It goes without saying that the 2015 general elections in the UK will be far less predictable than in the past – with a backdrop of deep economic turmoil, political fragmentation and ever-growing public cynicism, there is little firm ground to look out for a sure winner.
But one factor that can be counted on is that social media is set to be one of the most powerful tools for all parties concerned. All leading parties, including Labour, Conservative, Liberal Democrats, UKIP and the Green Party have readily embraced social media and put it at the forefront of their campaigns – with each favouring a major social network to support their cause.
Labour – using Facebook to drive offline action
Labour’s election co-ordinator, Douglas Alexander, has already declared that in the wake of decreasing audiences for traditional channels like television and newspapers, the role to be played by social media in the campaign is “priceless”, and a multi-pronged approach, covering all aspects of the digital environment including email, video and social networks has been put into action.
Inspired by the Obama campaign, a key part of this is a Facebook application – Target Share. Used in the US President’s campaign, the application harnesses the potential of big data, driving audiences to the Facebook app, which is linked to the Labour account. This information then allows analysts to judge how potential voters are leaning, and further action to convert votes can be taken.
Labour’s digital team also stress the importance of using digital activity to mobilise offline action – another Facebook app, Quick Donate, securely saves data to encourage people to return and donate more easily.
Conservatives – making major investments
The Conservative campaign is built on a foundation of the economy, and stressing the need for economic competence is at the forefront of their election message. However, the recent revelations of their expenditure on Facebook alone shows that the Conservative party wants to make sure their message is noticed by the public.
With monthly invoices totalling £100,000 or more on Facebook alone, it is clear that the Conservatives are keen to ensure that their content is put in front of people.
Such a costly campaign serves as a double-edged sword however – as Labour are also keen to take advantage of this and use the high cost figures as evidence of the Conservatives’ over-flowing coffers.
Liberal Democrats – focus on Nationbuilder
With a budget that comes in at a fraction of that of the Conservatives, the Liberal Democrats are focusing their resources in the campaign on supporting strategy seats.
One of their most important tools in the NationBuilder application, again, a significant tool for the Obama campaign. By integrating this with the party’s main contact management system, this is designed to help develop individual relationships further, and retain potential voters on their side. But for many pundits, they have already been regarded as out of the race.
UKIP – waging the Twitter war
UKIP are one of the parties that have truly and wholeheartedly embraced social media without any hesitation – especially through the platform of Twitter.
Although the party has already been at the receiving end of the potential harsh side of social networking – with the hijacking of the #WhyIVoteUKIP hashtag, the party’s supporters continue to flood the network.
The results of this huge wave of support were already seen in the run up to the European elections, as UKIP were the most commonly mentioned party on Twitter compared to the others. However, the high number of followers on Twitter and the widespread use of their hashtags does not necessarily translate to votes – this suggested popularity is yet to be tested on the electoral ground.
The Green Party – embracing a younger digital audience
With a strong support base made up of young, liberal professionals, the Green Party’s supporters are already social media-savvy, and the party is embracing a variety of channels to harness attention.
Social media is proving to be particularly powerful for so-called renegade parties, such as UKIP and the Green Party – a pledge site and a Change.org petition have already been used successfully to include the party in televised debates.
UKIP has made the most significant impact through the widespread and effective use of Twitter, and one of the main reasons for their success on this platform is that the channel allows ordinary people to use it on their own terms, enabling them to redefine a trend or hashtag dramatically, as the party has already seen happen.
But while all of the major parties have invested significantly in different facets of social media to support their campaign efforts, it is yet to be seen whether the attention generated through these channels will translate to real votes, come the election. And many key strategists still believe that traditional media – such as the classic political poster – will still play a vital role in tipping the balance, particular in the minds of undecided voters.
About The Author:
Geoff Digital is a Senior SEO Consultant at Gtec Media Ltd