Many commentators have been discussing about the outcome of the last Italian elections, held a few das ago, which resulted in a tie between the two major coalitions (center-left Democratic Party with its allies and center-right People of Freedom) and a surprising success of the new grassroots Five-Star Movement, led by former comedian Beppe Grillo.
In the months leading to the elections, a lot has been said about the new model proposed by the Five Star Movement, which is based on the direct engagement of people through the web, started with Grillo’s highly influential blog. Looking at the success of this model as well as at the key role played by the web in several other elections over the last few years, ranging from the US to Malaysia, the two main coalitions have jumped onto the web and social media bandwagon, suddenly discovering that, despite the official statistics and the never-ending lament about the need for a digital agenda, Italians are way more wired than many think.
While political leaders were spending time tweeting and doing online hangouts, Grillo has been the only leader to spend as much time as possible on the ground, with an endless series of events, which started with a successful tour in Sicily where he swam across the Strait of Sicily, and ended with a huge meeting in Rome that attracted well over half a million people.
Of course he maintained his web presence, but many believe that the secret to his massive success, beyond the radically populist messages, was his closeness to Main Street.
While the Italian situation is very peculiar, there may be lessons to be learned for all those who discount the importance of physical channels, both in politics and in administration. How many of us have stumbled across a web site or an automated voice response system while trying to solve a problem, and have found a real person who has helped us through? How many of us remember a great tax filing online experience over an employee who sat with us to explain how to file?
At the end of the day, which technology will be more essential to win an election? Big data analytics and social media, or a powerful PA system for the candidate’s voice to reach out to people in the streets?