'Head on the internet, and feet on the ground' is the slogan used by Italian stand up comedian and leader of the Five Star Movement (Movimento 5 Stelle) (M5S) political party, Beppe Grillo. M5S gained 25% of votes in the country's February 2013 election, up from 5% poll level in May 2012. I am not in a position to undertake a detailed geo-political analysis of the result, what I do know is that M5S was only started in 2009 and has now truly demonstrated the potential political power of social media. Although the focus of M5S is challenging the political status quo, one of the party's policies is free internet access. With this in mind it organises and communicates highly successfully via Facebook and Twitter. Furthermore Grillo's blog is the most widely read in Italy.
M5S isn't the first political party to gain impact by making extensive use of the internet and social media to communicate with supporters. The German Pirate Party started in 2006, has been achieving 7-9% of votes in elections in the last two years. Across the Atlantic the reelection of President Barack Obama was acknowledged to have been widely supported by the clever use of the Obama Facebook Page, and there are other many other similar examples.
Yes M5S is running on an anti-austerity protest ticket and that has obviously boosted voting numbers. However, whilst it still holds meetings, unlike 'legacy' parties M5S appeals to young people and arranges those meetings and political rallies using the same tools as those people use to organise a meal out. In 2012 there were reportedly in excess of 1 billion smartphones in the world - that's a lot of potential voters. Legacy parties take note.