Direct Political campaigning and advertising on radio and television is banned in the UK but nonetheless, that does not prohibit parties from advertising their general election candidacy campaign on social media. Parties -as with all previous elections the past decade – are placing paid-for political adverts and campaign videos on social media to attract a potential audience of millions. The videos – some of which have been attacked for their negative campaign messages – are not regulated by the broadcast regulators Ofcom and the Advertising Standards Authority and hence can sometimes create unrealistic expectations or perceptions of ones ideas or plans.
Let’s not forget, that Labour MP’s and insiders who worked for former party leader Ed Miliband insisted that the 2015 UK general election was won and lost on Facebook. When Labour were focusing on attracting an building a team of followers with similar ideas, the Conservatives were quietly using their substantially larger digital “pot” to carefully target undecided voters in key marginal seats. This is not a feature used exclusively by the Labour and Conservative parties but also all other political parties out there whether that may be with the employment of a Facebook manager or the running or Advertising campaigns and videos online. Social media is not only good for attracting new voters or retaining party fans but also swinging those undecided voters to your favour due to the high and sustained levels of engagement these platforms demonstrate.
This year’s election in the UK was also largely won on Social Media platforms as many argue that this was the way Labour manage to polarise so many new voters, especially coming from the younger generation which is socially and digitally active daily. Furthermore, the fact that the “surprise” election was called early, also minimised the time available for campaigning and hence Social Media was the easiest way to attract millions of views in a short span of time. As the Financial Times reported recently, according to Facebook, more than half of the UK population has an account with the social media network, and Facebook users globally spend an average of 40 minutes per day on the site. By contrast, only one in four people in the UK uses Twitter, spending on average just one minute a day on the network.
But how did this election pan out for the political parties and who was the biggest “Winner” on Social media, the leader that managed to magnify attention to his ideas and generate interest to his manifesto? I believe the answer is quite clear as Labour rallied in constituencies with a younger age demographics, largely influenced by Social Media. What is more, the evident swing of votes from UKIP to both Labour and the Conservatives was largely down to shrewd and carefully targeted Social Media campaigns. Labour made brilliant use of their “Promote” system (A system which tailored more more than 1,000 versions of the Labour Partys core policy proposals in order to deliver what it calls “super local” messages on Facebook) whilst Mrs May’s participating in her first Facebook Live question-and-answer session on did not necessarily go down as well as he may have thought.
After last week’s general election, the results clearly indicate that The Conservative Party ran an “ineffective” social media campaign that failed to attract new voters and did not energise its traditional base. This was evidently an election were the public were seeking some sort of hope and future aspirations rather than negative messages and spiteful party wars. However, it was also a clear vote of personal confidence rather than party ideas or manifesto many argue. Jeremy Corbyn has a very large (especially for a politician) amounts of pages and groups dedicated to him unlike Theresa May who struggled to connect with her audience and her statement of being a “bloody difficult woman” did nothing but create a negative aura around her. On the other side, most of the conversation was going on in political groups and other related groups, with Corbyn supporters rallying for him.
Finally, Labour’s choice to focus on a number of diverse issues other than just politics (dementia tax, etc) clearly created a following willing to share and advocate on his behalf wheres the Conservatives’ choice to highlight Mr Corbyn’s comments in regards to “shoot to kill” policy were hardly seen or attracted any interest.
Last but not least, the Electoral Commission, published last elections, (the UK elections watchdog) found that the Conservatives spent £1.2m during the 2015 general election on buying Facebook advertising — more than seven times the £160,000 spent by Labour. The Liberal Democrats spent just over £22,000 in total with the remaining parties spending substantially less. It was predicted that Labour would this time round -if not match – try to compete with The Conservative party’s digital budget and it remains to be seen what the actual amounts spent on this year’s elections were.