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European Journal of
Levels of Interactivity in the 2007 French Presidential Candidates' Websites
Darren G. Lilleker and Casilda Malagón
European Journal of Communication 2010 25: 25
DOI: 10.1177/0267323109354231
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Levels of Interactivity in the
2007 French Presidential
Candidates’ Websites
European Journal of Communication
25(1) 25–42
© The Author(s) 2010
Reprints and permission: http://www.
DOI: 10.1177/0267323109354231
Darren G. Lilleker and Casilda Malagón
Bournemouth University, UK
Amid many discussions of disengagement between the public and political sphere, the Internet is offered
as a potential solution capable of bridging the gap between elected and elector. E-communication tools
have been increasingly prominent during recent election campaigns, and much attention was given to
the 2007 French presidential candidates’ use of the Internet. It was suggested they had moved beyond
simply providing information and were opening up a dialogue with the electorate. This interactivity
has the capacity to reduce disengagement and revitalize democracy. However, in defining interactivity,
the trend online is to think of participatory open dialogue as opposed to closed sender–receiver
feedback loops. In order to assess the role interactivity played within this contest, and to gain some
sense of the future use of interactive tools, this study tested a sample of pages from the websites
of Nicolas Sarkozy and Ségolène Royal, the two main challengers in the contest, against a six-part
interactivity model, and analysed the discourse and language in terms of its encouraging interaction.
While some shifts in behaviour were found, the campaign retained the caution that is normal for
electoral candidates, which reduced the extent to which participatory interactivity took place.
elections, interactivity, Internet, political campaigning, Web 2.0
In 2001, Manuel Castells opened his book The Internet Galaxy with simple news: ‘the
internet is the fabric of our life’ (Castells, 2001: 1); this comment hints at two important
issues raised in this article. First, it is argued that the Internet has a potentially revolutionary impact upon society and its communication. Second, the Internet has the capacity to
also reshape political communication and campaigning. However, while the citizens
explore the virtual world of the Internet as nomads shaping the contours as they surf;
political communication remains fixed within boundaries and parameters prescribed by
Corresponding author:
Darren G. Lilleker, The Media School, Bournemouth University, Fern Barrow, Poole BH12 5BB, UK.
Email: [email protected]
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European Journal of Communication 25(1)
electoral goals. Perhaps because of the differing goals of elected and electors, studies of
the Internet offer highly mixed predictions (Bimber and Davis, 2003; Margolis and
Resnick, 2000); and often these prove unfounded. However, incrementally we find the
Internet playing an increasingly important role within political campaigning and possibly demonstrating a shift towards a more interactive, multidirectional form of communication taking place within both candidate and media websites during elections in order to
try and adapt to social developments in Internet use.
The majority of studies focus on Anglo-American campaigners’ use of Internet tools
during election campaigns, with less focus being given to other democracies. While
French politics has not seen new media strategists become an integral part of campaign
planning and execution, as in the US in 2004 (Howard, 2006), French parties were quick
to build websites in time for the 1997 general election and it became a necessary electoral tool. While Villalba’s study of the use of the Internet before and during the 2001
presidential election found that the majority of parties offered a range of information to
visitors to websites, true interaction was limited and most communication was unidirectional (Villalba, 2003). This is fairly common of Internet use by political parties, and is a
trend mirrored across most of northern Europe (Jankowski et al., 2005).
However, facilitated by the use of video sharing sites like YouTube and social networking
tools to communicate with voters, it is suggested that we have reached a turning point in
political communication (Castells, 2007: 255). The French presidential campaign of 2007
seemed to offer evidence to support Castells’ claim. While public interest and participation
remained high throughout the contest, the aspect that seemed to set this campaign apart was
the use of ICT (XiTi Monitor, 2007a, 2007b). French, UK and US media commented on the
use of blogs, embedded videos and Second Life, suggesting a different style of campaigning
was emerging. While there was some retreat as both candidates found themselves the victims
of user-generated content posted to YouTube (King, 2007), their use of ICT was still vaunted
as encouraging participation of a previously unseen level and extent (XiTi Monitor, 2007b).
While it remains impossible to accurately predict what ICT use by candidates or the public
can do for democracy, as evidence thus far seems equivocal, using France as a case study we
wish to provide some assessment of the role of ICT in campaigns and assess how the use of
technologies in a political context can encourage participation, discourse and interaction, so
strengthening what Dahlgren refers to as ‘the character of democracy’ (Dahlgren, 2005: 147).
What we assert is that, because the success of political parties and political candidates
is so linked to their reputation (Haywood, 2005), they are both the main benefactors and
most at risk from new technology; hence they attempt to harness the Internet communication tools, while also showing caution regarding the extent to which visitors can upload
content and join in open dialogue (Stromer-Galley, 2000). This latter form of interaction
has traditionally been lacking from political web use. However, as the presidential candidates competed over use of tools that allowed them to reach out to the voters in a way
previously unseen (see Benhold; 2007; Scott, 2006), interest increased. The blogosphere
began asking if this was an effort to enhance democratic life or just another campaign
gimmick; were both candidates striving to interact with their voters and was interaction
possible, appropriate and actually desirable (Uther, 2007)?
At a more theoretical level, however, we can suggest that interaction among voters,
and between voters and political candidates and elected representatives, is crucial for
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reinvigorating democracy. France shares similar trends of political disengagement with
much of Western Europe, although there is unsurprisingly the highest level of participation in lawful public demonstrations (European Social Survey, 2002). A frequently
offered solution to disengagement and political apathy is civic engagement within a discursive arena: a political public sphere. While we have moved a long way from a society
where the bourgeoisie discuss public affairs in salons, the Internet is argued to facilitate
participation in political debate. Though Papacharissi (2002: 16) is ambiguous regarding
the potential of a virtual, electronic-based, public sphere, he makes a key point that ‘The
widening gaps between politicians, journalists, and the public will not be bridged, unless
both parties want them to be.’ We argue here that a significant factor in bridging the gap,
and building a political public sphere, would be for political candidates, parties and
elected representatives to show a willingness to engage the public in open debate. This
entails engaging in a conversation, one that new technologies facilitate but has been a
hitherto underused feature within political communication.
Employing a model for measuring the extent to which interactivity is encouraged and
allowed, this study examines how the two main French presidential candidates, Ségolène
Royal and Nicolas Sarkozy, approached the opportunities that new media technology
had to offer in France in 2007. While a single case study only, given the lesson-learning
between nations and election, our findings could give strong indications of the direction
that political use of the web may take.
Conceptualizing interactivity
While it can be argued that the inclusion of an email address offers the potential for dialogue,
there must also be reasons for clicking on the address to send a message; thus interactivity is
a function of both the inclusion of interactive tools as well as of the language used when
offering that tool. While there is academic consensus on the importance of studying the levels
of interactivity in political websites, there is less consensus surrounding what interactivity is
and how it can be recognized (Bucy, 2004; Sundar, 2004). Interactivity often appears to be a
perceptual concept, contested, underdefined and undertheorized (Bucy, 2004; Kiousis, 2002;
McMillan and Hwang, 2002). The classic definition suggests that for a message to be interactive it has to be transformed by the exchange of communication: in other words, a conversation. Kiousis (2002) offers a more complete definition of interactivity as: ‘the degree to
which a communication technology can create a mediated environment in which participants
can communicate (one-to-one, one-to-many, and many-to-many), both symmetrically and
asymmetrically, and participate in reciprocal message exchanges (third-order dependency).
With regard to human users, it additionally refers to their ability to perceive the experience
as a simulation of interpersonal communication and increase their awareness of telepresence’
(Kiousis, 2002: 372). For Kiousis, interactivity refers to any communication technology,
considers time without excluding asymmetrical communication (like email) and stresses the
value of content modification by the user and the author. Therefore, interactivity is not simply
a function of technology, or the ability to interact with a website through hyperlinks or widgets, but a dialogic process between users of a website including the creator.
Jennifer McMillan (2002a) captured the essence of the Kiousis definition in her model
combining an information traffic model with Grunig and Dozier’s (1992) model of
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Level of
Mutual discourse
Public discourse
Responsive dialogue
Controlled response
Figure 1. Ferber et al.’s six-part model of cyber-interactivity
Source: Ferber et al. (2007).
public relations practice to develop the four-part model of interactivity. The model
depends on two variables: direction of communication and the level of receiver control.
In this model, interactivity is not a binary concept, it is a progressive continuum. At the
highest end of it, what McMillan calls mutual discourse, we find that the roles of the
sender and the receiver are interchangeable.
This model, combined with the McMillan’s typology of interactivity, as summarized in
Table 1, proves useful to measure the presence of interactive technical features of websites.
However, when used as an analytical tool, there are drawbacks. First, the continuum is
rather simplistic (high or low control). To reduce this limitation, and offer a more sensitive
tool of measurement, Ferber et al. (2007) enriched the model by adding three-way communication (Figure 1), this now encompasses communication where any number of participants can interact via comments boards or chat-rooms. When linked to content and
discourse analysis of language, risks of limitations and subjectivity are reduced (Liu, 2003).
Language and the internet: enabling interactivity
The dynamic nature of language in the Internet with its ever-increasing set of variations
(Crystal, 2006) has prompted many studies. However, the link between language and
interactivity has not been fully explored in the context of political websites. The domination of the field of study by feature-based analysis means there is a lack of language- or
subject-based studies that analyse a ‘range of communication forms’ (Mayer, 1998).
Rhetorical and discourse attributes can affect perceived interactivity and desired user
engagement (Wood and Kroger, 2000).
Thus the power of language should be emphasized. Fairclough (2001, 2003) and van
Dijk (2001) have made clear links between language used and the construction of reality.
While identity is not made up solely of discourse, it is the public embodiment of identity
that constitutes website text. Therefore, following Fairclough’s definitions, discourse
refers to language used in a particular way to communicate specific values, and ultimately refers to ‘a social construction of reality’ (Fairclough, 1995: 18). Thus, the
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Table 1. McMillan’s typology of interactivity
Type of
Description/ examples
User to
Level of
receiver control
Low or high
Direction of
One-way or
Nature of
audience active
or passive
One-way, sender controlled
communication, i.e.
biographical details
One-way communication
with high-receiver control.
i.e. e-mail links
Two-way communication
with low receiver control,
i.e. feedback
Two-way communication
with high receiver control,
i.e. chat-rooms
Low level of receiver
control, passive audience.
i.e. text-based information,
Low level of receiver
control with an active
audience, i.e. personalized
news aggregators
Low level of receiver control
with an active audience,
i.e. weblogs
High level of receiver control
with an active audience, i.e.
interactive fiction
Information is presented
to the user
Humans use interfaces to
obtain information, i.e.
RSS feeds
The interface adapts to the
needs of the user, i.e. games
High user activity with a
transparent, adaptive
interface, i.e. virtual reality
User to
Level of
receiver control
low or high
User to
Centre of control
Human or
Apparent or
Source: McMillan (2002a).
language used by candidates in their official website can affect the relationship they
establish with the user and build a perception of the candidate’s identity. This identity will
be formed of their political and ideological platforms as well as being based on perceived
personality traits and characteristics that can position them as having attributes similar to
those associated with brands. Fairclough (2003) distinguishes two additional categories
important for this analysis: the types of statement made by the producer and the grammatical mood which the statement invokes. The different combination of statements and
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Level of
Direction of communication
Figure 2. Revised user-to-user interactivity model
Source: Adapted from Ferber et al. (2007).
moods produce different effects. As Wernick (1991) suggests, in our contemporary culture texts whose primary function is to inform act as promotional materials and use predictions and evaluations instead of factual statements.
A revised methodology for website analysis
Empirical analyses of political parties and candidates’ websites have predominantly used
one of two methodologies: discourse analysis and content analysis. Discourse analysis, a
qualitative technique, suffers from high degrees of subjectivity, but focuses on analysing
specific messages on websites. The more quantitative technique of content analysis,
allows the development of categories and subsequent counting of the presence or absence
of features in a specific website; it is a transparent and efficient tool of analysis, but it
focuses purely on the technological features. Research on online political campaigning is
still limited, relying on content analysis to describe website features and there is a strong
UK/US bias. No previous research has attempted to blend elements of each of the methodologies; equally, few studies have focused on French candidate websites (one exception being Beauvallet, 2007), and studies have tended to look at specific elements of sites
(Desquinabo, 2008). This project employs a mixed-method research methodology combining content analysis and discourse analysis to produce the richer analysis more appropriate for assessing interactivity online.
In order to examine to what extent the French presidential election of 2007 included
an interactive dimension, the research focused on the heart of any online presence: the
official campaign websites of two of the candidates, Ségolène Royal (www.desirsdavenir.
org) and Nicolas Sarkozy ( The websites were archived for analysis on
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1 May 2007, from which a purposive sample was later taken. This was in the final week
before the second round, when voters may be finalizing choices and the sites are at their
most developed; the choice of date may mean that interactivity earlier in the campaign
may have been missed, however as this is the final iteration of the websites then it represents the outcome of the election strategy as opposed to initial or tentative approaches
later abandoned. Three analytical tools were used sequentially: web mapping, content
analysis and discourse analysis and the results of each compared.
Table 2. Scale for measuring levels of receiver control
Low receiver control
High receiver control
One-way hyperlink with unclear destination
One-way hyperlink with defined destination
Hyperlinks created with user input, language is
dynamic using second person
User has control over read and link options,
video play is optional, content can be downloaded
Users have control over interfacing with content
(above) and can send information
Users can send and receive information, i.e.
debate forums
Users have multiple options to send and
receive information, their input has
transformational power – can be seen,
i.e. text-only chat
Users can upload content, and can
receive feedback
User can choose time, type and amount of
information sent and received, the information
sent is transformed by the receiver and the
transformation is transparent; communication
is asymmetrical
Sender and receiver have equal levels of control;
communication is conversational
Gibson and Ward’s methodology identified a series of indicators for information and
communication flows as well as indicators for delivery (Gibson and Ward, 2000: 105). The
list of features was adapted to eliminate those deemed not applicable (five in total) and to
include social networking, blogs and video tools. The coding categories are downward
information flows (16 units, all informational items such as media releases or biographies);
lateral/horizontal links (three units, all links to supportive organizations); asymmetrical
interactive information flows (12 units that allow users control such as subscribing to
RSS); and symmetrical interactive information flows (chat-rooms or online debates)
In the second phase of the data analysis, critical discourse analysis (CDA) was applied
to a sample of both websites: six web pages, three from each candidate, were chosen for
analysis. The sample included the home page, the candidate’s biography and a one-page
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sample of the debate section. The analysis was based on the elements of the web page as
text including images and videos. The sum of voices, genres, styles and discourses found
in the text was used to describe the order of discourse (Fairclough, 2003: 230).
The final stage of the analysis was concerned with measuring the level of interactivity,
using the revised interactivity model. To measure the level of interactivity, the sampled
web pages of both websites were taken as a whole, except for the home pages, which
were divided into their minimal distinguishable elements (25 for
and 14 for and assessed for the level of user control (from 0 to 10), the
direction of communication (one-way, two-way or three-way) and whether the communication was synchronic (see Figure 2). In the case of the user-to-document model, the
process was repeated using the nature of audience category (active or passive audience).
To ensure reliability, replicability and trustworthiness, the original McMillan categories
were used and linked to numerical values (see Table 2).
Defining identity online
Two of the first elements that came to light after the first two phases of the research were
completed were the architecture and purpose of the sampled websites. The differences in
those elements permeate throughout the sample and are key to understanding both perceived and actual interactivity of the sites. Royal’s website was built around a dynamic
platform that showcased user-generated content, posts and alternative voices; Sarkozy’s
website, on the other hand, was designed to allow the voice of the candidate to predominate and reach supporters and undecided voters through targeted messages inserted into
made-for-web videos. NS-TV, with its 18 channels, was the backbone and main feature
of a website with a high level of message control. However, amid these contrasts there
was a key similarity: the majority of information followed a downward communication
flow across both websites.
However, the characteristics and extension of the documents provided created two
separate effects. Ségolène Royal’s website scored highly in the downward information
and communication flows, and included, among many other documents, a 600-page
Cahiers d’esperances (‘Notebook of hope’) that reported the results of participative
forums that where held to develop the candidate’s manifesto. The intention of placing
this document on the website could not have been for users to read: users rarely read
politicians’ manifestos (Castells, 2007) and large amounts of text reduce a website’s
usability and readability (George, 2005; Nielsen, 2004); the ‘Notebook’ is in reality a
metaphor of the participatory ethos that underpinned the inclusive discourse in Royal’s
campaign (Pène, 2007). The same can be said of the Republique des blogs (‘Blog republic’), the myriad of voices found in the home page (17 distinct voices) and the amount of
user-generated content posted on the website. The abundance of statements as questions
(interrogative grammatical mood [Fairclough, 1995]) in addition to the site’s graphic
design, created a multicoloured, polyphonic platform that is closer to the ideal of the
public sphere than the targeted messages of the campaign-oriented Sarkozy website. In
many ways, the site reflects Royal’s complex ideological positioning of herself as a
socially conservative socialist who placed people above ideology in a bid to be an antiright catch-all candidate (Malouines and Meeus, 2007). The collage of public inputs
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offered the impression of socialist collectivism, while also providing a platform for her
more centrist politics.
Sarkozy’s website design reinforced the idea of a unified France with a clear direction, and an integrationist view on the French culture through a monochromatic style
with one font face and uniform positioning of the text across each page. Everything in the
design was a metaphor for consistency and unity with the colours of the French flag in
the background. As with Royal’s inclusivity, Sarkozy’s design is a reflection of his conservatism and traditionalism centred around themes of strong government and public
order, consistent with the political platform set out in his 2001 autobiography, Libre, and
repeated in the biography section. Sarkozy’s position on unity, clear direction and traditional values are highlighted by reflexive and personal forms using discourse forms such
as ‘I believe’.
In contrast, the values of democratic participation, diversity and collective construction were housed under the umbrella of ‘France for president: Ségolène Royal for president’ in The campaign slogan stresses the femininity of the
candidate and the nation as well as offering hints of socialistic inclusivity; but Royal
actually gives more space to users. The value of the candidate herself is underplayed to
highlight the collectivist style of campaign image she wanted to project – an image consistent with traditions of the French left.
While political parties’ websites outside the US and the UK frequently ‘lack a clear
rationale for their online activities, other than maintaining an image of professionalism
and being seen as up-to-date’ (Gibson and Ward, 2000: 302), this was not the case for the
French presidential websites. On the contrary, the results of both the content and discourse analysis provide enough evidence to suggest that the design and function of the
websites is consistent with Howard’s (2006) description of a hypermedia campaign.
Within such a campaign, all multimedia tools are integrated into the general campaign
strategy. This is evidenced by the consistency in interface design, message and language
use of each website with their candidate’s platform.
Furthermore, the functionality of the candidates’ websites was evaluated and found
consistent with Gibson and Ward’s (2000) indications. The websites were indeed used
for the five main functions of: information provision, campaigning, resource generation,
networking and organization strengthening and promoting participation. With this in
mind, we proceed to offer an overview of the results that pertain to each function, followed by an analysis and discussion to assess the levels of interactivity and the mode of
discourse found within the two French presidential candidates’ websites.
The functions of the French candidates’ websites
Information provision
Any electoral candidate must provide information about themselves and their political
platforms, so, as expected, this function featured highly on both websites. The majority
of content had a downward communication flow. However, discourse analysis also demonstrated clear differences between the candidates’ approaches. For instance, the level of
personalization through language was higher in the Sarkozy web page, where the voice
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of the candidate was consistently used as the narrator as well as showing a predominantly
reflexive formula (i.e. what I think) (Marnette, 2005). The assumed intention was to
increase user engagement by personalizing the discourse and mixing the personal identity with the public persona of the candidate (Wood and Kroger, 2000). This strategy can
create a type of user-to-user interaction called para-social interaction, where ‘the most
remote and illustrious men are met as if they were in the circle of one’s peers’ (McMillan,
2002b: 214); so establishing a bond and rapport between the user and the candidate
(McMillan, 2002b).
On the other hand, the Ségolène Royal website used her supporters’ voices to engage
the user. It was ‘their’ voice inviting users to participate in events or discuss issues, evidenced by the continuous use of the pronoun ‘we’ (nous). This reinforces the sense of
community and participation, and so would have an impact on the levels of perceived
interactivity (Fairclough, 2003), and could raise the level of user satisfaction and overall
experience. This reinforces the message of ‘France for president’: a collectively decided
and collectively executed style of campaigning and governing. However, the interactivity presented is again closer to the definition of para-social interactivity than that of
interactivity as defined by Kiousus (2002).
The campaigning function is implicitly served throughout both websites. Discourse analysis highlighted the absence of the traditional campaign discourse, which places direct
references to asking visitors to vote at the forefront. This consistent absence may be
explained because visitors to specific candidates’ or parties’ websites during a campaign
cycle have already decided their vote and visit the site either to gather information for
or against their candidate, to network with other supporters or make a donation (Boogers
and Voerman, 2002; Norris, 2001). However, and if we suggest that it is not just those
already persuaded who go online and visit political candidate and party websites, an alternative explanation for the lack of explicit campaigning is that it is implicit in the promotional messages presented in narrative or predictive genres. The traditional genres were
mixed and the persuasive promotional intent was veiled in a descriptive construction;
this is consistent with Fairclough’s description of a promotional culture that permeates
contemporary media.
While revolved around a cooperative platform of information
exchange, used bespoke video as the backbone to the website. Most of
the 819 videos presented short, targeted messages similar to those traditionally broadcast
on television (Delaney, 2006). While Sarkozy’s campaign displayed the characteristics
of media convergence, it did not evidence a new style of campaigning.
Resource generation
Both candidates presented the user with all possible ways of donating to their campaign. In addition, Sarkozy presented a ‘boutique’, where users could purchase campaign merchandise, something Royal did not exploit. Resource generation was one of
the website functions first mastered by political candidates in the US as well as in the
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UK and seems to be of paramount importance in candidate and party website design
(Gibson, 2003; Kamarck, 1999).
The networking function is of particular interest, especially considering Royal’s
‘Segosphere’ initiative and the ‘Segoland’ map. Her campaign not only exploited the use
of official weblogs, but also realized that supporters’ weblogs could make her messages
resonate throughout the net. The site provided supporters with graphics, text and arguments that could be reposted across the blogosphere. The Independent Presidential
Observatory ( networked 285 weblogs that linked to the official site and used materials from In addition, the website provided users with a space to showcase their weblogs and upload their own supportive
comments and materials.
Sarkozy took a more traditional approach, supplying supporters with images and
materials to place upon their own weblogs but not linking to sites beyond the control of
the campaign or opening up his site for visitor uploads. This route proved the safest one
since, in the two-way linking approach, message control becomes impossible. The Royal
campaign encountered a problem when one of the supporters’ blogs made anti-Semitic
claims interpreted to be a direct attack on Sarkozy’s ethnic background (Fouetillou,
2006). The Royal response was to erase links with the specific site. This example demonstrates the risk of using the web’s interactive capabilities to increase participation. As
Stromer-Galley (2000) reported, the risk of losing control of the message is one that few
politicians are willing to take on official websites
Promoting participation
Despite the risks of allowing users to generate content, participation was fulfilled by the
inclusion of interactive features within the websites. While both websites had very similar
ratings for interactive communication flow as measured through content analysis, discourse
analysis provided results that enhance the differences between both approaches. Sarkozy’s
personalization of the discourse invites the user to follow the events and efforts organized
by the candidate and his staff. Royal, in contrast, employing ‘us’ and ‘you’ in the plural
form, gave a collective meaning to the campaign which is reflected in the use of the website
to organize and disseminate local as well as national support events, cultural demonstrations and online debates. Thus, in language and functions, the candidates reflected a campaign style embedded within their political platforms and the traditions of their politics: the
right offering a top-down party-centric form of participation, while the left acts more as a
grassroots movement. The type of participation offered directly links to the levels of interactivity, suggesting that offering interactivity is as linked to politics as to personality.
Evaluating interactivity
The evaluation of the levels of interactivity found across the pages of the candidates’
websites was conducted over two stages. First, the presence or absence of technical fea-
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European Journal of Communication 25(1)
tures that allowed interactivity were assessed through applying Gibson and Ward’s schematic; this was followed by an analysis of the type of interactivity present through
discourse analysis and the application of the revised Ferber et al. interactivity model.
The first step of the research showed that both websites presented the user with all
possible options of asymmetrical interactive features (i.e. email links, downloadable
material, user registration), while limiting the opportunities for symmetrical communication. The lack of symmetrical communication suggests allowing uncontrolled communication was deemed too great a risk (Jackson and Lilleker, 2009; Stromer-Galley, 2000).
Due to the uniform presence of technological features, both sites were identical in
terms of the level of interactive information flows. However, by taking interactivity as a
process the results are slightly different. This is clearer when measuring the level of
interactivity through the revised Ferber et al. model (Figures 3 and 4). Applying the
revised user-to-user categories, we find asymmetric communication was most common;
symmetrical elements were mostly limited to hyperlinks. Even in the elements with the
highest perceived interactivity, there was a time delay between users’ posting and the
message appearing. Thus the role of the moderator became that of a gatekeeper and
the extent of this role was discretional. This suggests that even with the most up-to-date
technical features available, little conversation was taking place and most communication was monologic.
Unsurprisingly, the section with the highest interactivity level was the debate section
in (see also Desquinabo, 2008; Pô and Vanbremeersch, 2007),
where the sender could control the text posted and the post affected the presentation of
the webpage, the debate index and the home page, which showed extracts from the
debate section (even if there was a time delay). The direction of communication was
qualified as three-way, for users could post comments answering questions posted by the
organization, the candidate or other users, thus allowing conversations to develop.
Level of
Home page
Direction of communication
Figure 3. User-to-user interactivity: the Sarkozy site
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Level of
Home page
Direction of communication
Figure 4. User-to-user interactivity: The Royal site
However, discourse analysis revealed that the discussions were fragmented and disjointed interventions. There was no expectation of interactivity for some areas of the site,
though some interactive features could be included within the biographical section, for
example. However, this study only provides a snapshot of a user experience of a site and
focuses on the most popular parts.
Even though animated graphics and video elements may give the illusion of higher
interactivity, when applying the measures designed by Gibson and Ward they did not
score higher than simple textual hyperlinks. While flashy, visually attractive elements
can act as a pull factor, drawing users to visit the website, such features do not translate
into higher interactivity. They do, however, affect perceived interactivity, which impacts
upon levels of engagement, trust (Welch and Hinnant, 2003), user satisfaction and general attitude towards websites (McMillan, 2002a). The French presidential candidates
were found to have a higher level of perceived interactivity than in ‘brochure-like websites’, however the majority of elements still belong to the monologic style of one-tomany user-to-user communication. As shown in Figures 5 and 6, the majority of elements
in both websites belong to the packaged content category, an assessment based upon the
assumption that it takes more than just the ability to click to make an active audience, to
be active an audience must contribute content (McMillan, 2002b). Low interactivity is
expected for a biography section, but there are few scores higher than 5 for co-creation
on the Sarkozy site, which shows some contrast with the more interactive site of Royal.
As explained before, the Ségolène Royal website took more advantage of interactive and
content-sharing features than that of Nicolas Sarkozy, and was rated overall higher in
document-to-user evaluation as well. Therefore, although the technological features of websites have improved, the websites are still primarily used to give information, get donations
and mobilize supporters. However, the differences between these two websites symbolize
two different approaches to the campaign process, each reflecting the politics of the candidates. Royal to some extent embraced the interactive features of the Internet to reflect her
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European Journal of Communication 25(1)
Level of
Content on
Home page
Nature of the audience
Figure 5. User-to-document interactivity: the Sarkozy site
Level of
Content on
Home page
Nature of the audience
Figure 6. User-to-document Interactivity: the Royal site
links to the traditions of socialism; the more conservative and authoritarian style of Sarkozy
allowed him to employ interactive features while ensuring he maintained control over all
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Lilleker and Malagón
While the initial optimistic predictions about the effect of the Internet on political communication subsided to make way for the politics-as-usual thesis (Margolis and Resnick,
2000), clearly the adaptation of political campaigning to encompass ICT tools causes
changes in the style of political communication. However, the changes are minor and at
best incremental. The nature of online interactivity in the French presidential candidates’
official websites is consistent with Stromer-Galley’s (2000) assertion that politicians do
not employ as many interactive features as commercial sites because of the risk to message control. Even taking into account the differences between the two websites, this
conclusion proved consistent. For example, while both websites presented the user with
all sorts of asymmetrical interactive features, tools that allow symmetrical, conversational communication were mostly absent. Thus we can note the ever-present involvement of political advisers and webmasters exercising a gatekeeping function.
Regarding the relationship between the presence of interactive features and actual
interaction, when applying the revised Ferber et al. interactivity model to both websites,
the majority of the scores fell into the monologue area of the user-to-user interactivity
model and the packaged content section of the user-to-document interactivity model.
Nevertheless, visually compelling features do affect the level of perceived interactivity,
the relation of which to voter turnout and decision-making should be further explored.
When examining the language on the websites as an enabler of interactivity, the results
were consistent with para-social interaction (McMillan, 2002b). In addition, the discourse
analysis showed that the elements of the promotional culture described by Fairclough
(2003) and the mixture of genres he predicted in websites were confirmed. The combination of multiple genres is characteristic of innovative texts (Fairclough, 2003), as well as
the shifting boundaries and unclear rules regarding the formation of the text. The similarities between the websites studied were scarcer when the websites were analysed
through CDA to determine the voices present in the website. While Royal’s website was
characterized by a multiplicity of voices and a collectivist outlook to the campaign process, Sarkozy’s website foregrounded the voice of the candidate and the unity of the campaign was reinforced through both visual and textual mechanisms. Yet, despite differing
platforms and ideological traditions which influenced the style and level of interactivity,
in the end both sites shared similar functions and goals; these seem to lead to a rejection
of symmetrical interaction and the accompanying loss of control over communication.
It is argued that greater interaction between candidates or parties and the broader
citizenry is required to reduce disengagement and cynicism in all things political
(Stoker, 2006). However, it seems doubtful that the Internet will be used for this purpose within the context of an election campaign. While the French presidential campaign saw greater levels of interactivity than previous contests, these elements were
limited and demonstrated the risks of losing control. Perhaps also the fact that the least
interactive candidate, who presented the most uniform and controlled image, was victorious may indicate Royal’s interactivity had little real impact. But, visitors to her site
were only given glimpses of a public sphere. The Cahiers showed a conversation had
taken place. However, there was less encouragement to join a current, live conversation; thus interaction was limited and pushed to the fringes of the campaign.
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European Journal of Communication 25(1)
Campaigning retained its top-down, repeat-remind nature designed to gain recall of
messages and candidate attributes only. Our analysis demonstrates that there is still a
long way to go in embedding interactivity in political websites, since it necessitates
a change in the traditional message management techniques. However, as a higher
percentage of voters become Web 2.0 users, politicians are being forced to integrate
these interactive features into their campaigns. But such features alone do not produce
interactivity, as seen in the debate sections of both websites, or public discourse.
Interactivity necessitates a transformation of campaigns’ outlook on using the web to
create dialogue as well as participation, mobilization and fund generation. Future studies using the same methodology will be able to show the evolution from the brochurelike website of the mid-1990s, to the low-level interactivity and use of the blogosphere
of the French sites in 2007 to the social networking success of the 2008 US presidential
campaign, to suggest a more interactive future may be a feature of online presence
during election campaigns.
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Author Biographies
Darren G. Lilleker is Senior Lecturer in Political Communication and Director of the
Centre for Public Communication Research, Bournemouth University.
Casilda Malagón holds an MA in Corporate Communication and is a freelance web analyst.
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