnt that 38.5% of Colombians (17.1 million people) have internet access and that almost 4 million users access [es] the net through mobile devices, a number which may grow despite the global economic crisis. It would seem there is a “potential” audience for these e-candidates but, so far, they have failed to reach it correctly. Vargas Lleras, Pardo and other candidates have a lot to do and learn if they actually decide to use the internet as a medium to campaign.

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